Menu
Paid Advertisement
view counter
Syndicate content
Just another Chalkbeat site
Updated: 50 min 24 sec ago

Weekend reads: A classroom role reversal sparks inspiration and sympathy

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 16:29
  • A teacher spent two days shadowing students and came away with inspiration and sympathy. (Answer Sheet)
  • The mother of a child with special needs notes problems with evaluating nonverbal children. (Uncommon Sense)
  • Teachers unions are pressing Time Magazine to apologize for its cover story about “rotten apple” educators. (HuffPo)
  • The KIPP charter network is moving beyond the basics to invest heavily in technology-infused instruction. (Hechinger)
  • Getting low-income kids to go to school more frequently could have a big impact on test scores. (Vox)
  • California students lost a wormy science experiment in this week’s NASA rocket explosion. (Oakland Tribune)
  • Los Angeles officials are working feverishly to fix sweeping errors in high school transcripts. (L.A. School Report)
  • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has softened on testing. Some say the president pushed him to. (Politics K-12)
  • Some say teachers unions have turned on the Common Core, but the truth is more complicated. (Ed Next)
  • An internal memo reveals the lengths that Teach For America goes to to combat what it sees as criticism. (The Nation)
  • Kids who don’t love science class love watching YouTube-star science teachers. Here’s why. (Atlantic)
  • Stock photos tell hilariously misleading stories about teaching. (Buzzfeed)
Categories: Urban School News

School board testing discontent rumbles louder as more districts ask for waivers

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 12:48

Two more Colorado school boards have passed resolutions requesting waivers from state testing requirements, even though federal law bars such exemptions.

Boards in Montrose County and Dolores County both unanimously passed resolutions earlier this month. The Montrose resolution petitions “the Colorado State Board of Education for a 5-year waiver from PARCC and CMAS testing requirements.”

As Dolores Superintendent Bruce Hankins readily acknowledged, “Most people realize it’s a symbolic gesture, but I think it’s a gesture that needs to be out there.”

The board in Colorado Springs District 11 was first out of the box this year when it passed a similar resolution in September. The district since has decided not to press its request with the state Department of Education. But board vice president Elaine Naleski told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We’re not ready to just drop everything. We’re still having the conversations.” (See full Gazette story here.)

Also in September, delegates attending a Colorado Association of School Boards meetng passed resolutions calling on the state to reduce testing to federal minimum requirements, allow parents to opt out of state tests without penalty to districts and to let districts use approved alternative tests instead of the state’s CMAS program.

“We hope that many, many districts will follow suit,” said Montrose Superintendent Mark MacHale, while noting, “We’re under no fantasy that the state board will grant this.” But it’s important to raise the issue, he said, “Because most of us feel our voices have been lost.”

Prompted by district concerns and State Board questions, CDE officials recently queried the U.S. Department of Education about testing flexibility. The answer was that the state has few if any options on measures suggested by testing critics, such as sample testing and use of local tests. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Do your homework

Jane Urschel, CASB deputy executive director, said it’s hard to guess how many more school boards may pass testing resolutions but noted, “At the CASB delegate assembly the conversation was that there’s too much assessment, and the majority of people feel that way.”

Paula Stephenson of the Rural Alliance said small districts feels their concerns haven’t been addressed in the past. “As a result, more and more of our member districts, with the support of their parents and communities, are standing up and saying, ‘This is not OK. We will no longer stand idly by and voluntarily participate in reform measures that we know are harmful to our schools and students.’”

Testing worries aren’t limited to only small districts. Several big-district superintendents who participated in a Denver panel discussion on Wednesday were critical of the state’s current testing system. (See this story for what they said.)

Debate about the state testing system has been bubbling for a year but seems to have intensified in recent months.

New online social studies and science tests were given in two grades last spring, and the somewhat sobering scores were released just this week (see story).

Next spring’s online language arts and math tests for grades 3-11 are fast approaching, raising anxiety levels in many districts, and the testing window for 12th grade science and social studies tests opens next week.

MacHale is skeptical of the value of those tests, noting, “We will get the results back when they’re in college.”

“What are we going to do with that?” asked Hankins.

An appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force has been studying the issue over the summer and fall and is supposed to make recommendations to the 2015 legislature. The group hasn’t yet made any major decisions and has three more meetings scheduled.

The State Board has discussed testing several times in recent months, and the issue is expected to come up again in November. Montrose district leaders want to make their case to the board in person.

The upcoming legislative session will be key. “I think people may be waiting to see what happens at the Capitol,” Urschel said. “Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in control, one of the top issues is going to be assessment.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Proponents of change in southwest Denver schools disagree on specifics

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 10:06

Pick a plan...

Southwest Denver parents and activists told board member Rosemary Rodriguez that DPS needs to come up with a plan for their schools—but disagreed on just what that plan should be. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool Really Matters

Preschool Matters has raised nearly $400,000 to push for an extension of Denver's preschool tax. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

green schools

The U.S. Green Building Council's Colorado chapter highlighted work in Colorado to make environmentally sound schools. The University of Denver will host a green buildings conference in November. ( Education Week )

State Board

Colorado's state board of education races are drawing more attention and money than usual. ( Denver Post )

mental health

Sarina Gonzales is Colorado's secondary counselor of the year. ( Daily Camera )

This class is on fire

The U.S. Chemical Board studied several classroom fires, including one in Colorado, and determined that science teachers need more safety training. ( Aurora Sentinel )

money matters

Colorado superintendents say they want fewer laws dictating what they can do and more money to do it. ( Arvada Press )

Reach Higher

Michelle Obama has announced a video contest encouraging students to apply for FAFSA or show off college programs. The prize: The first lady speaking at your school. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Unsharing spaces

In Memphis, the school district is backing away from "co-locating" traditional schools with charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Us, Too

Large suburban and countywide districts call for testing flexibility. ( Education Week )

Socratic Seminar

Kids talk about Socrates as part of NPR's 50 Great Teachers project. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Campaign for Denver preschool tax raises nearly $400,000

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 17:14

The campaign that’s pushing for extension of Denver’s preschool sales tax has raised $395,450 for its effort to persuade Denver voters to pass measure 2A.

The Preschool Matters committee has spent $391,952 for mailers, yard signs and other advertising, according to the group’s final disclosure statement before Tuesday’s election.

Major contributions of note during the most recent reporting period include $25,000 from DaVita, $15,000 each from Xcel Energy and the Gary Community Investment Co. and $10,000 apiece from education philanthropist Joan Brennan and the Merage Foundation.

The campaign also reported a $100,000 in-kind contribution from Entravision, a Spanish-language media company with operations in Denver. (See the full list of recent contributors here.)

Measure 2A proposes to increase and extend the sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

Read about prior campaign fundraising here, and learn more about the Denver Preschool Program and the ballot proposal in this story.

Categories: Urban School News

In Southwest Denver, calls for change but clashes on details

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 15:11

Southwest Denver parents and activists are pushing the district to move faster to improve schools in the neighborhood, but are still far from a consensus on exactly what changes are needed.

At a community meeting convened on Wednesday by Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy organizations, residents and advocates agreed that a plan to boost the neighborhood’s struggling schools was overdue. But they disagreed about whether charter schools or in-district solutions would be most effective and about how the district should serve the area’s many English learners.

This week’s meeting comes on the heels of DPS’s decision to delay plans to open two new schools in southwest Denver next year, including one run by charter operator Strive.

DPS officials say they are working steadily to improve schools despite the delay, but parents and advocates have claimed change is not coming quickly enough.

The quality of schools in the southwest, which is home to some 22,000 students, has been the subject of concern and discontent for years.

“This is something that’s been going on for decades and generations. The school board has known it, the superintendents have known it,” said Marco Antonio Abarca, a board member of Latinos for Education Reform.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a barrage of statistics illustrating the neighborhood’s plight drawn from a report called “Ya Basta”—Enough is Enough—released by a coalition of local advocacy groups last spring.

“We’re saying that now is the time for change,” said Van Schoales, the CEO of A+ Denver, one of the groups behind the report.

“We’re here to demand from the school district high-quality public schools in southwest Denver,” said Oscar Castillo, a member of Stand For Children. “It’s disappointing to see a slow response on the part of the district.”

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaPadres & Jovenes Unidos co-director Ricardo Martinez, right, at Abraham Lincoln High School on Wednesday.

Castillo and other parents spent the evening advocating for more school choice, more high-quality elementary schools, and better transportation options in the neighborhood. One mother described how her child had to travel an hour to get to school. Another said students need a restorative justice system, healthy food, high standards, and extended time in school.

Schoales said efforts in the Far Northeast, where many schools have undergone intense turnaround efforts and others have been converted into charter schools, could be a model for improvements. Several parents said they hoped Strive and DSST, networks of high-performing charter schools, would move into the area, and one charter operator used the public comment section to recruit families.

But Padres & Jovenes Unidos, originally slated to cohost the event, chose not to host because it did not agree with the other sponsoring groups—Stand For Children, Latinos for Education Reform, A+ Denver, and Democrats for Education Reform—that charter schools are the answer.

Members still showed up to the Wednesday’s meeting to call for change.

“Our strong recommendation is to improve our schools, not to replace our schools,” said Ricardo Martinez, the group’s co-director. “Not all charters are bad. They’re good incubators for best practices. But we feel the incubation period is over. We know what works and we should do our most to replicate those practices in our schools.”

In this heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhood, there was also disagreement about how the district should work with students who are learning English.

One commenter said research showed students should begin learning English at the very beginning of their school careers. A first-year Teach For America corps member spoke in both English and Spanish to illustrate the benefits of bilingual education.

Darlene LeDoux, DPS director of academic achievement for English learners, said the district’s current program, in which some students learn in their native language before focusing on English, is research-based and benefits students. “It’s imperative to retain culture and the connection to family,” LeDoux said.

Nearly a third of the comments came from school and advocacy group leaders. Two staff members at Compass Academies, which plans to open in the neighborhood next year, used the comment time to present a slide show featuring images of teachers and kids. And David Hicks, founder of the Colorado Construction Institute, described his school—now in its second year—and said the district shouldn’t neglect career education in favor of college preparation for all.

Rodriguez told the crowd that she planned to share their perspectives with the district. She said she planned to host additional meetings and events, including having a college fair for elementary-aged students in the area and having a community-wide conversation about restorative justice and bullying.

Though the meeting was not organized by DPS, district officials and board president Happy Haynes came to listen to comments and talk to attendees. DPS officials have said they are already working with community members and schools in southwest Denver to address concerns.

After the meeting, Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said she and other DPS staff had already been in conversations with community members in the neighborhood. She said the district was taking a different approach to school improvement in southwest than it had in northeast Denver, where dramatic changes and turnaround efforts led to some pushback from community members.

She said parents in southwest should already be seeing some improvements. One school is receiving a new leader; other principals are learning strategies for coaching teachers. “The principal should be more visible, there should be changes in the kind of work students are doing…it’s not nearly as flashy as, we’re going to shut this school down and bring in a brand-new program, but it’s the kind of work that will pay off.”

“You heard here in the room this tension between urgency and, don’t close down all our schools, don’t make the same mistakes,” she said. “I thought it was a very balanced conversation around the role high-performing charters can play, about the role of improving neighborhood schools. I think it’s really a good way to move into a region-wide approach to thinking about this.”

Rodriguez said more people came to the meeting than she had anticipated. “People thought there was an opportunity to be involved. People are aware we have room to grow and want to come up with steps to achieve it.”

She said she wasn’t surprised that most of the meeting participants had ties to the advocacy groups that had organized the meeting.

“They wouldn’t join an advocacy group if there weren’t something to advocate for,” Rodriguez said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco mulls school options in growing area

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 09:54

Having their say

A group of district leaders criticized excessive testing and had some frank comments about legislators Wednesday during the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Push for better schools

Parents backed by education reform groups are making their case with a board member as they seek improved schools in southwest Denver. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Planning for growth

The Jeffco school district is looking at building a new K-8 school in a booming area of Arvada, but it does not have funding set aside for a project that is expected to run about $25 million. ( 9News (with video) )

Possible reunion?

After a four-year hiatus, the Douglas County School Board is considering rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards. Some members think CASB would be a useful ally in Capitol K-12 funding debates, but others are concerned about the cost of membership. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

District considers options

The Pueblo City Schools, which is on the state's accreditation clock, is considering whether to employ an independent accrediting organization to provide a districtwide support system as part of its turnaround and priority improvement actions for 14 of its schools. ( Chieftain )

Honored

The Colorado School Counselor Association has named Sarina Gonzales, a counselor at Lafayette's Centaurus High School, the 2014 Secondary School Counselor of the Year. ( Daily Camera )

The St. Vrain district has won an award for its parent leadership program. ( Colorado Hometown Weekly )

Points of view

A Jeffco teacher writes about how he used a class about violence and killing to teach empathy to at-risk boys. ( Denver Post )

The current testing climate not only produced lots of bad bubble tests that measured mostly shallow learning but it also caused classroom time to be eaten up by test drills, writes the former communications director for DPS. ( Denver Post )

Backing off

The Obama administration has watered down its threatened crackdown on for-profit colleges, loosening tough sanctions under heavy political pressure from the industry and members of Congress from both parties. ( Politico )

Categories: Urban School News

Superintendents vent on testing and about the legislature

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 16:04

A group of district leaders criticized excessive testing and had some frank comments about legislators Wednesday during the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum.

“What I wish we could do is back off of testing some,” said Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull. “We’re losing instructional time, and our teachers don’t have the time to teach.”

And as for the legislature, Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger was blunt: “Quit passing laws and let us do what we know how to do.”

The event brought together eight superintendents to field questions posed by moderator Donna Lynne, a top Kaiser Permanente executive who serves on several education panels.

The most interesting responses came when testing and standards and legislation and school funding were raised.

Messinger echoed Bull on testing, saying high-stakes testing often is “meaningless” and that Colorado should use “the minimum amount of assessment we need to document student success.”

La Veta Superintendent Bree Lessar used an image that she said resoates in her rural, 210-student district. “If we want to fatten up the cow we have to be careful about how many times we take it to the scale.”

But Chris Gdowski, superintendent of the Adams 12-Five Star schools, said, “What we need is more time” for both instruction and assessment. “I think the conversation we need to have is about expanding the school day and the school calendar.”

Opinions were even more varied on academic standards.

Douglas County Superintendent Liz Fagan said, “The Common Core and some of the standards that are out there are lower than we would like them to be.”

But Bull said, “We are embracing the Colorado Academic Standards,” complaining that “The conversation around the Common Core is incredibly politically energized. It distracts from the most important conversation” about what really happens in classrooms.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg also complained about “the incredible politicization around the new standards.” He called the Common Core “extraordinarily good,” much better than the “politically influenced hodge-podge of often not very good state standards.”

Asked about the upcoming legislative session, the group was pretty much on the same page about more laws and about funding.

  • “I wish what the legislature and the governor would do is trust us as professionals. I think there is a lack of trust and respect,” adding that legislators’ “depth of knowledge on specific topics is very limited.” – Bull
  • “Show me the money. We need money.” – Gdowski
  • “We as a state are not investing in our future,” especially in early education. – Boasberg
  • “Mandates that come down without funding are a problem. – Scott Murphy of Littleton
  • “The funding in Colorado needs to come back.” – Fagen

Lynne also raised the question of school district conflicts, in the news recently because of Jefferson County’s travails.

The prompted Bull to say, “I think there’s this world call ‘reasonable,’” but that discussions about Common Core and testing have brought out extreme views. “For most parents, for most communities there is that place called ‘reasonable.’ Our task is to constantly bring us back to that.”

New Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee alluded quickly to the situation in his district and said, “I agree with Harry. Everybody you talk to wants the same things, they want a great experience for their kids.” Referring to his challenges, he said, “You have to come a really good listener.”

Categories: Urban School News

Southwest Denver parents to share vision of schools with board member

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 14:30

Southwest Denver parents, organized by some of Denver’s most prominent education reform advocacy organizations and incensed over an apparent delay to improve their schools, are taking matters into their own hands tonight.

That’s when they’ll meet with their school board representative, Rosemary Rodriguez, to discuss how they hope Denver Public Schools moves forward to improve their chronically low-performing schools.

The meeting will feature testimony and ideas on how to improve schools from more than 60 parents, several of whom have been asking for a vast reform effort in the mostly poor and Latino southwest corner for months.

In a rare instance, tonight’s meeting is not organized by Denver Public Schools, but by school board member Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy groups, including Stand for Children, A+ Denver, Democrats for Education Reform, and Latinos of Education Reform.

“I’m very happy that my son is getting a good education [at a KIPP middle school],” said Graciela Contreas, a Stand volunteer and southwest Denver mother. “But speaking on behalf of other families, I know Denver needs to do a better job at some of their schools.”

Abraham Lincoln High School, her district-run neighborhood high school, is a case in point, Contreas said, shaking her head.

“Lincoln is not a good school,” Contreas said.

Among the suggestions parents plan to pitch Rodriguez tonight are an immediate increase in tutoring, a serious discussion about granting innovation status to some schools, and thoughts about how to create high performing programs — either run by the district or a charter network — that are also is in compliance with a court order that dictates how  DPS must teach English language learners.

Know before you go Tonight’s meeting between Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez and a coalition of southwest Denver parents and reform groups is at 6 p.m. at Abraham Lincoln High School Community Room, 2285 South Federal Blvd.

The parents and the coalition that backs them released a report last spring that detailed the plight of the city’s southwest schools and kicked off the campaign to improve the neighborhood schools.

According to the report, of the 42 schools in southwest Denver, only three were given the highest rating on the district’s evaluation of its own campuses. It also found that only about one student out of every 10 are college or career ready by the time they finish high school.

Southwest Denver schools serve more than 22,000 students — about a quarter of the entire district.

“Rosemary is our greatest hope,” said Mateos Alvarez, city director for Stand. “This is why we knocked on doors for her a year ago. We believe Rosemary can lead us into a place where we can get this done.”

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she hopes to hear what parents want and then present that to district officials.

“Parents have been asking — at every board meeting — for a plan for southwest Denver,” Rodriguez said. “And I want to give them an opportunity to tell me what kind of schools they think would best serve their kids. Then my intention is to take their feedback to district and say, ‘this is what parents want, these are their priorities. How does that fit in with what you have in mind. And can we create a plan for the area that we can point to and that we can be accountable to.’”

Advocates behind tonight’s meeting say part of the reason the meeting won’t include any district officials is because southwest families have grown tired of waiting for the bureaucracy to act.

“So much time has passed,” Alvarez said. “We don’t know if they’ve dragged their feet, we just know it’s taking a really long time.”

But Susana Cordova, Denver’s chief schools officer, said that’s not the case.

Her team has met with 29 different southwest school communities to discuss transportation issues and access to high performing programs and has provided regular updates to the Kepner Middle Schools community on a delay to phase-in new programs, and has held frequent conversations with Valverde Elementary School families about a transition between principals.

Cordova also plans to present a comprehensive report and plan to the school board in December about how to move forward in southwest Denver.

“We take the parents’ concerns very seriously,” Cordova said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Preschool supporters optimistic voters will approve tax hike

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 10:06

Big bucks

Spending by an independent expenditure committee Raising Colorado, which is tied to the nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform, far outstrips the combined $58,539 spent by all four candidates in the 3rd and 7th districts. So far, the committee has spent more than $200,000. ( Chalkbeat )

Toddler tax

Supporters of a tax that would continue to fund the Denver Preschool Program are optimistic city voters will pass the issue on November's ballot. ( Denver Post )

bashing bullies

A Colorado Springs middle school student has published a book about bullying. ( Fox 21 )

No laughing matter

A North High School student was recently arrested for bring a BB gun to school. ( KDVR )

We got your back

The Douglas County School District is defending a teacher and principal who are subject to a lawsuit that claims they are using school time to promote Christianity. ( Christian Post )

It's like Amazon — but for schools

Meanwhile, Douglas County schools is introducing an online tool to help parents choose which school is best for their children. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Chartering a new path

A new charter school, backed by a former Dougco school board member, appears likely to open next year. It put in a bid to buy the former Denver Christian Schools campus in Highlands Ranch. ( Douglas County News-Press )

But a current school board member is raising question about proposed changes to how the district authorizes charter schools. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Field trip

The Butterfly Pavillon, which offers education classes to students and adults, is now accredited. It's only the second invertebrate zoo in the nation to receive the honor. ( Westminster Window )

#saywhat?

A Tennessee school district's policy governing what students say on their social networks and other policies regarding mobile devices in school are drawing the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. ( Tennessean )

Around the network

New York's largest teachers union is asking a court to toss a lawsuit that could invalidate tenure in the Empire State. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Memphis Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he would propose expanding his own turnaround efforts known, while the school board’s chairwoman said she would push for a legislative moratorium on the state's Achievement School District’s expansion. That's because iZone schools are regularly outperforming state run schools. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Categories: Urban School News

Education reform group doubles down on State Board races

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 17:10

A political committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform has pumped another $84,691 into support of two Democrats running for the State Board of Education, bringing the total spent to more than $200,000.

The spending by the independent expenditure committee Raising Colorado far outstrips the combined $58,539 spent by all four candidates in the 3rd and 7th districts.

The money has been spent on radio ads, direct mail and other media supporting Democrats Henry Roman in the 3rd and Jane Goff in the 7th and criticizing their opponents, Republicans Marcia Neal and Laura Boggs. Committees such as Raising Colorado make spending decisions independently and aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates’ committees.

Raising Colorado’s involvement in the races surfaced after the Oct. 14 campaign finance disclosure deadline, when the group reported spending $70,500 on Roman’s behalf and $56,366 backing Goff. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on that spending and the motivations behind it.)

Another reporting deadline fell on Monday, and the committee reported spending another $56,442 backing Roman and an additional $28,249 in support of Goff.

Roman has raised $17,874 on his own and reported spending $6,370. Neal, the incumbent, has narrowed a prior funding gap, raising $16,220 and spending $13,893. (However, that latter amount includes about $5,000 that she spent on her June primary.)

Incumbent Goff is way ahead of Boggs in the financial race, having raised $32,731 and spent $26,869. Boggs has managed to raise only $4,472 and spend $1,507.

Raising Colorado also stuck its toe in other races, reporting spending $29,249 on direct mail to oppose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and laying out $3,748 to buy newspaper ads supporting Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon and chair of the House Education Committee.

DFER taking a higher campaign profile

Raising Colorado’s spending isn’t the only DFER involvement in this year’s elections. So far the committee has raised $450,020 and spent $358,485. It has received most of its funds from yet another DFER-affiliated committee, Education Reform Now Advocacy. That group has spent a total of $1.9 million, much of that funneled to other, Democratic-affiliated committees that in turn redistribute the cash in support of many different Democratic candidates.

The Colorado Education Association, traditionally the big education player in campaign finance, has spent about $440,000 so far this year, spread between those Democratic-related committees, opposition to Proposition 104 and in contributions to campaign committees that are backing proposed tax increases in several districts. Small-donor committees related to CEA have contributed additional funds to candidates.

Outside cash sloshing around in many races

Democratic candidates in battleground legislative races of interest to education have continued to raise significant war chests as the Nov. 4 election nears.

Learn more about the 2014 races of interest to education in the Chalkbeat Education Voter’s Guide

The leader is Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Jefferson County, who’s raised $239,540. Close behind in a nearby district is Sen. Andy Kerr, who’s raised $217,438. Kerr is chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Zenzinger is a member.

Democrats Judy Solano of Adams County and Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, two former House Education Committee members now seeking Senate seats, each have raised about $150,000.

And two current House Education members, Democrats Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Dave Young of Greeley, have raised about $130,000 each.

Jefferson County, evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters, is ground zero for this year’s elections. As of Monday, more than 94,000 Jeffco voters already had returned their ballots, the largest number from any county. About 660,000 ballots had been returned statewide.

In addition to the outside money, Kerr is getting some other outside help. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Election Association, will be in Colorado Friday to volunteer at Kerr’s campaign office.

Candidates’ own campaign efforts have been supplemented with independent spending by that network of Democratic committees.

The candidates mentioned above, as well has many other Democrats, have benefited from independent spending of up to five figures each by committees such as Colorado Neighborhood Alliance, Save Jeffco Schools, Priorities for Colorado and others. Most of the spending is on literature, phone banks and canvassers. Those committees receive much of their funding from a group called Mainstream Colorado. (Read an explanation of how the system works in this Chalkbeat story.)

Republicans have a somewhat similar – but not as well funded – system using committees such as the Senate Majority Fund and Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.

Other committees mostly quiet

In addition to the big party-related committees, a number of other campaign groups focus on education. With the exception of Raising Colorado, most of those committees have been inactive for the last several weeks, having made their contributions earlier in the election cycle.

Monday’s reports, which cover activity from Oct. 9-22, are the last before the election. (The exception to that are reports from committees backing local district proposals. They have a filing deadline on Friday.)

After that, campaign committees don’t have to make post-election reports until Dec. 4.

This chart shows activity by education-related committees through Monday.

Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or individual small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Arapahoe shooter was deemed “low-level” threat

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:03

New tests

The results are in for Colorado new science and social studies tests, and the low proficiency levels may give teachers and parents some pause. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR, Denver Post )

Test results varied widely around the state, so search district and school results of interest to you in our database. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Editorial

Parents and educators shouldn't get too worked up about the results of the new CMAS tests. They are not surprising nor are they are particularly revealing. ( Greeley Tribune )

Denver preschool tax

Eight years after Denver voters narrowly approved the sales tax ballot measure that created the Denver Preschool Program, they are being asked in ballot issue 2A whether to continue and expand that tax. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A new poll shows public support for public investments in early childhood programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School violence

Arapahoe High School administrators deemed Karl Pierson a low-level risk despite a threat assessment that showed a "significant history" of violent behavior. ( Denver Post )

Pot in schools

Legalization of marijuana in Colorado may have made it easier for students to bring marijuana - in various forms - into schools. ( NBC Nightly News )

The great retreat

A new report from the Center for American Progress details - on a state-by-state basis - the extent to which recession-driven reductions in public college financing since 2008 have sent tuitions soaring. ( Inside Higher Ed )

Categories: Urban School News

72 percent of Coloradans say middle class families should receive help to pay for early learning

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 18:47
Coloradans believe our communities and state need the talents of all our children. Stimulating early childhood experiences help us maximize this potential in our children as they enter school ready to learn and begin a path toward life success. We’re excited to see this poll reflect the great wave of support for expanding access to quality early learning for all Colorado families who want it.
– Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children's Campaign

That’s how Watney reacted to a new poll that found majorities of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated Colorado voters support investments in early childhood programs — including teacher training, voluntary parent coaching, and expanding access to early learning or child care.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 52 percent believe Colorado needs to do more to prepare students for kindergarten.
  • 84 percent of Democrats support more federal aid to preschool programs, while only 40 percent of Republicans do.
  • 76 percent of unaffiliated voters believe the federal government should invests to help states provide more access to high-quality early childhood programs for low- and moderate-income families.

Denver voters will get to decide in November if more sales tax revenue should go to early childhood learning.

The poll was conducted by the bipartisan team of Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research for the First Five Years Fund. The fund is an education nonprofit that advocates for early childhood education programs for disadvantaged children.

Survey says… DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1347701-coloardo-preschool-poll.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1347701-coloardo-preschool-poll' });
Categories: Urban School News

Voters weigh sales tax measure for Denver Preschool Program

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 17:10

Eight years after Denver voters narrowly approved the sales tax ballot measure that created the Denver Preschool Program, they are being asked in ballot issue 2A whether to continue and expand that tax.

Advocates of the DPP program, including a host of political heavy-hitters, say it’s helped ensure school readiness, boost third-grade test scores and improve preschool quality in the city. There is no organized group opposing the measure, but skeptics like City Councilor Jeanne Faatz say providing preschool subsidies should be the state’s role not the city’s and that the program’s universal approach means that tax-payers are subsidizing preschool for affluent families who don’t truly need the help.

The DPP program provides preschool tuition credits to four-year-olds in Denver, with a tiered scale that means low-income families whose children attend highly-rated preschools get the most assistance and higher-income families whose children attend lower-rated preschools get the least.

If 2A passes, the sales tax would be raised from .12 percent to .15 percent, or 15 cents for every $100 spent in Denver on taxable items. The additional revenue would be used to reinstate summer preschool programs, increase the amount of tuition credits and offer help with extended-day preschool. The measure would extend the tax until 2026.

DPP By the numbers

Kids

  • Children served annually: 5020
  • Children served since DPP’s inception: 31,816
  • DPP students attending 3- or 4-star preschools: 89%

Money

  • Average tuition credit: $322 per month for full-day programs
  • 2015 budget if ballot measure passes: $19 million
  • 2015 budget if ballot measure fails: $15.3 million
  • Current cap on administrative expenses: 5%
  • Administrative expense cap if ballot measure passes: 7%

Timing

  • Expiration of current sales tax: December 2016
  • Expiration if ballot measure passes: 2026

The existing DPP sales tax, which passed with 50.6 percent of the vote in 2006, won’t expire until December 2016. Both sides agree that if the ballot measure fails next month, voters will have other opportunities to consider a sales tax extension for DPP before the tuition credits stop at the end of the 2016-17 school year.

Still, Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of DPP, believes now is the time for a renewal.

“There is an urgency for voters to vote this year,” she said. “First off, the city decided that this was the year to go back to the voters…We’ve raised the money. We’ve launched the campaign. We’re on that course.”

A boon for student achievement?

There are now seven years of academic data available from students who’ve participated in the DPP program. Much of it comes from annual evaluations conducted by the Denver consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates in tandem with Clayton Early Learning Institute.

The most recent report from the firm indicates that about 90 percent of DPP students score well enough on national literacy and math assessments to be considered school-ready. DPP’s 2013 Report to the Community actually cites higher rates—98 percent for literacy and 99 percent for math—but the  report explains that those numbers are based on cut scores the authors believe are too low to accurately reflect school-readiness.

With the first two DPP cohorts now in fourth and fifth grade, there’s also evidence that DPP participants do better on third-grade state tests than non-DPP students. Overall, 64 percent of DPP kids were “proficient” or “advanced” on 2014 reading tests compared to 56 percent of non-participants.

The spread was about six points in math, with 63 percent of DPP participants  proficient or advanced compared to 57 percent of non-participants. Such differences in proficiency rates held true for participants and non-participants of all races as well as those who are English-language learners.

What about the state?

While there doesn’t seem to be a fundamental argument about preschool’s value this election season, there are questions about Denver’s approach. Faatz believes the state’s Colorado Preschool Program, which funds preschool and some full-day kindergarten for more than 23,000 at-risk children, represents a better way to go. She said it makes more sense to expand the reach of the state’s program than have another layer of bureaucracy working only for Denver children.

“I think the state is more efficient in the way it does it,” said Faatz, who cast the lone no vote when Denver’s city council decided in August to put the DPP sales tax question on the ballot.

Faatz also worries that DPP’s administrative costs are excessive. Although administrative expenses are capped at 5 percent by city ordinance, she said some line items don’t seem properly categorized and administrative costs would far exceed the cap if they were.

But Landrum said city ordinance defines exactly what is counted as administrative costs—things like staff salaries, facility costs and accounting fees–and that DPP is in compliance.

And Landrum pointed out that even with repeated efforts at the state level to expand CPP, there still aren’t enough slots for all eligible children.

“The city and county of Denver is trying to do better.”

Focus on quality

One aspect of the Denver Preschool Program that everyone seems to agree on is the focus on helping preschools improve and sustain their quality. Ten percent of the program’s budget is dedicated to quality improvement measures. This may mean providing coaches to help preschool providers prepare for rating visits, paying for teacher training or making facility improvements.

Do your homework

“I think the thing that’s really exemplary about what DPP is doing…is they’re investing not just in kids but in quality,” said Cheryl Caldwell, director of early childhood education for Denver Public Schools.

Last year, that quality improvement money paid for 15 hours of training for paraprofessionals at the district’s DPP sites as well as for teachers to attend a major early childhood conference.

In addition to designating part of its budget for preschool improvement,  Landrum said DPP’s tiered reimbursement model incentivizes parents to select higher-quality programs by providing larger tuition credits. It’s a model that seems to be catching on across the country.

“Denver has been at the forefront around that idea,” she said. “Quality is expensive and having higher tuition support for higher quality programs helps maintain quality.”

Nearly 90 percent of DPP participants attend preschools with the top two ratings from Qualistar, a highly-regarded rater of early childhood programs in the state. Up till now, those ratings have been voluntary and providers were not required to go through the process, but many Denver providers did because of DPP.

Landrum said when DPP launched in the fall of 2007 only 52 preschool providers in Denver had been rated by Qualistar. That number is now 227, with an additional 18 that have national accreditation equivalent to Qualistar’s top four-star rating.

“At the end of the day I think this is good for Denver…preschool is the beginning of a successful academic career,” she said.

2013 DPP Expenditures | Create Infographics
Categories: Urban School News

Room for improvement in science, social studies test results

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 14:01

The results are in for Colorado’s brand-new science and social studies tests, and they may give teachers and parents some pause.

Only about a third of fifth and eighth graders scored in the two highest levels on science tests, and 17 percent of fourth and seventh graders scored at those levels on social studies. The social studies tests are brand-new, and the science results are lower than those on last TCAP science tests in 2013 – which aren’t comparable to the new tests.

The results are seen as a preview of how scoring likely will sort out after new language arts and math tests are given next spring in grades 3-11.

(See the chart below for a breakout of the statewide results, and search this Chalkbeat Colorado database for results by school and district.)

The science and social studies results were in line with what Department of Education officials had indicated to the State Board of Education in August, when the board signed off on cut scores for the tests (see story).

Anticipating public concern and confusion about the results of new tests, CDE officials have been stressing for months that results of the science and social studies tests – and next year’s tests – aren’t comparable to what came before.

“These new standards did set higher expectations; they definitely are more challenging,”  Joyce Zurkowski, CDE director of assessment, told reporters at a briefing prior to Monday’s release of the results. “The cut scores are more rigorous than we’ve had in the past.”

A CDE document is more detailed about why scores may not be what some people think they should be:

“Because the new standards reflect higher expectations, fewer students are meeting or exceeding expectations. Some students who previously met or exceeded standards now show the need for improvement. However, these new expectations do not mean that students know less than they did before or that they are less capable than they were in previous years. Instead, we are simply expecting more of students going forward to show their progress toward college and career-readiness.”

Everything about the tests is new

Statewide social studies tests were never given in Colorado before last spring, and the science tests are significantly different from past TCAP and CSAP science exams. Here’s a breakdown of what’s changed:

Academic standards – Standards are the broad descriptions of what students are supposed to know and do at various grade levels to be considered academically proficient. (Curriculum is the is bundle of lessons, readings, exercises and teachers talking that is used to teach the standards, and choice of curriculum is up to local districts.) The new standards adopted by the state in 2009 are intended to set a bar that ensures every student leaves high school ready for college or careers. – See a description of the science standards here and of the social studies standards here.

Who took tests

  • 64,064 students took 4th grade social studies
  • 62,719 7th graders
  • 64,341 5th graders took science tests
  • 61,459 8th graders

Test trivia

  • The two tests are unique to Colorado, while next year’s PARCC tests are multistate and based on Common Core
  • All four sets of tests are produced by Pearson
  • Science tests are required by NCLB, but social studies in only a Colorado requirement

Test content – These aren’t your old multiple-choice “select-the-capital-of-Vermont” tests. There are multiple-choice items, but students also are asked to do things like read passages of text and interpret them.

Taking the tests – The social studies and science tests were given online last spring, as language arts and math tests will be given next spring. (There will be paper-and-pencil options for districts.) So students have to move screen to screen, check answers by clicking on them, type text into boxes and move objects around on the screen. – Use the links on this page to view and take sample tests.

Scoring the tests – The “cut scores” used to classify students at different levels of proficiency of course are brand-new for social studies and different than they were for the old science tests.

Sorting out the kids – Remember “advanced,” “proficient,” “partially proficient” and “unsatisfactory”? Those were the categories used to classify student results on CSAP and TCAP, with the combined percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced used as a key marker of school and district performance. Those labels are gone. In their place are “distinguished command,” “strong command,” “moderate command” and “limited command.” – Learn what those descriptions mean for fifth-grade science, eighth grade, fourth-grade social studies and seventh grade.

The results

In science, 34 percent of fifth graders were in the top two categories, compared to 32 percent of eighth graders. The percentages in the moderate and limited command categories were very comparable in the two grades.

(Results of the 2013 TCAP science tests showed 48 percent of fifth graders were proficient or advanced and 52 percent of eight graders.)

“We were not surprised at what we saw in the science scores,” based on the experience of other states that have changed tests, Zurkowski said.

In both fourth and seventh grade social studies, 17 percent of students scored as strong or distinguished. Only 2 percent of fourth graders were distinguished, compared to 4 percent of seventh graders. But only 32 percent of the elementary students scored at limited command, compared to 45 percent of seventh graders.

Zurkowski said CDE really didn’t have an expectation about social studies because such tests aren’t required in most other states.

Parents will receive individual reports for students that will also break out how students did on individual parts of the tests, such as physical science, life science and other categories on that test.

Scores show familiar patterns

Scores on the two tests showed achievement gaps based on income and ethnicity that echo those recorded for several years on CSAP and TCAP tests.

Asian students did the best in social studies, with 28 percent of fourth graders in the top two categories and 34 percent of seventh graders. The percentages for white students were 24 and 22. The percentages of Hispanics students scoring distinguished or strong were 6 percent in both grades. For blacks they were 7 percent in the fourth grade and 6 percent in seventh.

In science, 44 percent of Asian fifth graders scored distinguished or strong, compared to 47 percent of eighth graders. The percentages for whites were 44 and 47, for Hispanics 15 and 16 and for blacks 13 and 14.

“There is not an increase in the gaps.” Zurkowski said, adding, “It does appear that our females have caught up with our male students in science.”

Girls did between 2 and 5 percentage points better in distinguished and strong in social studies and 1 point better at both grade levels of science.

Lessons for districts & schools

“Schools and districts are going to have to do a little self-examination” in light of the results, Zurkowski said.

“We are encouraging schools and districts to examine what their social studies programming looks like. …Perhaps social studies has not been focus” in the past, when it wasn’t tested statewide,” she said.

This year’s test results won’t be counted as part of district and school accreditation ratings – only whether districts met the 95 percent student participation requirement.

High school seniors will take the two tests next month, with the results available sometime next spring. It will be the first time that 12th graders have had to take statewide exams.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver still struggles to teach English language learners

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 09:41

over and out

Another top-ranking Jeffco official is leaving the district. And a new organization is tracking exits like Lynn Setzer's as proof of their theory the district's board majority's agenda is driving an exodus of talent. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The struggle is real

Three decades after a judge ruled Denver Public Schools violated the rights of English language learners, the district still struggles to provide services to those students. ( Denver Post )

As part of its court mandate, about 3,500 teachers are in the process of earning their "ELA designation," with approximately 1,800 going through DPS's training this school year. ( Denver Post )

Denver's charter schools, which must also comply with the court order, have similarly mixed results. ( Denver Post )

Back to the future

Putting more technology in Colorado classrooms could be a major tactic to close equity gaps in schools. ( 9News )

safe schools

The Cherry Creek School District has rolled out a new state-of-the-art security plan in its schools this year. ( KDVR )

Thumbs up

A special committee gave the OK for a Grand Junction middle school to use the book "Ender's Game" in class after a parent raised questions about the book's content. ( AP via Gazette )

Special education

The Northwest BOCES has been found at fault in three parent complaints that claim the organization denied students a legally required free and appropriate public education for a variety of reasons centering around the students' special needs. ( Steamboat Springs Today )

It takes a village

A small mountain community came together to bring high-speed Internet access to their town west of Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

Sticks and stones

A Denver teenager has found strength to beat her bullies through roller derby. ( 9News )

dollars and sense

The front man of a rock group told Boulder High School students to learn from his mistakes and become financially literate. ( Daily Camera )

follow the leader

A program developed by the St. Vrain Valley School District that trains about 50 parent leaders has won international recognition. ( Daily Camera )

Human Resources

Moffat County educators are raking in the honors. ( Craig Daily Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: To improve schools, New Hampshire puts students in charge

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 17:45
  • American schools are trying to prepare their students for an uncertain future. The solution to that problem, one writer argues, is to teach the skills of discovery. (Wired)
  • As more and more schools adopt project-based learning, a teacher predicts the future of the teaching technique. (Edutopia)
  • The news business may or may not be in a death spiral, but online coverage of education (at outlets like Chalkbeat!) is having a big moment. (Education Next)
  • A guide to split-second decision-making in the classroom from a New York charter school principal. (Achievement First)
  • A history of Charles B.J. Snyder, the man who used architecture to bring open play areas and sunlight to thousands of New York City schoolchildren. (Narratively)
  • Can teaching media literacy be used to both engage students and boost test scores? One New York City program says yes. (The Lamp)
  • After cutting many counselor and other social service positions, Philadelphia’s school district is training teachers and other staff to be more able to help with students’ mental and behavioral health issues. (The Notebook)
  • When a New Hampshire school found itself struggling with low test scores, it made the bold decision to put kids in charge of the classroom. (Atlantic)
  • A pilot program in the Granite State could prove to be the compromise between high-stakes accountability and teacher autonomy — and it has Arne Duncan’s attention. (EdWeek)
  • As the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, there is an ongoing debate about the role of the Recovery School District in New Orleans. (Hechinger Report)
  • Teachers may choose a better starting salary than a more generous pension. (EdWeek)
Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco’s chief messenger to exit next month

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 16:44

For the second time this school year, a top-ranking Jeffco Public Schools official is leaving the district.

Chief Communications Officer Lynn Setzer’s last day will be Nov. 5. Then, she’ll join the Mapleton Public Schools in Adams County for a similar role.

“I’ve had eight great years in Jeffco but this is a wonderful opportunity,” Setzer said in an email to Chalkbeat. “I will miss the many friends and colleagues I’ve come to know and cherish, but I won’t be going very far.  I wish only the very best for Jeffco’s talented staff and students.”

As Jeffco’s chief communications officer, Setzer oversaw both internal and external communication on behalf of the school district.

Prior to joining Jeffco, Setzer was a public relations specialist for Porter Adventist Hospital and a reporter and anchor for Denver’s ABC affiliate, KMGH.

News of Setzer’s exit comes after Jeffco’s Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis left earlier this month.

Critics of the suburban county’s school board are likely to latch on to Setzer’s departure and consider it more evidence of theory that the board’s majority, who were elected almost one year ago, is taking the district down a dangerous path.

In fact, a new website has been created to track the stories of employees and families who are leaving the district.

According to the agenda-driven website, nearly 600 Jeffco employees submitted their resignation or retirement in September. Most of those employees were teachers. The website complied its information based on regular human relations department reports provided to the school board. But it’s unclear whether the employees’ departures were immediate or whether the board’s conservative majority had anything to do with their decisions.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco schools tells Republican candidates to drop district logo in ads

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 09:31

Hold up, wait a minute

The governing boards for Denver Public Schools and the STRIVE charter network have agreed to delay three news schools by a year. That means sweeping changes at the city's lowest performing middle school are on hold. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Stop right there, thank you very much

Lawyers for Jeffco Public Schools told Republican candidate for state Senate not to use the school district's logo in any more campaign ads. Meanwhile, some parents are incensed about the damage, as they see it, done. ( ABC 7 )

dollars and sense

Election Day is still a few weeks away, but two key Democratic lawmakers reached out to school superintendents this week, inviting them to work together on school finance issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

"Testing madness"

Students, parents, and teachers gathered in Colorado Springs for a discussion with the state's standards and testing task force. One parent told the committee he doesn't know what any of the tests scores actually mean. ( Gazette )

With the news of Chicago Public Schools asking for a delay in Common Core aligned tests, Politico asks: Is a decade's old system of testing-accountability nearly over? ( Politico )

Going to court

The Douglas County School District is being sued because officials at some schools have endorsed and fundraised for two evangelical groups, according to the lawsuit. ( Huffington Post )

Election 2014

Most voters surveyed in a new poll oppose Amendment 68, the slots-for-schools ballot measure, but strongly support Proposition 104, which would require school district/union contract negotiations to be held in public. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

Englewood Schools' Brian Ewert has been named Colorado superintendent of the year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Sweating, studying

Jeffco teachers are trying to infuse more physical activity before classes with hopes of raising student heart rates and studying prowess. ( 9News )

Eagle Crest Elementary students are sharpening their "ninja" skills in their physical education class. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver, STRIVE charter network put expansion plans on hold

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 21:20

Parents, students, and advocates in the city’s poor and heavily Latino southwest corner will have to wait at least one more year before they see the kinds of changes they’ve asked for at Denver’s lowest performing middle school, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education decided Thursday.

The plan was for a new STRIVE Prep charter school and a new district-run program to begin with a batch of sixth graders next fall. But because of a recent dip in achievement scores at the charter’s current schools, STRIVE officials have asked for a pause on their expansion plans.

In total, three STRIVE schools, including the one at Kepner Middle School, have been put on hold until 2016.

In addition, the district is also delaying the development of its own new program at Kepner, school officials confirmed.

“There is disappointment,” said Mateos Alvarez, an organizer for Stand For Children. “Parents felt like the process was finally moving. To get this announcement about the delay — it has made parents very disappointed.”

Stand is part of a coalition pushing DPS to comprehensively improve schools in what they say is the often neglected southwest Denver.

STRIVE chief executive Chris Gibbons said he and his board weighed the concerns of vocal parents in both Denver’s southwest and far northeast corners where the proposed schools were suppose to open. But ultimately, they decided to postpone what they hope will be successful schools rather than ensure failures on time.

“We really believe our commitment — first and foremost — is to high quality schools,” Gibbons said in an interview. “Right now, for us, the best way to do that is to slow down just enough to make sustained improvements.”

Several observers were shocked earlier this year when STRIVE schools across the city saw dramatic dips across the board in the state’s standardized assessments. So were STRIVE officials. Part of the reason for the dip, Gibbons said in August, was due to the network’s expansion.

As part of the network’s recalibration, Gibbon’s said, STRIVE is upping its teacher training on the state’s new standards, rolling out a new school evaluation tool for leaders to use as they monitor progress, and changing the way they hire.

“We’re very, very optimistic, on what we’re doing,” Gibbon’s said.

And they’re already seeing a bounce in their benchmark tests, Gibbons said. But that doesn’t mean the charter is ready for more schools.

“This is the latest a decision could be made for things to go to well,” Gibbons said.  “[If we see a comeback in scores], that tells me it’s because of the pause and that we made the right decision.”

Earlier this year, parents and community representatives worked with district officials to determine what programs should be available at Kepner. DPS officials ultimately decided on STRIVE in part, they said at the time, because of its past successes, especially with students learning English as a second language.

At the same time, no district-run program, which is needed to serve Kepner’s large student population, emerged through the district’s process to identify new schools. That meant the DPS officials needed to create one on their own. And that meant a loss of time to plan and identify a school leader, said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Denver’s Chief Academic Officer.

While Whitehead-Bust acknowledged the district could move ahead with its own plans for Kepner without STRIVE, she said officials believe more time to plan and identify a school leader to lead the school would be beneficial.

“It was not an easy decision,” Whitehead-Bust said. “We recognize the immediate need.”

The district currently plans to replicate one of its successful schools, Grant Beacon, at Kepner. Grant Beacon, an innovation school in southeast Denver, uses blends classroom and online learning, emphasizes student leadership, and offers electives led by community organizations.

In the meantime, Whitehead-Bust said, the district plans to move ahead with a new southwest Denver middle school that will be run by the education nonprofit City Year and identify additional supports for the students at Kepner. Principal Elza Gujardo is expected to stay on despite the additional year.

“There’s more to our school improvement strategies than just opening new schools,” Whitehead-Bust said.

Since March, parents  from southwest Denver by the dozens have told the school board the district needs to improve options for families along the Federal Boulevard corridor.

The setback at Kepner “is only one piece of the broader spectrum,” said Stand’s Alvarez.

School board member Rosemary Rodriguez agrees. That’s why she’s hosting a community forum Oct. 29 at Lincoln High School.

Rodriguez hopes to gain a better understanding of what kinds of schools the parents she represents want in southwest Denver and relay that back to DPS.

“I feel like the district is respective and eager to help,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Lawmakers hold out olive branch for 2015 finance debate

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 21:17

Nobody knows yet who’ll be in control of the 2015 Colorado legislature, but two key Democratic lawmakers are already reaching out to school superintendents, inviting them to work together on school finance issues.

The letter sent to district leaders Tuesday can be seen as a gesture to avoid some of the acrimony and bruising lobbying that marked the school finance debate during the 2014 session. (See the full letter at the bottom of this story.)

“We are asking you to work together with the legislature for both short and long term strategies to fund education,” wrote Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon and Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood. They are the chairs of the House and Senate education committees.

“It is imperative that we work together,” the letter said.

“I don’t know that we expected it, but we saw it as an opportunity,” said Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger, who’s been a leader in the superintendents’ funding push. As it happened, the influential Denver Area Superintendents’ Council met Thursday, and the letter was discussed.

“We took it as a hopeful sign that they are both sincere and interested,” Messinger said.

A Western Slope superintendent, Jason Glass of Eagle County, agreed, saying, “I think superintendents appreciate this proactive effort … to work with Colorado’s school leaders.”

Hamner and Kerr both are up for re-election in the Nov. 4 election. Hamner faces an opponent she’s beaten before and is considered likely to return to the Capitol. Kerr is in a close, contentious and high-spending race. Republicans are pushing hard to win a Senate majority, so even if Kerr wins, he’ll lose his chairmanship if the GOP takes control.

School boards and district superintendents aggressively took the initiative during the 2014 session, pushing very hard to reduce the “negative factor,” the $1 billion shortfall in K-12 spending caused by the legislature’s narrow interpretation of school funding requirements.

Some lawmakers were caught off-balance by the lobbying push, and both Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino initially opposed any cut.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood / File photo

Hamner and Kerr at times were caught in the middle of the fight, which finally ended with a $110 million cut in the negative factor as well as funding of some education initiatives that Hickenlooper wanted. Hamner mentioned more than once last spring how stressful the experience was. (Refresh your memory about the battle with this Chalkbeat Colorado story from last March, and get the details of how it all turned out in this article.)

In an email response to questions about this week’s letter, Hamner praised the superintendents’ involvement last winter but said she wants to do things differently next year.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon / File photo

“While I fully support their decision to get more involved and to fight for funding, I believe the process can and should work better if we work together,” she wrote.

The Hamner-Kerr letter said, “With the goal of making this collaboration as effective as possible, we will be inviting you to a series of meetings we plan on hosting to discuss these matters further.”

Hamner told Chalkbeat, “I’m not certain at this time how this collaborative approach will look, but I believe that a representative group of superintendents and CFOs [chief financial officers] who are willing to work with us in studying the opportunities and challenges within our state budget could play an important role in shaping improvements to school funding in this next session.”

Unknows loom over finance issue

There are some key uncertainties that could affect 2015 school finance debates and attempts to further trim the negative factor.

The most immediate is the election. Defeat of Hickenlooper by GOP candidate Bob Beauprez and Republican takeover of one or both legislative houses could dramatically change the playing field. (Most observers expect Democrats to retain House control, however.)

A new financial factor – the possibility that state will have to pay tax refunds under the terms of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights – could make it harder for lawmakers to increase school funding significantly. (Get details in this story.)

And a recent lawsuit, filed by a group of parents and districts, challenges the constitutionality of the negative factor and is pending in Denver District Court (details on that here).

“We understand there’s a lot in play right now,” Messigner said, adding that school finance remains the top priority for superintendents.

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1344999-letter-to-superintendents.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1344999-letter-to-superintendents' });
Categories: Urban School News

Read the latest print issue

 

Philly Ed Feed

Become a Notebook member

 

Top

Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300
notebook@thenotebook.org

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy