Some parents and community members in southeast Denver are suspicious of the district's intentions for a new elementary school, despite the Denver Public Schools repeated claims of transparency. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
evaluating the evaluations
As the school year winds down, teachers across Colorado are left wondering what data — if any — will be used in their first state-mandated evaluations. ( Denver Post )
Part of the 2010 law that created Colorado's teacher evaluation policies is the now legally-challenged "mutual consent" statute. Some teachers are suing DPS for alleged abuse of the law. Other teachers say it simply isn't true. ( Westword )
At a Pueblo charter school, teaching literacy doesn't look that much different despite an early adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A home in any other language
For some 400 English language learning families, understanding a new language isn't just a skill, it's a step toward a new culture and acceptance. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )
Electronic tablets are making classrooms more engaging, according to teachers at a St. Vrain Valley school. And more are on the way for the school district. ( Longmont Times-Call )
Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis marked the 15th anniversary of the school's shooting tragedy Sunday — his last as principal. ( 9News )
Survivors elsewhere are finding their purpose 15 years later. ( USA Today via Detroit Free Press )
Boulder's University Hill Elementary School playground is getting a $100,000 makeover. ( Daily Camera )
Colorado's new standards and assessments are a step toward creating an education we can all be proud of, opines a Denver parent. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
There is no more important investment we can make than the safety of our children, write leaders from both parties in the Colorado Senate. That's why they're excited to see the governor sign legislation that will fund a hotline intended to prevent violence on campuses. ( Denver Post )
A law that would establish more transparency for school funding isn't strong enough, suggests a conservative think tank leader. ( Denver Post )
The end of a three week unit on characters, plots, and themes is near in Leslie Fitzgerald’s eighth grade reading class at the Pueblo School of Arts and Sciences. On Thursday students began reading their last short story, “With Bert and Ray, told by William,” in a collection Throwing Shadows by E.L. Konigsburg.
The charter school class is using the anthology of short stories to understand the most basic literary techniques. These lessons may seem strikingly similar to lessons of yesteryear, even though this is the first year schools are supposed to be teaching to a new set of standards. For some Colorado districts, the new standards have meant a complete instructional overhaul.
But at this Pueblo arts and sciences school, teachers began exploring the standards in 2010 and found that in most subjects they had to make only slight shifts, said Natalie Allen, head of school.
Fitzgerald’s students are a bit excited after returning from a districtwide choir competition. As they tumble into their seats and unpack their shared tubs of books, reading journals, and workbooks, Fitzgerald reads aloud to them. The story of “Bert and Ray” begins with the narrator explaining his family’s current plight: His father has died of alcoholism and his mother, known as “Ma,” has been left with plenty of debt, including two months of dentist bills.
Fitzgerald usually begins the group reading aloud, she said after the lesson. “I want the students to hear fluent reading.” It also helps ensure that all students are in the same place when the class breaks for discussion. And it doesn’t take Fitzgerald long before she’s prodding her students about unfamiliar vocabulary words and themes.
To pay off the dentist bills, William tells the readers, Ma has decided to have a garage sale. William’s father was a bit of a pack rack and collected guns and other hunting paraphernalia including duck decoys. Fitzgerald stops to ask her students if they know anyone like William’s father. Does anyone in your family collect obscure objects? The students nod and Fitzgerald shares her own experience of a family member collecting hundreds of National Geographic magazines.
A common reading instruction technique is to ask students to connect the text they’re reading to their own personal lives. However, Fitzgerald says, part of an instructional shift aligned to the new Colorado Academic Standards requires students to go beyond personal connections and connect what they read to other texts. She does this next.
As the story continues, Ma has priced all the items and opened her home to buyers. Among her first customers is a pair of antique collectors, Bert and Ray. The collectors offer Ma exactly what she asked for the decoy ducks and are quickly on their way. Bert and Ray tell Ma to invite them back whenever she has another sale — they’ll be there.
Fitzgerald stops again to ask her students what that might mean. Several students suggest Ma might have priced the decoys too low. Fitzgerald affirms their inferences. Despite devaluing the decoy ducks, Ma and William make enough money to pay off their dentist bills and get more work done.
One day, on their way home from the dentist, William recognizes Bert and Ray’s shop by a sign hanging outside. The sign includes the word “proprietor,” which Fitzgerald stops to quiz the class on. “What does proprietor mean?” she asks the class. One student suggests it means “expert.” That’s a good guess, Fitzgerald said, but not quite. “What other clues from the text might be useful?”
Prepackaged vocabulary tests, as part of the Success For All literacy curriculum the school uses, have become increasingly more complex, Fitzgerald said after the lesson. In earlier editions of the program, students might have been asked to choose words from a bank to fill in sentences. Now, they might have to come up with a word on their own or find words being misused in sentences. The vocabulary tests are now three times as long.
William suggests he and his mother visit Bert and Ray, as the collector’s had instructed them to do if they were ever near the shop. But Ma doesn’t want to. She believes it’s rude to “pay a call unexpected.” Fitzgerald stops here, after reading aloud for 15 minutes. What does that tell you about Ma, she asks? How does she compare to other adults in the previous short stories we’ve read, asks Fitzgerald?
Critics of Colorado’s new standards have often criticized what they say is an emphasis on shorter stories and non-fictional texts, as opposed to longer classic novels. But Fitzgerald said she has used novels and short stories interchangeably for years. She said using short stories makes it easier for students to draw comparisons and contrast themes and symbols as they begin exploring those literary devices.
After a brief discussion on Ma, Fitzgerald asks her students to stop and predict what will happen when William and Ma enter Bert and Ray’s shop. She also assigns the majority of what’s left in the short story, pages 122-136, for partner reading. It might seem like a lot for independent and partner reading, she said, but she assures her students they can do it. Her students will have a unit test next week.
Accusations of inadequate transparency have tarnished Denver Public Schools’ efforts to select a school operator for a controversial new southeast campus.
The planned elementary school at Hampden Heights, where construction started in January, has for months been at the center of public disputes between neighbors and DPS, including a lawsuit over land acquisition scheduled to be argued in Denver District Court in May. Three applicants — charter school Rocky Mountain Prep, an expeditionary learning school, and a traditional neighborhood school — are vying to occupy the new campus. The Denver school board will pick the winner in June.
But some area residents accuse the district of having settled on the Rocky Mountain Prep charter, before the community has a chance to provide input and an official process can take place. It’s an accusation school district officials have been quick to counter, saying DPS systems for selecting new schools have been overhauled to remove any possibility of favoritism.Improving transparency
But charges of sham transparency have proved difficult for the district to counter. Most recently, the district has faced controversy over a new high school in Stapleton. And recent years have seen conflict over new schools at the North and West High School campuses and in the Far Northeast. Debates across the city have been punctuated by accusations against the district of insufficient communication and favoritism for charter networks.
But district officials say they have recently transformed the process for selecting new schools and identifying facilities for them.
“We’ve worked pretty hard in the past year to get clearer and clearer about facilities decisions,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief of innovation.
As for the accusations that the district had already selected Rocky Mountain Prep for Hampden Heights, Whitehead-Bust said that the new procedures the district has implemented make that impossible.
“I can assure you a decision hasn’t been made,” said Whitehead-Bust. She said each application was scrutinized by eight to 10 reviewers, who include district staffers as well as independent financial experts, parents, and others. “There’s no way there could be a predetermined outcome because there are so many people involved. They have to come to consensus. They interview the applicants and the board, in the case of charter schools.”
She cited praise of the district’s procedures from national groups, including the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
“We’re known nationally for the quality and integrity of the process around our new schools,” said Whitehead-Bust. “We are held up as an exemplar for transparency processes.”Misunderstandings and mistrust
Still, the perception at Hampden Heights lingers that Rocky Mountain Prep, a high-structure charter school, is a shoo-in for the campus.
“My prediction is it’s going to be Rocky Mountain Prep,” said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous because she was employed by the district. Her preferred school was the district-run school, as was the case for several other parents. But, she said, “our school board member loves [James Cryan, the school’s founder].”
Other parents and community members echoed her sentiment, saying that Rocky Mountain Prep appeared to be the district’s favored applicant.
And the charter’s own actions may have exacerbated those feelings. The school recently posted a job listing for a “Founding School Leader: Hampden Heights Campus.” They have since changed it to the more generic “Founding School Leader: Second Campus” (an archived copy of the original posting is available here).
Also, current and prospective Rocky Mountain Prep parents and students showed up en masse to the last community meeting in t-shirts emblazoned with the charter’s logo.
But Rocky Mountain Prep’s leaders say that if something’s been decided, they haven’t heard. And the posting went up, they said, to ensure they have a strong leader if they do get approved.
“The most important part of [our planning] process is identifying and selecting an amazing school leader at least one year before the school opens,” said Cryan, the school’s founder and CEO. “This allows for a rigorous residency year and the thoughtful planning necessary to open an amazing school.”
And some say the politicized environment surrounding Hampden Heights, where the district has already battled accusations of back room dealings over the acquisition of the land, is the real reason for the lingering suspicions.
“Hampden Heights has been in a political realm since the idea [for a new school] came around,” said school board member Anne Rowe, who represents southeast Denver. “That may be part of it.”
Colorado’s public schools are not delivering the type of quality education that we should expect, and the onus is on all of us – parents, teachers, school administrators, public officials, and average Coloradoans alike – to make necessary changes.
As a proud mother of three school-aged children in the northeast Denver community, I have a personal stake in ensuring that my children receive a quality education that prepares them for their futures. But I also believe that a quality education is a right of all students – and that Colorado needs to band together to cause necessary changes to our education system.
The Colorado Academic Standards along with their aligned assessments are the next steps in bringing about the necessary changes to every school in Colorado, from the Denver metro area to the rural plains. These new, rigorous standards – which are aligned in math and literacy to the Common Core State Standards – are more comprehensive and offer a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what our kids need to know to be prepared for college and careers. But it’s not enough to just raise the bar — the new, aligned assessments will help us prove it.
I was not given access to a quality education, and I have felt the consequences my whole life. I was a hard-working student and graduated at the top of my Denver high school class. After turning my tassel, I was eager and ambitious to move forward in my life journey, confident that my years in school had prepared me for my future. Unfortunately, I was in for a rude awakening.
I later learned that my high school was classified as a “failing school.” Even though I carried a 4.3 GPA, colleges and employers repeatedly told me that I was not considered a strong applicant because the education I had received did not meet their expectations. I was set behind in life through no fault of my own. My story is not uncommon – only 42 percent of Colorado’s eighth graders are judged proficient in math, and only 40 percent are proficient in reading.
Fortunately, the Colorado Academic Standards have been developed to address this pressing issue. These standards establish a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, affording them the opportunity to compete with their peers around the world. These expectations do not tell teachers what to teach in their classroom, only what skills a student should know in each subject at each grade level. The aligned PARCC assessments will help teachers know whether or not students are meeting those expectations so they can correct course. That will help us make sure that no more Coloradans who receive a diploma will face the uphill climb I did.
The Colorado Academic Standards and PARCC assessments will give me and other parents across the state the confidence that our children will have the educational foundation they need to not only move up to the next grade level, but be fierce competitors for the jobs of tomorrow. And it isn’t just parents who support these standards – 70 percent of Colorado teachers are enthusiastic about the implementation of these higher standards. Parents and teachers know what’s best for our kids — rigorous expectations coupled with high quality measurement of whether our students are meeting the bar.
Had my high school been held to the same expectations and been able to measure our progress against other schools, I would not have struggled for so many years. These new standards and assessments are a step to fix this problem. Because our state is setting the bar higher for all kids– no matter where they live or what their circumstances are –graduates will no longer suffer the way I did.
On the Capitol
A last minute legislative committee assignment added a layer of intrigue to the debate over the school finance bill which has shaped this year's discussion of education issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
But a higher education bill to pump up performance funding for schools floated through the House. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Teachers speak out
Not every teacher agrees that Denver's practice of mutual consent, under fire from the union, is being used to push out good teachers. Hear from some who disagree with the union's lawsuit. ( Westword )
Teachers worry about how the time they have with students -- already tight, they feel -- will be impacted by new state tests. ( 9News )
For many schools, these weeks are filled with piloting the new tests, which are administered online and have proved somewhat buggy. ( Daily Camera )
For one student with a hard knocks story, a passion for languages earned him multiple scholarships and a shot at college. ( Sentinel )
Pueblo's superintendent Maggie Lopez says four years ago, the district's systems were out of whack; she identified them and brought them into alignment. The district is nearing the end of the clock for improving its performance or facing state intervention. ( Chieftain )
23 candidates are now vying for her position. She is leaving at the end of the school year. ( Chieftain )
Cut to the bone
Montezuma-Cortez school district is facing the prospect of a quarter million in cuts to programs and positions. In years past, said the superintendent, cuts have hit failed programs but that the cuts can hurt achievement. ( Cortez Journal )
Meanwhile, a small rural district on the eastern plains, Holyoke, is pushing to extend its mill levy override, which it says has compensated for state cuts. ( Holyoke Enterprise )
But that doesn't mean the district is ok with the cuts. Holyoke's school board voted to join a class action lawsuit demanding the state look at how it funds schools. ( Holyoke Enterprise )
It’s nice to be speaker of the House, even when you’re a lame duck.
The House Thursday gave easy preliminary approval to Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s proposal to inject a little performance funding into the budgets of Colorado colleges and universities.
The House passed the bill on a preliminary voice vote after only 12 minutes of discussion – mostly by Ferrandino – as it worked through a long evening calendar.
The bill sent ripples of apprehension through the higher education establishment when it was introduced in March (see story) and raised questions about creating winners and losers among universities and colleges, disrupting current initiatives of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and about whether the bill really proposed significant change.
But the Denver Democrat extensively reworked the bill after consulting with the higher ed lobby and executives, and nobody raised a peep about the bill on the House floor Thursday.
Starting in the 2015-16 budget year, the bill would require that 52.5 percent of state higher education funding be funneled through the College Opportunity fund tuition discounts for resident undergraduate students. The remaining funding, know in higher ed jargon as “fee for service,” would be allocated to institutions based on their roles and missions, graduations rates and student retention and on additional criteria to be developed by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
The bill also contains special provisions for the funding of professional programs such as medical and veterinary education and for specialized programs such as local district junior colleges and vocational schools.
The measure also contains provisions for suspension of its requirements if state funding declines dramatically, which has happened in the past to higher education.
Ferrandino has 24 House sponsors on the bill, including 13 Republicans. (There also are 17 Senate sponsors, including 10 Republicans.)
That may account for the lack of debate. “Almost half of you are cosponsors on this bill. Just remember when you’re voting,” Ferrandino said Thursday, urging passage of the bill.
Sen. Mike Johnston Thursday night lost key parts of his Student Success Act to a bipartisan coalition in the Senate Education Committee, but he may have a chance to recover because House Bill 14-1292 now heads next to Senate Finance – which the Denver Democrat chairs.
Thursday’s developments added a new element of intrigue to the months-long tug of war over how much money to spend on reducing the state’s $1.04 billion school funding shortfall and how much to use for targeted programs like early literacy and services for English language learners.
A coalition of mainline education interests – school boards, administrators and teachers – has mounted a tireless campaign to reduce the shortfall (called the “negative factor” in statehouse lingo) and to resist targeted funding.
That lobbying paid off in the House, which increased the negative factor buy-down and watered down other elements of the bill.
Senate Education continued that process Thursday, voting for amendments that added to the negative factor reduction, further loosened the bill’s financial transparency requirements and reduced the amount of extra money that would be given to districts for implementation of the READ Act, which requires literacy evaluations of K-3 students and development of individual literacy plans for students who are lagging.
But the bill goes next to Senate Finance, which Johnston chairs and whose five members include Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, both Johnston allies on HB 14-1292. (Interestingly, Ulibarri officially was added as a co-prime sponsor of the bill only on Thursday morning.)
Asked by Chalkbeat Colorado if he intends to undo Thursday’s amendments in the finance committee, Johnston was diplomatic, saying only that “We’ve got to take a look at what passed tonight. There’s work left to do.”
Johnston opponents clearly were taken aback by the committee assignment, and the committee took three breaks to huddle about the parliamentary question before voting 7-0 to send the bill to finance.
When the committee meeting adjourned after more than five and a half hours, district lobbyists huddled in the hallway outside the committee room, grousing about what had happened and noting that similar bills in past sessions hadn’t been routed to the finance committee before heading to Senate Appropriations.
Johnston was bested Thursday by a coalition of Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and the committee’s three Republicans, Sens. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Mark Scheffel of Parker.
They successfully pushed through amendments that would:
The Success Act is the 2014’s key education funding bill and originally was proposed by sponsors as a way to recover a few of the education reforms contained in Senate Bill 14-213, the comprehensive funding reform bill that never was implemented because voters didn’t approve the tax increase necessary to pay for it.
But HB 14-1292 has been steadily whittled down under that lobbying pressure from school districts and other interest groups intent on winning as large a reduction as possible in the negative factor.
House sponsors worked hard to meet concerns about the bill (see story), partly in hopes of reducing controversy and changes in the Senate. That obviously didn’t work.
Thursday’s extensive testimony touched on familiar themes, with school administrators and board members stressing the importance of reducing the negative factor and other witnesses urging spending on early childhood and English language learners.
Here’s the shape of the bill as it heads to finance:
Here’s what was cut out of the bill or significantly changed as it’s moved along:
Senate Education also considered amendments to House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 school finance act. A committee amendment removed a House proposal that $17 million in at-risk early childhood funding be focused on full-day kindergarten. Senate Education restored a provision that lets districts decide whether to use the money on preschool or kindergarten.
The Senate panel also voted for a modest increase in full-time kindergarten funding, under which those students would be paid for as .6 of a full-time student, instead of the current .58. The committee agreed to retain $30.5 million in additional funding for English language learner programs but moved that funding to a separate account that won’t be subject to the automatic annual increases required by the constitution for some types of school funding.
The next installment in this drama likely will come next Tuesday, when Senate Finance is scheduled to meet.
A new program, developed in Australia and being rolled out in Colorado, aims to help adults who work closely with students identify mental health concerns. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A state Senate committee stripped away a provision in a contentious public health bill that would have required parents who wish to opt-out their children of vaccinations to learn about the pros and the cons of immunization. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
New ways of doing things
Schools in Colorado Springs are showing off their innovative ideas during a two-day conference throughout the city. Programs of note include new STEM offerings and civic engagement classes. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )
early childhood education
The state Senate Education Committee gave approval to a new idea that would pay private early childhood centers with dollars saved from reduced intervention costs, such as grade retention, at public schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The American Indian College Fund in Denver will receive a $500,000 grant to continue its early childhood education outreach initiative. ( Denver Post )
money money money
More money will be sent to Colorado's public schools if Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the state's budget lawmakers approved earlier this week. ( AP via KREX TV )
Also getting more money, pending approval from lawmakers and the governor, will be the state's colleges and universities. But they have to cap tuition increases at 6 percent, not 9 percent. That bill cleared the Senate. ( AP via 9News )
Wait a minute
In a previous story, we said one reason why a stingy achievement gap may exists at DPS' East High School was because of how well the flagship school's white students did on standardized tests. But, looking at the data a different way yields a new perspective: white students there might not be doing as well as we once thought. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Some of St. Vrain Valley's special needs students leant their voices to solving some of democracy's most vexing problems. ( Times Call )
'part of their school'
A new unified co-ed basketball team has students with developmental disabilities dribbling up and down the court for throngs of fans. ( )
A controversial immunization bill got a significant amendment Wednesday in a Senate committee, which removed a provision that would have required parents to get information about the pros and cons of vaccinations before they opted out of the shots children need for school enrollment.
House Bill 14-1288 has been the focus of emotional and prolonged committee hearings in both the House and Senate. It has pitted public health advocates against parents who are fearful about the possible side effects of immunizations and believe they should have an absolute right to refuse those shots.
Proof of immunizations is required for enrollment in child care facilities and K-12 schools, but state law allows parents to opt out for medical, religious or “personal belief” reasons. HB 14-1288 originally would have required that parents who wanted to use the personal belief exemption to either be briefed by a health care professional on the pros and cons of immunizations or complete an online education module.
An amendment approved Wednesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee removed that provision. Instead, the bill creates several duties for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including:
The amended bill also would require schools to make available on request their immunization and exemption rates.
It’s not often that a legislative committee is faced with a completely new idea or an issue that hasn’t come up before.
But that was the case Wednesday with the Senate Education Committee and Senate Bill 14-185, which proposes a creative new way to fund early learning programs.
The proposal is something that hasn’t come up before at the Capitol, unlike the usual run of education bills, which generally involve issues and subjects that most committee members have at least passing familiarity with.
SB 14-185 would create something called the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program. The program would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.
The bill’s idea, based on what are called “social impact bonds” or “results-based financing,” is that service providers can attract private investors to invest in support programs such as high-quality preschool. The theory is that quality programs reduce costly interventions such as grade retention or special education once a child enters school. If the state and a school district realize savings from reduced need for interventions, then the program is paid and investors repaid with interest.
The concept is seen by supporters as a creative way to fund needed services such as early childhood education in a time of constrained government budgets. (The proposal is complicated – get details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and in this legislative staff summary of the bill.)
The detailed – sometimes too detailed – explanations from the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, gave committee members an awful lot to absorb in a short period of time.
“This is pretty deep to be having [a discussion] today,” noted Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. (Two sets of Senate committee meetings Wednesday were sandwiched between two floor sessions.)
Trying to finish up before another committee took over the hearing room, chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, nudged the members to a vote. The bill passed 4-3, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.
Despite his yes vote, Kerr said he still had questions about the bill and noted, “These are the things we are forced to do in Colorado” because of revenue constraints.
The panel also split 4-3 on Senate Bill 14-182, a second attempt at shining a little light on school board executive sessions. An earlier measure, House Bill 14-1110, passed the House but was killed by its Senate sponsor because she didn’t have the votes for floor passage. That earlier bill would have required boards to maintain a public log of subjects discussed during closed sessions and also required recording of those meetings. There was heavy lobbying against the bill from the legal community, concerned about an erosion of attorney-client privilege.
The new bill would require the log of subjects discussed but imposes no recording requirements. The bill was sparked by citizen complaints about alleged misuse of executive sessions by the Douglas County school board, and two representatives of Dougco parent groups testified for the bill Wednesday.
Senate Education gave unanimous 7-0 support to two other bills. House Bill 14-1204 would allow small rural districts that are rated in the state’s top two accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually. It also would allow such districts to get help from boards of cooperative education services in complying with the READ Act. House Bill 14-1314 would require districts formally include charter schools in planning for tax override elections, but it wouldn’t force districts to share override revenues with their charters.Education spending bills roll on
Republican members gave Democratic Rep. Cherilyn Peniston a bit of hard time on the floor, but she had the votes to win preliminary approval of her House Bill 14-1102, which would boost gifted and talented funding by $3.4 million.
Most of the funds would be used to pay for universal screening of all kids to determine their gifted status and to compensate districts for having half-time G&T coordinators. (An earlier version of the Westminster Democrat’s bill would have cost $6 million and required full-time coordinators in every district.)
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, urged a no vote, saying, “We should have put this into the negative factor.”
“Have you checked with your district to see if they support this?” asked Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. (Lobbyists for key district interest groups testified against the bill in committee.)
Two other education spending bills received final approval in the Senate. There wasn’t any rhetoric, but most Republicans voted no.
Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639.
To round out the spate of spending, the Senate also gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million program to develop school turnaround leaders
Use the Education Bill Tracker to read the texts of bills covered in this story and see this list of all education-related bills introduced this session.
A top official in Denver Public Schools is the finalist to lead Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), in California.
Assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson, who led the turnaround efforts at Denver’s Montbello High School, has headed up college and career readiness initiatives for the district. His nomination will go before the Oakland school board on April 23rd.
“Antwan Wilson is an extraordinary leader,” said DPS’ superintendent Tom Boasberg, in a press release from the Oakland press office. “He is a thoughtful and caring advocate for educational equity, and he is an inspiring leader who sets high expectations for all students and then works tirelessly to ensure they have the support they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.”
Montbello High School, which is now in the final stages of being phased out and replaced with three smaller programs, has been a lightning rod for controversy over Denver’s reforms. Wilson, who had moved from the school’s principalship to a district leadership role, was involved with the contentious community process that led to the decision to close the school.
For more on his potential new role, see the press release from OUSD.
Last week, when we took a close look at achievement gaps at Denver’s East High School, we reported that “the breadth of East’s TCAP [the state test] gaps may be explained in part by how high-achieving East’s top students are,” because minority students also perform better on TCAPs than their counterparts across Denver Public Schools.
But after an astute reader prompted us to take a closer look at data, we found some interesting nuggets that show what achievement gaps look like across the city and suggest some interesting explanations we might have missed in the original story.
First, East has fewer low-income students (as measured by eligibility for free and reduced-cost meals) across all races and ethnicities than other Denver comprehensive high schools. And that may do more to explain why the performance of all groups of students is higher at East than in DPS overall.
Just 8 percent of East’s white test-taking students (ninth and tenth graders) are low-income. That’s compared to 27 percent at all other DPS high schools. While 86 percent of Latino students at other Denver high schools are low-income, at East the percentage is much lower –62 percent. And 70 percent of East’s African American students are low income, compared to 80 percent at the district’s other high schools.
Furthermore, the ratio of non-poor to poor white students at East is much wider than at other Denver high schools. And while the proportion of non-poor to poor black and Latino students is also wider than at other high schools, it’s by a much narrower margin. So the larger achievement gaps could be explained in part by how many fewer low-income white students there are compared to low-income Latino and African-American students.
It’s also notable that two of the three Denver high schools that have higher-performing white students than East also have significantly smaller achievement gaps by race.
The two schools are distinct from East in that one, DSST’s Stapleton high school, is a charter school that students choose to attend rather than being assigned by residence. The other, Denver School of the Arts, a selective admissions magnet. And both have lower percentages of low-income students than does East. Still, it’s worth noting the difference in gaps.
DSST’s Stapleton charter high school had an average TCAP proficiency among white students of 93.6 percent in 2013, compared to East’s 81.2 percent. Yet its proficiency gaps between white and black students was 21.7 percent, compared to East’s 45.3 percent, and its white-Latino gap was 18 percent compared to East’s 36.9 percent.
And while a smaller share of DSST Stapleton’s black students are low-income, more of its Latino students are. Among black students, 54 percent qualify for subsidized lunches, compared to East’s 70 percent. Among Latino students, however, 79 percent qualified for subsidized lunches, compared to 62 percent at East.
At Denver School of the Arts, a magnet school that requires an audition for admission, the average white proficiency rate was 81.3 percent, a tenth of a percentage point higher than East’s. Its black-white achievement gap was also far lower than East’s — 29.6 percent compared to 45.3 percent. And its Latino-white gap was 10.8 percent, compared to East’s 36.9 percent.
But the school also had fewer than 16 students in any racial/ethnic group eligible for subsidized lunches, meaning its poverty rate among all groups is very low.
The school with gaps that top East’s is George Washington High School, where a selective admission International Baccalureate program largely walls off that high-performing student population for core academic classes from the rest of the school. At GW, the black-white gap is 56.2 percent and the Latino-white gap is 45.4 percent.
It’s also worth noting that these gap trends don’t change much when you look only at each school’s non- free and reduced lunch eligible students of all races. George Washington still has the widest gaps, followed, in order by East, Denver School of the Arts, and DSST.
Using Crayola markers set on each round table, small groups of adults from the Greeley area — school outreach workers, Boys and Girls Club staff and foster parents — created poster-sized pictures of what mental health problems look like. Glum stick figures sat under rain clouds, a face contorted from happy to sad and a placid face showed no outward signs of distress.
The pictures were just one of several hands-on activities sprinkled throughout a recent day-long training that aims to teach lay-people the signs of mental health or substance abuse problems in youth, and give them action steps to follow when they spot trouble.
Called Youth Mental Health First Aid, the training originated in Australia and was unveiled in Colorado last year. There is also an adult version of the training, introduced here in 2008, called Mental Health First Aid or MHFA.
Both are gaining momentum in what mental health advocates say is a welcome development in a state saddled with one of the highest suicide rates in the country and more than its fair share of school tragedies, including a deadly shooting at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School in December and a self-immolation at Westminster’s Standley Lake High School in January.
Olga Gonzalez, a community outreach worker who participated in the recent Greeley training, said she regularly fields questions from parents who are worried about their children but don’ t know where to turn. She recounted how one family she’d worked with discovered their son had started using drugs. Another learned that their son had stolen credit card information from a customer while manning the cash register at the family’s store.
“He has money in a savings account, you know. He just did it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what kind of support he needs.”
Youth Mental Health First Aid aims to answer such questions for people who are not mental health professionals but who work closely with young people and their families. The target audience includes lay-people like teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, school nurses and even bus drivers.
Advocates for MHFA say Colorado now has one of the largest contingents of certified instructors—around 230 so far. In addition, it’s among only a handful of states to dedicate public funds to the trainings, with $750,000 appropriated for the program next year.
“We have been at the forefront of this since the beginning,” said Brian Turner, director of Mental Health First Aid Colorado at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.Preparing first responders
The concept behind both versions of MHFA, much like medical first-aid, is to equip first responders with the know-how to address emerging mental health or addiction problems. The youth version is also meant to help distinguish between true mental health issues and the normal mood swings and behavior changes that characterize the life of a teenager.
But the training is hardly a technical lecture. It’s participant-friendly approach is evident in the hands-on activities, the video clips, the anecdote-peppered instruction and even the pile of bite-sized candy on each table. Originally, conceived as a two-day training, it has since changed to a one-day format.
“I think we try to make it accessible in a very non-threatening way,” said Pamela Collins Vaughn, one of the instructors at the Greeley training and quality assurance program director at North Range Behavioral Health.The five action steps in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
Gonzalez, an outreach worker with Community Care Corps, said she learned about the training at a resource fair that she helped coordinate. Her work with families at two local middle schools, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods, made her want to refresh her knowledge on mental health issues.
While Gonzalez and other MHFA participants are certainly not charged with providing treatment, they do receive a customized local resource guide to help them connect youth with professional help when necessary.
In fact, encouraging youth to seek professional help is one of five action steps—condensed in the acronym ALGEE–outlined in the training. The other four include “Assess for suicide/self harm,” “Listen non-judgmentally,” “Give assurance/information,” and “Encourage self-help/other support.”
Turner said having concrete action steps is important because “there’s a big difference between learning about mental health and substance abuse problems and being able to do something about it.”
During the Greeley training, participants were asked to come up with gestures that would convey each of the five action steps. Soon, in an effort to commit the steps to memory, Vaughn and co-trainer Noelle Hause were leading the group in miming actions like non-judgmental head-nodding and reassuring arm-patting.Reaching out to schools
While Turner said Youth Mental Health First Aid is not yet widely offered by school districts, there is growing interest. Among the districts that have offered it for at least some staff are Douglas County, Aurora, Thompson, and Weld County District 6.
Barb Becker, division director for community programs at the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network, said the one-day format make it a very doable training for educators.One of the pictures made by participants at a recent Youth Mental Health First Aid training.
“It just gives a really good overview,” she said, adding, “It takes away some of the stigma associated with mental health.”
While grants to offer Youth Mental Health First Aid are sometimes available and some mental health centers offer it for free, the price of the training can be a barrier for districts. Costs typically run at least $25 per person and can max out at $50 depending on facility and food costs.
While the new $750,000 in state funding will help with expansion, Turner said advocates are also investigating whether Medicaid reimbursements received by schools can help pay for the trainings. Currently, those reimbursements are used for all kinds of school health and wellness efforts, from paying school nurses to buying P.E. equipment.
If Youth Mental Health First Aid is widely adopted by schools, it will join a growing number of tools used to detect and combat mental health problems in students. Many schools already use suicide prevention curriculums, some are adding instruction on social emotional skills and a few conduct universal mental health screenings among students.
In addition, many schools regularly convene meetings to discuss and create plans for students who are showing signs of mental health or behavioral problem. Others publicize programs like Safe2Tell that allow students, parents or staff to anonymously report bullying or threats of school violence or suicide.
While Becker noted that middle-aged white men, not teens are actually at the highest risk for suicide in Colorado, she said it is still a problem among young people.
In 2010, Colorado had the seventh-highest youth suicide rate among states and Washington, DC, with 16.7 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people in the 15-24 age group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, Colorado’s suicide rates are higher in rural and mountain communities than in urban areas. They are also higher among males than females.
Becker said there are a variety of reasons, including biological changes, peer conflicts and dating strife, that adolescents experience depression, which is a leading cause of suicide.
“It’s a hard time in life,” she said.
Ultimately, Turner hopes both versions of Mental Health First Aid will be widely available in all parts of Colorado. They won’t prevent all violent incidents, he said, but they might help. They can also aid in the healing process for communities that have suffered through fires, floods, droughts and other disasters.
The State Department of Education hopes to lend more direct help to Colorado’s struggling campuses by forming a network of turnaround schools, it announced Tuesday in a letter to superintendents.
The network, which will be the first of its kind in Colorado, will offer intensive support directly to school leaders in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Previously, most of the state’s support has been targeted at the district level, providing training and resources to administrators, not principals and teachers.
Colorado’s Turnaround Network, “will be a highly-collaborative and accountable endeavor between local schools, their districts and the Colorado Department of Education,” according to a copy of the letter provided to Chalkbeat Colorado.
The department hopes to work with eight to 12 schools in just a couple of districts its first year. The aim is to not only improve student academic performances within the network’s schools, but also to provide support and build each district’s ability to provide tools and techniques to other low-performing schools within the participating districts’ boundaries, said Peter Sherman, the state education department’s executive director of school and district performance.
As of December, there are currently 190 schools rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement.” About 75 percent of those schools do not operate in school districts on the accountability clock.
Because of Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control of schools, schools will have to opt into the network, Sherman said. The department’s model is more akin to Connecticut’s Commissioner’s Network, which has partnered with 11 schools and is expanding, than Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which has the authority to take over low-performing schools and currently runs 16 schools, Sherman said.
Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.
While the state does not directly accredit schools — that’s the job of local school boards — it does similarly rate schools. Schools, like districts, rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” are placed on the state’s watch list. If schools do not make enough improvement within five years the state board may make a series of recommendations to the local school board including turning the school over to a private organization like a charter network or closing the campus. If the local governing board does not heed the state board’s advice, the entire district may face a lowered accreditation rating.
Neither the districts nor schools enrolled in the network will be let off the so-called “accountability clock.”
“Our goal is to accelerate achievement so we’ll be able to get them off the clock because of improved student achievement,” Sherman said.
If enough progress isn’t made in enough time to beat the clock, Sherman said, his department would at least be able to stand with those schools in the network as the state and local board negotiate the campuses future.
“We would be able to advocate for [those schools] to some degree,” Sherman said. “We’ll feel comfortable saying the district has taken the right improvement actions and that we’ve exhausted everything we could.”
The network’s program will focus on four areas: culture, school design, personnel development, and district relations. One of the many requirements to enroll in the network, according to the letter, is a set of agreements between the state and the districts the schools reside in.
“We will negotiate with each district
assurances that they will create the right conditions for success for each participating school,” Sherman said.
The state will have no official say in curriculum, personnel or budget, Sherman said. But he hopes by enrolling in the network, schools will be provided autonomy and flexibility by it’s district.
The network will be funded by existing funds allocated to the state department, Sherman said. And his office will continue to offer its support to districts on the accountability clock.
turn it around
The Colorado Department of Education is planning to form a network of turnaround schools to provide intensive support directly to school leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Bills to avoid a disruption in teacher evaluations and other accountability measures following the transition to new tests passed the House yesterday, one of the last hurdles before becoming law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
High school graduation rates and college completion rates for Latino students in Colorado still lag behind the state, according to a report released yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Fighting the test
Colorado's largest teachers union voted to demand the halt and rollback of the state's PARCC testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
What's a dollar worth?
Why are Colorado school districts trying to get $1 billion in funding back? Practice fields gone up in dust, no more summer school, teacher raises years in the making. ( CPR )
Rising costs no more
Colorado's colleges and universities could see a tuition cap, based on a bill that passed the Senate yesterday. ( AP via Denver Post )
A Colorado Springs high school band coach was arrested yesterday for inappropriate sexual behavior. ( Gazette )
He has worked previously at several schools around the state. ( Chieftain )
A long history
One Colorado Springs school has been educating the state's deaf and blind students for 140 years. ( Gazette )
For the first time, a group of special education students joined St. Vrain's delegation to Doing Democracy, a day devoted to discussing solutions for the nation's problems. ( Times-Call )
What's the value of parent education programs? Two Spanish-speaking parents share their experience. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A key measure intended to give districts flexibility in teacher evaluations next year was passed 53-11 by the House Tuesday, leaving Senate Bill 14-165 just one small step from being sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature.
The bill and another measure, House Bill 14-1182, are needed to help the state and districts avoid disruptions in teacher evaluations and district and school accountability ratings when Colorado moves to the new CMAS testing system in the spring of 2015.
Both the evaluation and accreditation systems are based partly on student achievement data from statewide tests. For technical reasons, results from 2015 CMAS tests (including the multi-state PARCC tests in language arts and math) won’t be available until late 2015 or early 2016, which is too late to be factored into teacher evaluations and accreditation for the 2014-15 school year.
And because the tests will be different from the current TCAP exams, there won’t be student year-to-year growth data that can be used. That will require two years of CMAS results.
Here’s how the two bills propose to get around those problems:
SB 14-165 – Districts would be required to gather student growth data on teachers next year but could choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. (Districts could weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations. For teacher evaluation, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests, so districts will have other data to use.) A low evaluation rating would count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice. The House made minor amendments to the bill that will have to be agreed to by the Senate.
HB 14-1182 – Accreditation ratings that districts and school receive next fall, based on 2013-14 performance, will be in effect for two years because of the 2014-15 data gap. Districts will be free to appeal to the Department of Education if they believe additional data justifies changes in 2014-15 ratings. And the State Board of Education is given additional flexibility in recommending turnaround measures for schools that have reached the end of the five-year accountability clock. Hickenlooper signed this bill on April 4.
The two measures to work around the testing transition are finishing up just as criticism of the PARCC tests is on the rise. Over the weekend delegates at the Colorado Education Association’s annual meeting approved resolution demanding withdrawal from PARCC (see story).
That aligns the liberal union, on this issue at least, with its natural political enemies, Republican elected officials. All but three legislative Republicans recently supported unsuccessful motions to pull state funding from PARCC, and the four-member GOP majority on the State Board of Education supports a pullout (see story).
The testing debate could intensify over the summer and fall if lawmakers approve a measure (House Bill 14-1202) to commission a study of testing (background here).Other bills cross finish line
The Senate voted 34-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something that school districts already are able to do. The measure goes to Hickenlooper. The bill is a bipartisan, no-controversy compromise that was introduced after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in February killed House Bill 14-1157, which would have allowed school boards to authorize school employees to carry weapons.
After some prolonged partisan bickering over “pet projects” and fiscal responsibility, the House voted 38-26 for the conference committee version of House Bill 14-1336, the 2014-15 state budget. The only Republican to vote yes was Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
The Senate approved the final version of the budget on Monday, with seven Republicans voting yes and eight opposed. (This is the bill that contains the money to pay for PARCC next year.)
Both houses also have re-passed House Bill 14-1342, the construction funding bill that includes a, $120 million wish list of higher education building projects that will be funded only if the state’s 2013-14 surplus is higher than projected. As part of that deal the State Education Fund will receive a surplus infusion of only $20 million.Halfway home
Four education-related bills received final House approval Tuesday and are headed for the rapidly ballooning calendar the Senate faces with only 16 days left in the 2014 session. All are spending bills and so attracted little or no Republican support.
House Bill 14-1085 – Proposes spending $960,000 for adult education and literacy grants. Passed 37-26.
House Bill 14-1124 – Would grant resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado, creating a potential loss of up to $5.3 million in tuition revenue. Passed 39-25.
House Bill 14-1156 - Would make students in grades 3-5 who currently are eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, at a cost of $809,095. Passed 38-26.
House Bill 14-1276 – Creates a grant program for CPR instruction in high schools. $300,000 Passed 40-24.
And the Senate voted 34-1 to pass Senate Bill 14-001, dubbed the College Affordability Act. This is the bill that increases higher education spending by $100 million in 2014-15 and caps tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two school years. The measure is expected to have an easy time in the House.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.
The number of Latinos graduating from Colorado high schools and college still lags behind the graduation rates for white students, according to a study released today.
The report, which looked at national and state-by-state trends in Latino graduation and degree attainment, was released by Excelencia in Education, a research group focused on racial and ethnic trends in education.
Colorado has the eighth largest Latino population in the country, but only 18 percent of Latinos in Colorado received a college degree, compared with 44 percent of the general population. Nationally, the average rate was 20 percent for Latinos.
The top colleges for Latinos receiving bachelor degrees were, in order,:
Parenting programs that help the families of low-income, at-risk children learn how to prepare those children for school are attracting much interest from educators looking for ways to boost student achievement. There are many parenting programs in Denver, but programs for Spanish-speaking families are harder to find.
Doris and Jesus Enriquez have two children who are enrolled in two such parenting programs at Focus Points Family Resource Center. Doris and Jesus’s children, Adan, age three, and Naomi, age five, were in the Parents as Teachers Program (PAT) for children from birth to age three, and in Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program for kids from age three to five years old. Adan is currently enrolled in HIPPY, and Naomi graduated last year.
Doris and Jesus are originally from Mexico and came to Denver several years ago. They enrolled both Naomi and Adan in the parenting programs shortly after they were born. As part of those programs, a home educator comes to their home twice a month to talk about child development and share books and educational activities for each child. They also attend monthly parent meetings, where topics in child development are discussed and Spanish-speaking parents can talk with pediatricians and other experts in child rearing. All the parents in the program agree to read to their child daily and help them learn basics like numbers, letters and colors. Health screenings and developmental tests every six months make sure the children are on track to succeed.
Both Doris and Jesus credit the programs with helping their children thrive.
“When a home educator comes to the house, the child gets used to the idea of what a teacher does and what school is like,” says Jesus. “When Naomi started in preschool, they were very impressed with how advanced she was in letters and numbers.”
Doris said the program has helped them learn how to be better parents. “We have the habit of reading to our children now,” she says. “We have their art and activities hanging up on the wall. We also read more ourselves. We’ve seen changes in the way we parent.”
In Mexico, parents often believe that education should be left up to school teachers and they have little right to question what goes on in school. This passive attitude can hinder students’ progress. “I’ve noticed the Latino community often falls back in their studies,” says Doris. “A lot of parents want to educate their children, but they don’t know how. We want our children to graduate from high school and go on to university.”
“Children aren’t born with a handbook,” says Doris. “There’s so much more than just the educational program, they teach you how to be a better parent, how to have patience, how to use love and logic. It’s a whole wrap around.”
A majority of delegates at an annual meeting of the Colorado Education Association approved a resolution “demanding the state’s withdrawal from the PARCC assessment, and to call for a moratorium on high stakes standardized testing,” according to a statement from the statewide teachers union.
The resolution, which charges CEA to join coalitions that oppose high-stakes testing, was passed April 12 during the union’s annual Delegate Assembly. More than 500 union members — including current teachers, retirees and bus drivers from across the state — attended the weekend meeting, which sets the union’s policy agenda for the year.
The conference is not usually opened to media. Chalkbeat Colorado first learned of the resolution from social media updates from delegates.
The delegate vote comes two months after a CEA survey found its members believe there is too much testing and not enough instructional time. The vote also follows a similar resolution passed by the State Board of Education asking the Colorado General Assembly to allow the education department here to develop its own standardized assessments instead of using the multi-state PARCC tests.
Colorado students are expected to begin taking the PARCC — short for Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career — tests next spring. Some 400 Colorado schools just completed a trial run of the exams.
The aim of the PARCC tests is to measure student proficiency and academic growth, or how much a student learns year-over-year compared to their peers, against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based on the national Common Core State Standards.
Supporters of the new assessments believe the results will allow Colorado policy makers, school leaders, and parents to compare student successes here with those in other states participating in the PARCC coalition.
The statement from CEA concludes:
Teachers are not ‘anti-testing’; in fact, teachers invented testing to examine student growth and improve classroom instruction. However, educators cannot passively sit on the sidelines and watch a corporate-driven testing agenda strangle the quality and rigor of a public school education they’ve worked so hard to deliver to students over their careers. We will work collaboratively with other concerned groups to determine standardized testing’s proper role in our schools that supports all students in a positive, meaningful way.
Because Colorado’s involvement in the PARCC group is tied to state statute, it seems unlikely any action will be taken this year. The General Assembly must adjourn by May 7.
Some states that have previously pulled out of the PARCC exams include Florida and Indiana. States still participating include New Mexico and Massachusetts.
Longer day, tempers fray
The principal at one Denver elementary school is pushing for a longer day, with the support of teachers. But many parens oppose it and the conflict has divided the community and raised questions about how to make that kind of change. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Republican lawmakers complained about bills that earmarked school spending but both parties advanced bills that promised to designate spending for certain programs, rather than pay down the negative factor. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Teachers speak out
A look at some of the teachers affected by the use of mutual consent in Denver Public Schools, which is currently embroiled in a legal challenge over it. ( Westword )
crunching the numbers
Boulder Valley School District's board will get a first look at next year's budget numbers and they're already talking about their priorities: employee health insurance, literacy materials and more staff. ( Daily Camera )
St. Vrain Valley School District has selected a new principal for Niwot High School. ( Times-Call )
Planning for the future
The Steamboat Springs school board moved forward with a strategic plan yesterday that includes a focus on staff retention, academic excellence and individual responsibility. ( Steamboat Today )
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate
A vaccine researcher says he was surprised by how few bad reactions there are to vaccines, in a discussion of a House bill that could require parents who opt their students out of vaccines to receive education on the risks. ( CPR )