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Updated: 41 min 3 sec ago

Rise & Shine: Elementary students caught selling pot

10 hours 20 min ago

You make me wanna choose

Fewer participants in Denver's school choice process got one of their top picks, despite a slight drop in the number of people who submitted an application. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Busy Day at the Capitol

Bills on online education and gifted and talented programs got their brief moment in the spotlight yesterday during a hectic push to get through a mountain of education bills before the end of the session. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The science of fun

Thousands of students received an open air physics lesson at Coors Field yesterday, in an attempt to break the world record with a lesson than included giant balloons, bicycles and the Rockies mascot. ( Denver Post )

The youngest dealers on the block

Several Greeley elementary school students were caught buying and selling marijuana products at school. ( 9News, Gazette )

Lawmakers v. law enforcement

Few law enforcement agencies comply with a 2012 law that requires them to compile reports on what happens when police intervene at a school. A state senator is pushing more police departments to get with the program. ( Gazette )

By the numbers

Pueblo City Schools is facing over three million in cuts next year to bring its budget into balance. ( Chieftain )

Can't wait to (not) graduate

Some Grand Junction students are receiving a free year of college through a program that allows them to stay in high school a year longer and enroll in college classes. ( Grand Junction Sentinel )

Tech savvy

In Holyoke School District, a teacher who sought out technology for her classroom is being honored as "Innovator of the Year." ( Holyoke Enterprise )

(Over) testing the test

A parent says the new PARCC tests are a step too far in testing kids and raise a lot of questions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Online bill started with study, now proposes yet another study

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 22:01

Key bills related to online education and gifted and talented programs ran into headwinds Wednesday as nearly two dozen education bills were in play on the floor and in committee at the Capitol.

The day’s frantic pace of activity highlighted the perils some bills face and the surprises that pop up as lawmakers scramble to work through long calendars at the end of the session.

Sponsors of House Bill 14-1382, who saw the breadth of concern about their bill during a hearing earlier in the week, returned to the House Education Committee with a rewrite designed to soften objections.

“We hope we have captured their concerns and addressed them,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.

The major issue with the original bill by Young and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, was a recommendation that the Department of Education be stripped of its authority to certify multi-district online schools and instead set requirements for and oversee school districts that authorize online programs. (See this story for more details about the bill and about Monday’s hearing on the measure.)

The Young/Wilson rewrite, which the committee approved 8-5, now merely would set up a task force to study authorization of multi-district online programs. Ironically, the bill itself largely was the product of small task force that Young, Wilson and two senators convened in late January to come up with possible legislation this year. Now it looks like the issue will be tossed to the 2015 legislature – if HB 14-1382 survives another House committee, floor debate and review by the Senate – all in the next two weeks. (Read the amended version of the bill here.)

Regulation of online education is a notoriously tricky issue, given the vocal and competing interest groups and the skilled lobbyists involved. There are longstanding concerns about the quality of some online programs, but no new legislation on the issue has been passed in several years, despite repeated promises by some lawmakers to pursue reforms.

Other bills stand on shaky ground

No education bills were killed Wednesday, and none took quite the haircut HB 14-1382 experienced, but other measures do face uncertain futures.

Some witnesses in the Senate Education Committee had plenty of criticism for House Bill 14-1102, a proposal that would increase funding for gifted and talented programs, require screening of all Colorado students for gifted and talented eligibility and require all districts to have certified coordinators for such programs.

Representatives from the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado BOCES Association were out in force, urging the bill be defeated.

“Our schools don’t need more mandates, they need more resources,” said Michelle Murphy, a lawyer who represents CASB.

Sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, announced before the hearing started that the committee wouldn’t vote Wednesday because he’s still working on amendments. (Kerr also chairs Senate Education.) The committee next meets on Thursday. Get more details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.

House Education passed two bills whose futures are uncertain.

House Bill 14-1376, a recently introduced measure, would require the Department of Education to analyze student “opportunity gaps” by gathering and reporting data on how students, broken out by ethnicity and other characteristics, are assigned to and perform in various core high school courses. (Get details on the bill here.)

The committee passed the bill 7-5. District lobbyists would like the bill at least to be amended so that it’s voluntary, not mandatory. Because most of the key lobbyists were tied up in Senate Education opposing the gifted and talented bill, they hope to amend or kill House Bill 14-1376 in the House Appropriations Committee or in the Senate.

House Education also voted 12-1 to send House Bill 14-1139 to the appropriations panel. The measure would require the state convert to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment. Approval of the bill is considered to be a courtesy to sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, by his fellow education committee members, and the bill isn’t expected to survive appropriations. Average daily membership originally also was part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, but that’s been stripped from the bill, and ADM is considered to be a dead issue this session.

Amid the hubbub, other bills advance

Senate Education did pass three bills Wednesday.

House Bill 14-1287 would allow earmarking of some Building Excellent Schools Today funds for schools damaged by natural disasters, House Bill 14-1175 would require a study of minority teacher recruitment and retention, and House Bill 14-1294 would impose various student data security requirements on the Department of Education.

Some Republicans – and citizen activists – don’t think that bill goes far enough, but the legislature isn’t expected to pass anything more stringent this year.

About half a dozen education-related bills were laid over Wednesday, some because there wasn’t time during floor sessions or for additional work on amendments.

GOP senators oppose toothless immunization bill

The amended version of House Bill 14-1288 doesn’t impose any requirements on parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated, but that didn’t prevent a couple of Republican senators from seeing a threat to freedom in the measure.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, even appeared to question the science behind vaccinations, using phrases like “scientifically unproven,” “not actually serving the best interests of our kids” and “somehow assuming the science is settled” in urging colleagues to vote no.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, was skeptical of the bill’s requirement that the Department of Public Health and Environment set up an immunization information website. “The information I see from health officials is not complete … it gives you half the story.”

Several Democrats spoke in support of the bill, which in its current form sets up the education website and also requires schools collect and report data about the percentages of students who aren’t immunized. A Senate committee earlier stripped a provision that required parents who choose to opt out receive educational information before doing so.

With the rhetoric exhausted, the Senate voted 19-16 to pass the bill, with Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango the only Republican yes vote. The bill now returns to the House, where sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said he won’t fight to keep the education requirement on the measure, according to The Associated Press.

All 17 Republicans voted against two other measures up for final consideration Wednesday, but the bills passed with support from all 18 Democrats.

Senate Bill 14-182 would require that school boards keep executive session minutes that include the subjects discussed and the amount of time spent on each. (An earlier bill that also included requirements for audio recording passed he House but was killed in a Senate Committee because of lack of support.)

Senate Bill 14-185 would create the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program which 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.

On the way to the governor

The Senate gave 35-0 final approval to two House bills that weren’t amended in the Senate, so they now go directly to the governor for consideration. They are:

House Bill 14-1314 would require that charter schools be formally involved in district planning for tax override elections. But the measure leaves the final decision to school boards on whether to share new revenues with charters. The bill mirrors existing law requiring charters to be involved in planning for bond issues.

House Bill 14-1204 is intended to give small rural districts some modest relief from Department of Education paperwork requirements. Primarily it would allow such districts that are in the two highest state accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually.

Categories: Urban School News

Fewer participants, fewer top choice placements in Denver’s school selection process

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 17:07

Fewer students participated in Denver’s school choice process and fewer got their top choice than in previous years.

Denver’s SchoolChoice process is a three-year old initiative billed as “one form, one timeline, all schools,” which aimed to make school enrollment fairer. Parents submit up to five choices for potential schools. Those who do not participate or do not get one of their five choices are automatically enrolled in their neighborhood school. This year is the first since the system’s launch in 2011 in which the number of participants who received a top choice declined.

District officials are trying to figure out what caused that drop. One theory is that more people applied to the district’s most competitive programs.

“Even though there are fewer participants, more people may be pursuing high quality programs,” said Brian Eschbacher, who heads the district’s planning and choice department. That, he said, is the goal of the process: for parents to be able to choose the best program for their children.

For students entering kindergarten, middle or high school, 94 percent of applicants got one of their choices. Only 23 participants who listed five choices were not placed in any of them. However, 439 of the so-called “transition grade” applicants who listed at least one choice but not necessarily five were not placed in a school.

Across grade levels, over 2,000 people who participated in the process did not receive a choice placement and were assigned to their neighborhood school, an increase of more than 300 over last year.

In total, 22,729 people participated in the choice process (slightly fewer than last year), while 3,154 people sat the process out and opted to be automatically enrolled in the neighborhood school. At 94 percent, white families had the highest rates of participation, followed by multiracial (90 percent) and Asian applicants (88 percent). Participation rates for Hispanic and black families hovered at 84 percent.

Some regions of the city were more active the process than others. The Far Northeast, where the district has eliminated enrollment boundaries and embarked on an aggressive campaign to encourage participation in choice, saw the participation rates of 90 percent or better in all transition grades.

Eschbacher said it shows that “with good outreach, we can get a low income neighborhood to have the highest participation rate in the city.”

By contrast, in the southwest region of the city, just 54 percent of ninth graders submitted an application.

“I think we were all a bit shocked,” said Alisha Anusencion, who works with Eschbacher. Eschbacher’s team will be looking at how the strategies the district is using in the Far Northeast, including a school choice office, can be spread to other parts of the city.

For more, see the full presentation here.

Categories: Urban School News

Against PARCC: an argument in response to Elaine Gantz Berman

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 14:00

Proponents of the controversial Common Core aligned PARCC test suggest that it is a “more rigorous” standardized test and will create better students. But a closer look at supporters’ claims raises many questions.

First of all, the “rigor” of the exams has proven difficult to measure, as only samples of the PARCC test questions have been released.

Colorado mandated that all schools administer the PARCC test without knowing exactly what is on the test, as even state officials only have access to sample questions, and not the questions that students themselves will face.

PARCC is a new, unproven, unfunded, state-wide test to be taken on computers, multiple times per year.  The test has been adopted by many states across the nation, thereby rendering it a national test of sorts.  The states that have adopted the Common Core Standards and PARCC, have done so under federal pressure — states could not receive Race To The Top (RTTT) funding without doing so.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we have been adding to the pile of standardized tests that our students must hurdle over. We overuse and over-emphasize standardized tests. PARCC adds to the problem, with lost classroom time, exorbitant cost– some districts are spending millions of dollars on the infrastructure and computers necessary to take this PARCC test — and high-stakes pressure on both students and teachers alike.

But where is the evidence that this reliance on standardized tests is producing better outcomes for our students? Despite this increase in the use of standardized tests, postsecondary remediation rates continued to climb from 2012 to 2013.

Colorado began field-testing PARCC last week. Colorado teachers have been leaving feedback on both the PARCC exams and the TCAPS on the website Testing Talk; the reviews are not positive. New York piloted the PARCC field test earlier this year and also found multiple problems; the results there showed that under Common Core-aligned tests, the achievement gap actually widens.

Standardized tests fail to accurately measure knowledge; rather, results can be predicted based on income and race. . The tests are snapshots, and don’t take into account other factors: ability to navigate a computer; having an “off” day, being tired/sick; having issues outside the classroom, etc. High school GPAs are a more reliable predictor of college readiness than the SAT, another prominent standardized text. And, as per American Statistical Association (ASA) findings, evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores is highly questionable.

Coloradans are fed up with standardized testing. Parents are now taking a stand, opting their students out of the exams. They know PARCC tests are predicted to take longer and can be given up to four times per year. By comparison, the TCAPS are administered only once a year.

In a landmark vote, the Colorado State Board of Education (SBE) recently  voted against PARCC testing in our state, and has asked the state legislature to repeal the law requiring PARCC assessments. The board agrees that testing is excessive and has commissioned a study on the amount and types of assessments used in Colorado classrooms. A bill currently in the General Assembly, HB14-1202, which was intended to allow schools alternatives to the PARCC tests, was weakened after political pressure and has morphed into another study on Colorado’s assessments. A similar bill that would have delayed the implementation of PARCC and Common Core, SB14-136, was killed earlier this season by the same political parties. A proposed amendment to HB14-1202 proposes to delay PARCC, keeping TCAPs, for one year. One more year of TCAP would give Colorado educators and families time see what PARCC is and if we want it for our state. This delay would not cost the state additional money.

Common Core and PARCC also help schools and districts collect data, of all sorts — not just academic. This video from the White House Education Datapalooza shows how companies like Pearson (who made the PARCC test) collect “hidden” data on children, “by tagging every sentence, down to the atom.”

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) captures this data and more from other tests and observations including home life, mental health, behavioral, pictures and videos taken throughout the school year, and packages the data, creating a “single golden record” for each student that combines data from schools and school districts, workforce and social service agencies, and corrections agencies. Watch the CDE video here.

This data collection happens without parents’ approval. Parental consent is not necessary; in fact, parents cannot prohibit their child’s data being collected or shared, often with third party vendors.  A Fordham University study finds “there are serious deficiencies” in student data security; the data is not safe and can be breached. Lawsuits, such as one from the public interest research center EPIC’s, challenge this data collection and the weakened FERPA regulations.

This government document explains that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws were changed and can now be bypassed.  You can find the exact words in this clip.

Student profiling often happens in other countries – Singapore, for instance:

“Singapore’s government instituted the practice of streaming (or tracking) students based on their academic ability from elementary school onward. After six years of primary-school education, Singaporean students take a test that determines whether they’ll be placed in a special school for the gifted, a vocational school or a special education program, and another test later determines their higher-ed options.”

This tracking sounds eerily like what CDE and the White House have described as their goals for American children. Obtaining this type of personal and predictive, behavioral data without parental consent is clearly questionable. In fact, Nevada Department of Education allowed parents to opt out of their Common Core-aligned field tests due to concerns over data collection and privacy.

What is the answer to all this testing madness? To stop. Why rush into PARCC? Are there special interests and politics at play? If we feel we need rigorous standardized tests, why not rigorously review them before implementing?

Fordham University’s Chester Finn believes PARCC will wither away and be replaced by something else. In fact, seventeen states have backed out of these Common Core-aligned tests. Colorado could make its own state assessment based on what our teachers actually teach.

Whatever the test, students should take it much less frequently. High performing countries like Finland take only one standardized test in high school. Why not find a balance and test only a portion of students, staggering the tests at different grades? Rather than test every child, every year, we could follow the respected NAEP protocol of random sampling.  Too much classroom time is lost preparing for and taking so many of these high-stakes standardized tests.  Testing is not teaching: let teachers teach.

Allow teacher and parent input, and keep our decisions local. Colorado is a local control state. Give control back to our school boards and teachers, where it belongs. Our state legislators hold this power. We, the taxpayers and voters, hope they will support CDE and the people of Colorado. Repeal or at least delay the PARCC exams, review standards, require parental consent on children’s data.

We also call upon Governor Hickenlooper to sign legislation if sent to him. In a recent interview with Mike Rosen, the Governor, at 27 minutes, agreed that testing is excessive and said he would be willing to help delay PARCC, involving parents in the process. Hickenlooper went on to say, “We can opt out of all kinds of things in Common Core.”

Thank you, Governor. We sincerely hope that the General Assembly will send you such a bill and that you will follow through.

Editor’s Note: This First Person article is in response to a previous First Person article written by State Board of Education member, Elaine Gantz Berman.

This post is endorsed by the following people and organizations:

Cheri Kiesecker, Fort Collins, Colorado

Kristin Tallis, Fort Collins, Colorado

Aimie Randall, Loveland, Colorado

Steve Yon – Castle Rock CO

Kari Newsom – Littleton CO

Adelia Darlene Herrera – Larkspur CO

Eric Lee Herrera – Larkspur CO

Justin Collier Herrera Larkspur CO

Crystal Coleman – Castle Rock CO

Maren Kay Neises – Larkspur, Co

Mary Denise Babcock – Littleton CO

Karla Mount – Castle Rock CO

Matt Wiebe, Fort Collins, Colorado

Deanna Masciantonio-Miller, Kiowa, Colorado

Belinda Seville, Centennial, Colorado

Ryan Smith, Kiowa, Colorado

Courtney Smith, Kiowa, Colorado

Candy Putch, Elizabeth, Colorado

Cameron Rau, Loveland, Colorado

Elodji Means, Elizabeth , Colorado

Kimerly Lutte, Elizabeth , Colorado

William Lutter, Elizabeth , Colorado

Dr. Dave Barton, Castle Rock, Colorad

Kathy Welch,Colorado Springs, Colorado

Connie Miller, Kiowa, Colorado

Matt Kaiser, Elizabeth , Colorado

Kelly Kaiser, Elizabeth , Colorado

John Seville -Elizabeth , Colorado

Kathryn Seville – Loveland, Colorado

Natalie Adams, Littleton, Colorado

John Sampson, Strasburg School Board, Colorado

Julie Williams, Jefferson County School Board, Colorado

Rudy Zitti, Fort Collins, Colorado

Elizabeth McManus, Elbert , Colorado

Judith Casey, retired Elementary Principal, 54 yers public Education, Colorado Springs

Heidi Wolfgang, Canon City, Colorado

Jennifer Raiffie, Denver, Colorado

Toni Walker, Loveland, Colorado

Katrina Kochim, Grand Junction, Colorado

Maureen Sielaff, Littleton, Colorado

Cathy Gardino, Falcon, Colorado

Sheila Brown, Arvada, Colorado

Barb Hulet, Olathe, Colorado

Anita Stapleton, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Mike Stapleton, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Angelique Matthews, Colorado Springs

Jack Matthews, Colorado Springs

Stephanie Engel, Milliken, Colorado

Deborah Scheffel, Colorado Board of Education

Senator Vicki Marble, District 23, Colorado

Representative Chris Holbert, District 44, Colorado

Representative Justin Everett, District 22, Colorado

Representative Dan Nordberg, District 14, Colorado

Core Concerns, Northern Colorado

Stop Common Core Colorado

Coloradoans Against Common Core

Parents’ Voice for JeffCo

Northern Colo. Parents Against Common Core

Fremont County RE-1

SchoolReform.CO

Stop Common Core Colorado

Parent Led Reform National

Parent Led Reform Colorado

United Opt Out National

Uniting4Kids

 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder Valley district and three Colorado schools recognized for green practices

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 10:05

working out the details

A showdown over the Student Success Act's education finance plan was delayed while key players continue to negotiate over amendments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

classroom discipline

A new report faults Denver Public Schools for large racial disparities in its discipline policy enforcement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

greening schools

Boulder Valley School District was one of nine in the country to receive a U.S. Department of Education sustainability award. ( Daily Camera )

A Fort Collins middle school and elementary schools in Larkspur and Cortez were also recognized as being particularly green. ( Coloradoan )

guns in schools

A new poll reports that about half of Colorado voters support allowing teachers and education officials to carry guns in schools. ( Denver Post )

the smallest students

Now that Boulder Valley has completed its preschool access expansion project, it is shifting its focus to ensuring consistency in early childhood instruction. ( Daily Camera )

top of the class

U.S. News and World Report released its annual high school rankings, and 88 Colorado schools made the top list. ( Denver Post )

And the magazine named Lafayette's Peak to Peak Charter School the top high school in the state. ( Daily Camera )

searching for a home

The Poudre School District Board of Education gave Fort Collins Montessori School more time to find permanent facilities. ( Coloradoan )

reaching out

Roughly 1,200 people came to a bone marrow drive to see if they could help a third-grader with leukemia in Falcon Valley School District 49. ( Gazette )

pot for schools

A new budget plan would use $23 million of Colorado's marijuana tax revenue on school nurses and drug treatment and outreach. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Success Act negotiations get more time

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 21:11

A showdown over contentious parts of the Student Success Act didn’t materialize Tuesday after Sen. Mike Johnston, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, delayed action on the bill, saying, “We have some work to do on amendments.”

The Denver Democrat, who’s also a prime sponsor of House Bill 14-1292, raised some hackles last Thursday when he successfully argued to have the Senate Education Committee send the measure to finance rather than directly to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Johnston was on the losing side of key amendment votes in education, and some school district lobbyists feared he would strip those amendments in finance, where he and two Democratic allies have a majority. (See this story for details of last week’s meeting and background on the long fight over the bill. And get details in this legislative staff summary.)

Johnston mentioned that he needs to work with Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who teamed up with three Republicans in Senate Education to pass the amendments Johnston opposed.

Those amendments increased to $120 million the funding that would be devoted to buying down the state’s $1.04 billion K-12 funding shortfall (the so-called negative factor), reduce a proposed $20 million increase for early literacy programs to $10 million, cut a proposed study of enrollment counting methods and eliminate funding for a proposed state website that would link users to information about district and school spending. Instead, districts would post that data on their own websites.

The hot-button issues are early literacy funding and financial transparency. Senate Finance next meets on Thursday morning, and people involved in the negotiations expect amendments to roll the negative factor reduction back to $110 million and to restore the early literacy funding.

The shape of a possible financial transparency compromise is less clear.

Henry Sobanet, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget director, made a rare appearance at the finance hearing, politely urging some sort of statewide financial reporting system.

“I think there is a cheaper way forward” to create a transparency website than was proposed in the original version of HB 14-1292. “Moving toward visibility we think is a good thing,” Sobanet said.

Transparency has become the surprise sticking point in the Student Success debate. School districts have opposed the mandate, arguing that they already provide substantial financial information for the public and that a new system would impose costs and administrative burdens they don’t need.

The sponsors, Hickenlooper and education reform interest groups have pushed for more transparency, especially at the school level, and for common data reporting among districts.

The dispute has been intense enough that it’s created hard feelings between sponsors and some district lobbyists.

(There are subtexts to the transparency debate as well. Reform interest groups think school-level data will shed light on whether schools with high at-risk populations get enough money. Charter interests want more detailed information on special education funding because they suspect districts don’t give them enough. And some Republican lawmakers hope more detailed financial information would highlight pension costs.)

Senate Finance did vote 3-2 to pass House Bill 14-1298, a companion measure known as the School Finance Act.

The committee left untouched Senate Education amendments that removed House restrictions on use of $17 million in at-risk early childhood funding and that modestly increased funding for full-day kindergarten. The bill still includes $30.5 million in additional funding for English language learner programs. Senate Education 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.

Sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, indicated he may have amendments to HB 14-1298 in the appropriations committee or on the floor. (Get more details on other provisions of the bill in this legislative staff summary.)

Categories: Urban School News

Improving teacher quality through licensing

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 14:00

As Colorado considers policy improvements that will better ensure a quality teacher in every classroom, a necessary part of the conversation is determining how paths will be created into the classroom and rethinking teacher licensing.

As members of the Professional Association of Colorado Educator’s (PACE) Teacher Licensure Committee, we spent the last six months meeting with a diverse group of educators to explore possible recommendations to improve teacher quality through the licensure process in Colorado.

In addition, PACE surveyed classroom teachers and published a report that included both the recommendations of our committee, as well as the survey data from other experienced teachers. As stakeholders on the front lines, we believe that classroom teachers are uniquely equipped to provide invaluable input in education policy conversations. We want to see our profession advanced more than any outside stakeholders.

Currently, the dialogue about changing teacher licensure is usually focused on two seemingly opposite points of view. One side believes that the process for receiving a license should be loosened, allowing for a larger and more diverse pool of potential teachers. The other side argues that the bar should be raised, restricting access to the teaching profession by making it more difficult to gain a teaching license.

We know we all want an excellent teacher in front of every student in Colorado, but how do we ensure a process that both increases the talent in the teacher application pool and raises the bar for the teaching profession?

The unanimous response from the teachers on our committee was that doing both is possible. We must reduce any artificial, “box-checking” barriers for entry into the profession on the front end. This would open the teacher applicant pool to more potentially talented teachers who might be mid-career changers, retirees from other professions, or those that are new college graduates who majored in subjects other than education.

Currently, too many gifted professionals are discouraged from teaching because they can’t check the boxes needed for an initial teaching license.

This is not to say that anyone and everyone should simply be allowed to become a teacher without any accountability. You cannot identify teacher quality based on a teacher’s licensing application alone. Teaching quality can only be identified once that individual enters a class room and starts to teach.

Therefore, we recommend that every teaching candidate should be required to satisfactorily complete a paid apprenticeship or residency under the daily mentorship of a proven educator before they are granted a professional license to teach a classroom on their own. There is much more to teaching than a demonstration of content knowledge, or even a knowledge of pedagogy. Teacher quality must be demonstrated in a room full of students.

We wouldn’t drop our car off with a brand new mechanic, unless we knew there was someone more experienced working by his side, and we certainly wouldn’t agree to a surgery performed by a doctor who’d never done the operation before without guidance. Unless there is a proven mentor working closely with a new teacher, we should not expect Colorado’s parents to leave their kids in that new teacher’s classroom.

In addition to these recommendations for improving the way we license teachers on the front end, our committee also recommended developing a more automated process for great teachers to have their license renewed. The survey results showed that 88% of teachers support making it easier for effective teachers to renew their license. Renewing a license should not be cumbersome or considered a regulatory nightmare by teachers.

The final recommendation is to create a tiered system of licenses in which a teacher can attain different roles. There are many roles for a teacher to consider in the profession. Such licenses would allow teachers to develop in their profession and give them goals for which they could strive, including the role a mentor teacher for new teachers entering the field.

While there is much debate about finding ways to retain good teachers and remove bad teachers from classrooms, we encourage policymakers to consider a better system for attracting talented teachers and screening out poor-performing teachers before they are allowed to teach a class on their own. We can work together to create a system that balances the needs of our schools with advancing the professionalism of our educators.

Categories: Urban School News

Fewer expulsions but huge racial disparities in Denver’s discipline numbers

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 13:01

Denver Public School’s disciplinary actions overwhelming target students of color, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report was produced by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, a local advocacy organization focused on school reform and eliminating racial inequities in education. The group examined the district’s rates of expulsion, suspension and law enforcement referral, with an eye on strategies to end the school-to-jail pipeline.

The report gives DPS an overall grade of C for its disciplinary practices and a D- for the huge differences between the disciplinary actions taken against students of color as compared with their white peers.

Denver ranks last among the state’s 20 largest districts for racial disparities in disciplinary actions, the group reported. The report notes that that disparities stand even when disability and family income are accounted for.

The district fared better on other measures, including rates of expulsion. Still, black students were over seven times more likely to be expelled than their white peers and Latino students were almost twice as likely.

The district’s lowest grade on the report was an F for how well parents and students know their rights. Padres found that few parents were aware their students could receive school work during suspensions, or even that students and parents could appeal suspensions.

To see the full report in English, see here. The report is available in Spanish here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Drilling plan near elementary school withdrawn

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:59

On the Capitol

A bill that would change regulations on online education received a chilly reception in the House yesterday. Lawmakers are rushing through a smorgasbord of bills before the end of the session on May 7th. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, the debate over the proposed education budget is still simmering. One lawmaker says it's a win for women and girls. ( Huffington Post )

And one writer says a higher education funding plan doesn't go far enough. ( Denver Post )

Like oil and water

An industry proposal to drill 19 wells near a Greeley elementary school received such vehement backlash from the community that officials withdrew the plan. ( Denver Post )

The wheels on the bus go round and round

After a car crashed into a school bus so hard it wedged itself under the back of the bus, the bus driver took a moment to drive home school bus safety. ( 9News )

Keeping a close eye

After expanding its preschool program, Boulder Valley School District is forming a task force to make sure the standards for the program are high and implemented well. ( Daily Camera )

Star students

The Gazette recognized 20 Pikes Peak region seniors in their annual "Best and Brightest" list. ( Gazette )

And now we wait

Pueblo's school board reviewed 23 applicants for the superintendent position. The list of finalists is expected next week. ( Chieftain )

Earth education

Montrose and Olathe students took the opportunity to learn about their environment yesterday as part of Earth Day celebrations. ( Montrose Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Online bill has rocky outing in House Education

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 21:23

Proposed changes in state law governing multi-district online schools got generally bad reviews from witnesses at a committee hearing Monday, and a vote on House Bill 14-1382 was delayed so its sponsors can work up some amendments.

The bill was one of 10 bills on a House Education Committee calendar that was an odd mix of big bills, relatively routine measures, a couple of new ideas and bills that have no chance of passage but are being kept alive out of courtesy.

Those sorts of long mixed-bag calendars become increasingly common as committees race to finish their work before the legislature’s May 7 adjournment deadline.

Controversial

House Bill 14-1382 proposes to update the definition of online education in state law, make changes in how online enrollment is counted, require school districts to more promptly transfer student records to online schools and to create pilot programs to test innovations in online education. (Read bill summary here.)

Its most controversial recommendation is to have the Department of Education set standards for districts that authorize multi-district online programs, rather than certify online programs themselves and then let districts supervise them, as is the case now.

The bill was developed by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers based partly on the recommendations of a task force they convened in late January and that issued its recommendations in late March (see story).

The bill drew plenty of criticism Monday from witnesses, including representatives of the for-profit online company K12 Inc., the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families. GOAL Academy and even some members of the task force itself.

The major complaints were that the task force wasn’t fully representative of the online community, that switching CDE’s role in multi-district online schools would be disruptive for schools and that there’s not enough time left in the 2014 session to handle such a complex topic.

After an hour of testimony, House Education chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, huddled with the House sponsors, Democrat Dave Young of Greeley and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida. After a brief break, she announced the bill would be laid over to allow the sponsors to work on amendments.

They’ll have to work fast, as the legislature has to adjourn two weeks from Wednesday.

Something new

A new bill that could provide more scholarship money and college counseling for Colorado students passed the committee 11-1.

House Bill 14-1384 would create a program call the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to scholarships and other forms of assistance to Colorado students starting in 2016. The bill is focused on students who are eligible for federal Pell grants and students whose household incomes are 100 to 250 percent above Pell requirements.

The bill, partly based on the structure of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, also would provide college counseling service to high school students. The program would initially be funded by an infusion of $33 million that’s been hanging around in the Department of Higher Education since a 2010 law required the College Invest program to sell off its portfolio of students loans. The bill also envisions future state appropriations and private grants as funding sources for the loans. (Get more details in this legislative staff summary.)

One big bill

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia made a cameo appearance to testify in favor of Senate Bill 14-001, and the committee voted 10-2 to advance the measure. This is the so-called College Affordability Act, which would increase higher education funding by $100 million in 2014-15 and put a 6 percent cap on tuition increases next year.

The measure hasn’t been controversial, but it represents a significant increase for colleges and universities after years of cuts, and it is being promoted by legislative Democrats as a good-news election year measure.

(This year’s other big higher education measure, 59-3 – House Bill 14-1319, received final 59-3 final passage on the House floor Monday morning. This is the bill that would create a new method for allocating funding among colleges and universities, partly based on institutional performance, starting in 2015-16.)

Counselors and closures

The committee voted 7-4 to advance Senate Bill 14-150, which would add $5 million in funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps program (doubling the funding) as well as expand the number of schools eligible for grants, which are used to train existing counselors and hire additional ones. (See this legislative staff summary for details on the bill and this CDE report for program information.)

House Bill 14-1381 passed with an 8-4 committee vote. This measure would establish requirements for public communications, timetables and student reassignment procedures in the closure plans for schools that are to be shut down for low academic achievement.

Doomed courtesy bills

Republicans introduced a package of education-related bills early in the session, most of them proposing to resurrect various portions of last year’s Senate Bill 13-213, which didn’t go into effect. Variations of those proposals related to English language learners, charter facilities funding, district financial transparency, kindergarten funding and enrollment counting have been incorporated into two other measures, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298. Those are pending in the Senate and are surrounded by a bit of uncertainty and controversy (see story).

Because of that, four of the GOP bills were laid over by House Education until after the Senate acts on those bills, kind of delaying the inevitable as a courtesy to their sponsors.

But one measure, House Bill 14-1212, was postponed indefinitely at the request of Wilson, its sponsor. It would have provided state funding for all full-day kindergarten programs.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of bills mentioned in this story plus other information. The Tracker includes all education-related bills introduced this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Missing data leaves teachers in the dark when it comes to evaluations

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 09:59

Trust issues

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 )

New standards

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 )

Digital School

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 )

Tragedy's impact

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 )

Bus(ted)

One person was hurt during an auto accident involving a DPS bus. The school bus driver was later cleared of any wrong doing. ( KDVR, CBS Denver )

Monkey Bars

Boulder's University Hill Elementary School playground is getting a $100,000 makeover. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

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 )

Transparency talks

One man's complaint has raised questions about transparency for the Ridgeway School District School board. ( Ouray News )

Categories: Urban School News

At Pueblo charter school, teaching literacy hasn’t changed much with new standards

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 08:45

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 rat 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 collectors 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.

Categories: Urban School News

Process to select new elementary school sparks controversy

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:42

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.”

Categories: Urban School News

The type of education we should all expect

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:00

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.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teachers oppose union’s mutual consent lawsuit

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:35

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 )

Mogul money

Billionaire John Malone announced plans to double his investment -- to $14 million -- in charter school network DSST. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Testing anxiety

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 )

College dreamin'

For one student with a hard knocks story, a passion for languages earned him multiple scholarships and a shot at college. ( Sentinel )

Superintendent speaks

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 )

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed funding bill has easy time in House

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 00:06

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.

Categories: Urban School News

School finance fight takes on new intensity

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 23:42

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:

  • Increase the money devoted to reduction of the negative factor to $120 million. (The reduction was $110 million in bill as it came from the House.)
  • Reduction of additional READ Act funding from the $20 million to $10 million. (Districts already receive $16 million a year for this program.)
  • Elimination of funding for a proposed state website that would link users to information about district and school spending. Instead, districts would post that data on their own websites.
  • Elimination of a proposed study of new enrollment counting methods by the Department of Education.

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:

  • Negative factor: The proposed reduction now is $120 million, up from the $110 million approved by the House. Sponsors originally included no reduction in pre-introduction versions of the bill.
  • Transparency: School districts would be required to post financial information, broken out by school, on their websites, but there would be no central website compiling information statewide. This $5 million has been a key item of contention between school districts on one side and bill sponsors and Gov. John Hickenlooper on the other.
  • Construction funding: HB 14-1292 proposed taking $40 million in marijuana tax revenues and diverting them to kindergarten construction, technology grants and charter facilities funding, instead of letting the funds flow into the main Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. A successful House amendment eliminated most of those earmarks but retained a 12.5 percent diversion to a fund for charter school facilities. Senate Education didn’t change this, despite testimony in support of doing so.
  • Charters: Also still in the bill is $13 million in additional funds that would be allocated for charter facilities, split between per-student grants to schools and supplementing a reserve fund that backs charter construction debt.

Here’s what was cut out of the bill or significantly changed as it’s moved along:

  • Implementation funding: $40 million in per-pupil aid to districts to help cover the costs of implementing education reforms such as new content standards, new tests and educator evaluations was eliminated in the House during negotiations over the negative factor.
  • Enrollment counting: There’s noting left in the bill about this.

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.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. Springs schools show off their entrepreneurial spirit

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 08:29

Healthy schools

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 )

California Dreamin'

Denver's assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson is the top finalist to lead the Oakland Unified School District. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Contra Costa Times )

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 )

Problem solvers

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. ( )

Categories: Urban School News

Teeth pulled from immunization bill

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 23:29

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:

  • Creation of a website containing information about the benefits and risk of immunizations
  • Issuance of rules on how often child care centers and schools should collect exemption forms
  • Working with other state agencies to develop a common policy on immunization data collection
  • Providing technical assistance to child care centers and schools on how to analyze immunization data

The amended bill also would require schools to make available on request their immunization and exemption rates.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Ed wrestles with a brand-new idea

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 19:27

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.

Categories: Urban School News

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