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Weekend Reads: In honor of Thanksgiving, how to teach gratitude

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 17:20

Please enjoy our weekly links list as a side with your turkey (or your favorite meat substitute) and stuffing. We’ll be back Monday with more stories about education in Colorado.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here are some ideas for how to cultivate a culture of gratitude in the classroom. (Edutopia)

Here’s a collection of resources for teachers hoping to talk to their students about Ferguson. (Teaching Now)

Working in early childhood education remains a low-paid, dead-end job. (Colorado Public Radio)

Early childhood education teachers find themselves in the midst of changing and sometimes conflicting expectations. (Slate)

A call for more humanities in U.S. schools says we need to give students more to be proud of. (New Republic)

After he won the Nobel Prize for literature, Albert Camus credited a childhood teacher. Here’s what he said. (Brainpickings)

A 22-year-old with a faked resume got the green light from New York to open a charter school. (Rochester Dem & Chronicle)

Three recent books — “The Teacher Wars,” “Building a Better Teacher,” and “Getting Schooled” — offer a trip through the past and present of American teaching. (NYRB)

Even as the educational game market blows up, some kids are still playing Oregon Trail. (Hechinger Report)

But teachers face some struggles using games in the classroom. (KQED)

One school of thought is that standardized tests should be harder and cost more. (Atlantic)

A new study shows that the digital divide isn’t going anywhere. (Marketplace L-12)

Digital learning may not be more cost-effective than traditional classroom set ups. (KUNC)

Child safety fears are wildly out of step with the actual dangers most children face. (Vox)

And parents are more likely than their children to think of their schools as safe. (Rules for Engagement)

Children benefit when their parents talk about race rather than avoiding the subject. (Colorado Public Radio)

In New York, after-school programs might be measured for how well they affect students’ academic performance. (Hechinger Report)

How to challenge children whose major literacy problem is that they just want to read too much. (Flypaper)

Some very silly jokes told by kids (maybe in school), courtesy of the internet. (IMGUR)

And speaking of Thanksgiving, have a great one! We are thankful for you.

Categories: Urban School News

Major districts of two minds on temporary teacher evaluation reprieve

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 15:09

Colorado school districts got a temporary reprieve this year in using student academic growth to evaluate teachers, and major districts are split into two camps about how to use that flexibility.

Just over half of Colorado’s 20 largest districts will continue to use student academic growth data for 50 percent of teacher evaluations.

Another half-dozen large districts are taking advantage of Senate Bill 14-165 and won’t be applying student growth when evaluating their teachers.

Among the 50-percent districts who will use growth data are the Douglas County and Jefferson County schools. Major districts choosing to skip growth for a year include Adams 12-Five Star, Aurora, Boulder, Cherry Creek and Denver.

The first group of districts employs about 19,000 teachers, while about 17,000 teachers work in the districts that won’t be using growth.

The information comes from a Chalkbeat Colorado survey of the state’s 20 largest districts, conducted to find out how each is using evaluation flexibility. Those districts employ about 72 percent of the state’s roughly 54,000 teachers.

District decisions appeared to be driven by a combination of three factors – a district’s level of confidence in its evaluation system, a desire to refine its systems further, and concern about changing its evaluation system for only one year.

“We decided we were just going ahead to push forward, instead of taking a step back,” said Marne Milyard, a principal in the Pueblo City Schools, which is sticking with 50 percent.

On the other side, Tracy Dorland of Adams 12 said, “We’re grateful for the gift of time, and we plan to use it well.” Dorland is the district’s chief academic officer.

Sen. Mike Johnston, author of the flexibility law, isn’t surprised that different districts have taken different directions. “I think that reflects what our intent was,” the Denver Democrat said.

“A lot of folks we talked to had done the advance work and were prepared” to use growth measures for evaluation this year. But, “It makes a lot of sense that a lot of people [in other districts] would say, ‘Let’s test the system first.’”

“We hope it will lead to a good year of reflection and work,” said Johnston, who’s also the author of the 2010 law that created the new evaluation system.

Long timeline, stops and starts for evaluation rollout Evaluation systemState law requires:

  • Annual evaluations of teachers, principals, and other licensed personnel
  • Basing half of evaluations on professional practice, half on student growth
  • Loss of even veteran teachers’ non-probationary status after two consecutive years of less-than-effective ratings

Teacher standards

Five standards comprise professional practice (50 percent)

  • Content knowledge
  • Creation of good learning environment for all students
  • Effective instruction and creation of environment that facilitates learning
  • Reflection on practice
  • Leadership

Student academic growth (50 percent)

Teacher ratings

  • Highly effective
  • Effective
  • Partially effective
  • Ineffective

The teacher and principal evaluation systems required by Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191 were implemented in all districts during the 2013-14 school year. Educator evaluations were based 50 percent on classroom and professional practice and 50 percent on what are called “measures of student learning” – academic growth as measured by a variety of tests. Ratings of partially effective or ineffective didn’t count against future loss of non-probationary status.

This school year and this year only, thanks to SB 14-165, districts can choose to continue the 50-50 system, use a smaller percentage for student growth or base evaluations solely on professional practice. Districts do have to calculate and record student growth measures for teachers even if they’re not used in evaluations. And, low ratings do count against possible loss of non-probationary status. (The flexibility was granted by the legislature partly because of the “data gap” that will be created by moving to the new CMAS testing system next spring.)

The evaluation system is supposed to return to its original design in the 2015-16 school year, with evaluations based 50-50 on practice and student growth and with low ratings counted against teachers.

What the 50-percenters say

Some of the districts that decided to stick with the 50-50 evaluation system did so for continuity.

“We know it’s going back to having that [growth] requirement a year from now,” said David Peak, assistant superintendent for human resources in the Academy district near Colorado Springs.

Peak said his district started working on the issue three years ago and has student growth measurements “that we believe are valid and reliable, but we recognize there’s still work to be done in that area.”

Ruth DeCrescentis, chief human resources officer for the Brighton schools, said, “We’re going to go ahead with 50 percent because we’re ready. … I think people are pretty comfortable.”

“We had all components for Senate Bill 191 in place last year,” said Todd Engels, executive director of educator effectiveness for the Jeffco schools. But, he added, “There are pieces we’re continuing to refine.”

The district decided, “We need to have some consistency for evaluating our educators” and didn’t want to change the rules after having used student growth in 2013-14, Engels said.

Some 50-percent districts nevertheless are adding pieces of local flexibility to evaluation practices.

Colorado Springs District 11 is using only what are called “collective measures” – data such as school performance framework ratings – not individual classroom growth measures – to evaluate teachers.

And while the Douglas County Schools will use 50 percent growth for evaluation, that data won’t be used in the district’s performance pay system this year. (Use of performance pay is a local decision and isn’t part of state evaluation law.)

Thoughts from the 0 percent districts Learn more


“We believe there is still a great deal of work to do and learning to be accomplished before we introduce student achievement measures to the evaluation construct,” said Damon Smith, Aurora chief personnel officer.

Judy Skupa, Cherry Creek’s assistant superintendent of performance improvement, sounded a similar note, saying, “There are many unknowns right now due to the transition of state assessments, and this provides us with more time to determine how new state assessments will inform teacher and principal effectiveness. Also, we are beginning to develop a deeper understanding of quality assessments at the classroom level; the ‘14-15 school year provides a time for us to use this deeper understanding to pilot different assessments across the district and to use that information to make the best decision possible.”

Denver Public Schools has been a leader in developing evaluation systems but, under an agreement with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, opted for 0 percent this year. The district is doing more work to develop usable “individually attributable student growth data” – student performance information that can be connected to individual teachers, not just to the performance of whole schools or the district.

“Because we don’t have other measures of individually attributable student growth for enough of our teachers, we decided to take advantage of the flexibility afforded by SB 165,” spokeswoman Nancy Mitchell said.

Theresa Myers, a spokeswoman for the Greeley schools, seemed to sum up the feelings of many districts by saying, “The reason was to give teachers one more year to learn about the system, to understand what supporting materials they will need to provide and to have one more year to feel comfortable with all the new evaluation entails.”

The outliers

The flexibility law allows districts to use any percentage between 0 and 50 for student growth this year. The Mesa 51 district in Grand Junction is the only top-20 district that isn’t doing all or nothing, and it is using 25 percent. “It’s the same rationale as those who are dropping it to zero percent; we want another year of experience with the process with the belief that we’re still honing our skills,” said spokesman Dan Dougherty.

Katy Anthes, director of educator effectiveness for the Colorado Department of Education, said she’s heard that several districts have chosen either 0 or 50 percent but doesn’t have a count because the flexibility law doesn’t require districts to tell CDE which route they’ve chosen.

Linda Barker, director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Education Association, said she’s heard that at least one smaller district, Meeker, is using 25 percent.

The flexibility law doesn’t set a deadline by which districts had to decide. Among top-20 districts, the Thompson schools still haven’t made a decision.

How student growth is measured

It’s a common misconception that Colorado’s evaluation system rates teachers based on student scores on statewide tests. That’s only half the story – remember that half of evaluations are based on classroom and professional practice.

And districts can measure the student growth half with a variety of data, including growth as measured by state tests, teacher-designed classroom tests, assessments provided by outside vendors and even growth in the ratings provided by the school and district performance frameworks that are used for accreditation and rating. Many districts are working on creation of student learning objectives that can be used to measure academic growth. From those different measures districts can choose their own mix for their evaluation systems.

The Colorado Education Initiative recently issued a report on districts practices, based on a study of what 53 districts did during the 2013-14 school year.

“In most cases, districts rely on teachers to develop their own assessments to measure student growth rather than relying solely on state or vendor assessments that test only a relatively narrow range of content,” the report concluded, although it did find a somewhat heavier reliance on collective growth measures by larger districts.

The graphic below summarizes the report’s findings. Get links to a summary and the full report here. (MSL stands for “measures of student learning.”)

RANDA to the rescue?

The Education Initiative’s report noted that “The burden of data collection and scoring has been substantial, and many districts would welcome more streamlined and cost-effective data tracking systems.”

Officials at CDE are trying to provide some help with that in the form of a $2 million online data system that allows principals and administrators to enter and track evaluation data. For now the system is available only to districts signed up for the state’s model evaluation system, used by about 90 percent of districts (although not some of the larger ones).

The department says more than 80 districts already are using what’s nicknamed RANDA (after the name of the vendor) but which is formally called the Colorado State Model Performance Management System. Learn more about RANDA here.

Evaluation implementation a big challenge

The feelings of many administrators and teachers can be summed up by this sentence from the initiative’s report: “Developing, implementing, reviewing, and refining an MSL system takes an enormous amount of time and energy, both for administrators and educators.”

The CEA’s Barker said districts are “appreciating that they have this year of flexibility” but cautioned that “one year isn’t going to give us enough data.”

“This is a huge learning curve for all of us. … It’s going to take time to fully implement this.”

Categories: Urban School News

We asked, you answered: What should the state’s tests look like?

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 14:51

Last week, we asked our readers, “What do we want state standardized assessments to accomplish and how should we use the results?”

[View the story "We asked, you answered: What do you want from Colorado's assessment system? " on Storify]
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Kids are least likely to receive needed early treatments for mental illness

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 10:02


Kids are least likely to receive early treatment for mental illness. ( Denver Post )

Boundary Lines

Aurora district approves boundary lines for a new school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Denver Public Schools

Denver Public Schools plans to take a handful of its board meetings on the road. ( Chalkbeat )


Middle school and elementary students in Boulder fill baskets for needy families as Thanksgiving approaches. ( Daily Camera )

Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail video game still exists and is being played by students, with educational purposes in mind. ( Hechinger Report )


A Sierra High School assistant principal won an award. ( Gazette )

Hands Up

Two protests were held in Colorado Springs to protest the ruling in the Michael Brown trial. ( Gazette )

Keeping Warm

A program called Koats 4 Kids provides outerwear for hundreds of students. ( Gazette )

Sad news

Frederick High School in Longmont is dealing with several student suicides in recent weeks. ( Times Call )

Let's Talk aBout Race

Expert: It's better for parents and kids to talk about, not ignore, race. ( CPR )

Common Core

Tennessee was preparing for the Common Core; now its backing away. How is that working so far? ( Hechinger Report )


Some NYC afterschool programs are considering trying to make ties to how they improve student's scores in school. Some point out more affluent parents don't ask for proof that ice skating or piano lessons improves test scores. ( Hechinger Report )

Digital learning

Digital learning may not be as effective or cost effective as it's made out to be. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora OKs boundary lines for new school; most students will be behind grade level

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 19:18

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education last week set a broad attendance boundary for its new combined elementary and middle school, which they hope will alleviate pressure from some of its most overcrowded west-side schools.

But in an effort to also save the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity at two high achieving schools in the southern part of this Denver suburb, the district is creating a school where most students will enroll behind grade level in math and language arts.

The unanimous vote capped a sixth month community engagement process and begins a new one that will likely include staff changes at nine of the districts elementary and middle schools and some services for students who will be relocated to a new school.

The new school, which will serve about 820 preschool through eighth grade students in its first year, is being built in part to curb overcrowding at schools like Tollgate Elementary and Vista PEAK Exploratory P-8. The district also hopes to strengthen its ties with the Buckley Air Force Base community. Students who live on base will predominantly attend the new school. And Aurora officials are also using the occasion to develop a new school model that requires teachers to use strength-based classroom tactics and promote “academic resiliency.”

At least half of the students who are expected to attend the new combined elementary and middle school will be below grade-level in language arts and math, according to a sample compiled by Aurora officials. They will also be mostly Latino and poor.

Which such a composition, the new school is likely to join several of the district’s existing schools on the state’s accountability clock. Those schools are on-watch for low student performance on state exams. If they don’t improve in enough time, they may face sanctions.

But the school’s leader believes the strength-based and academic resiliency model that she and a team of teachers, district officials, and community members are developing is an advantageous solution.

“Learning is hard,” said Carrie Clark, the school’s principal. “We’re gonna tell all of our kids that. But in this building, we’re going to teach you these skills so when something is hard, you can get through it and come out the other side.”

The school will be located at East Sixth Avenue and Airport Road. The boundary runs north from Alameda Avenue to Interstate 70 and east from Sable Road to Picadilly Road.

“The new school will help, but by no means will it solve all of our problems,” said Anthony Sturges, Aurora Public School’s chief operations officer.

Nearly 10 percent of APS schools are at or above capacity, while another 38 percent are at 90 percent capacity. And according to district projections, by 2017 every desk in every high school will be filled by a student.

The elementary and middle schools that will see the biggest shift in students are also among the district’s largest. Elkhart and Tollgate elementary schools and Vista PEAK Exploratory P-8 are each expected to lose more than 100 students. That means changes in budgets and human resources.

“When you lose students, you lose staff,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member at a meeting earlier this month.

And that’s caused some parents and teachers, especially at Vista PEAK Exploratory, to worry.

Stacey Ivey, a parent and teacher at Vista PEAK Exploratory, told the school board before the new boundaries were approved that she had three questions about the forthcoming boundary changes. How as the district planning to support students either relocate to a new school or don’t? How will the district communicate staff reductions at schools? And will there be special enrollment opportunities for VISTA Peak Exploratory students entering the seventh or eighth grade?

Superintendent Rico Munn said at the time he was aware of the concerns and that they would be addressed once the boundary zones were set.

One group of parents Munn and his team won’t have to worry about upsetting are those at the Murphy Creek and Aurora Frontier P-8 schools. That’s because the new boundary lines keep their racially and socioeconomically diverse schools intact, as those parents requested — loudly — during the community engagement process.

“We’re 40 percent Caucasian, 30 percent Black, and 30 percent Hispanic,” said Chris Capron, an assistant principal at Murphy Creek, at the school board meeting when the boundaries were discussed. “That’s why they’re going to Murphy Creek.”

If the mostly white neighborhood kids were to go to a different school, he said, “it would completely change the culture of our school. And we don’t want that.”

Categories: Urban School News

DPS board takes meetings on the road

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 13:19
"Instead of asking the community to come to us, we're going to come to them."
– Anne Rowe, DPS board meeting

Denver’s school board has a new home this year—the Emily Griffith Campus on Lincoln Street (which may well be the only school board meeting room in the country with a rock climbing wall).

But starting next month, the DPS school board will take some of its meetings on the road. The board plans to meet at high schools in all four quadrants in the city over the course of the year.

“Instead of asking the community to come to us, we’re going to come to them,” said board member Anne Rowe.

The board’s first meeting “on the road” will be on December 18 at South High School, 1700 East Louisiana Ave., at 4:30.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver teachers, staff make recommendations about compensation

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 10:05


As negotiations approach, a group of Denver Public Schools teachers and staff suggest a series of revisions to the district's noted compensation system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Race and Museums

An exhibit about race at History Colorado is starting conversations in Denver public schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )


A student's essay inspired by the History Colorado race exhibit. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Keeping Safe

A sheriff in Park County volunteers as a school resource officer in a district that needs more than it can afford. ( 9 News )

Teacher Equity

The federal education department released guidelines for states helping to ensure "teacher equity"—placing successful teachers around the states—but the guidelines are still fairly vague. ( Education Week )


St. Louis-area schools closed in the wake of grand jury decision in Michael Brown. ( Education Week )


A Colorado student navigates her racial identity. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Around the network

A program in Tennessee links students to social services. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Public Education

Middle class parents might return to public schools in Detroit. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver study group: ProComp teacher pay system should be simpler, more targeted

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 19:32

As Denver’s current teacher and administration compensation system nears its expiration date, a working group of teachers and district staff are recommending a set of significant tweaks aimed at improving teacher recruitment and retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver Public Schools, and the Rose Community Foundation, which helped fund the initial version of the system, released a report late last week based on the feedback of a union- and district-convened Design Team for Compensation and Career Pathways.

The team’s recommendations likely foreshadow the options on the table as the union and district enter negotiations.

“This is basically the beginning of a conversation,” said Henry Roman, president of the DCTA.

The report suggests that DPS’s Professional Compensation System, or ProComp, should be easier to explain and understand. It also suggests a set of stronger incentives to encourage teachers to stay in the classroom and teach in the schools where the district needs them most.

Under the current ProComp system, which earned national attention when it was first implemented in 2005, teachers receive bonuses for working in hard-to-staff or hard-to-serve schools, for exceeding student achievement expectations, or for working at a top-performing school, among other actions. Denver voters approved a $25 million annual property tax increase to fund the incentive program, and several local and national foundations, Rose most prominent among them, donated millions of dollars as well.

But just how those incentives have been working has been the subject of some debate. A report from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University presented to the district’s board last month finds that salaries under ProComp weren’t dramatically different than they would have been under traditional compensation schemes, and that ProComp incentives were not strongly tied to DPS’s measure of a teachers’ effectiveness in improving students’ test scores.

The new report outlines a possible new framework for ProComp that includes larger incentives that grow over time for staff in more challenging schools. It also includes more established and lucrative pathways for teachers who move into leadership roles.

Roman said that framework is just one of a number of possibilities the DCTA would explore.

The report also outlines eight principles it says should guide the negotiations. From the report:

  • Opportunities for leadership and increased compensation, including base-building opportunities and bonuses, should be available to teachers throughout their career.
  • The compensation system should be easy for teachers to understand. It should also be easy for administrators to understand and support.
  • The compensation system should attract and retain, with real incentives, effective and distinguished teachers in hard-to-serve schools
  • The compensation system should allow effective/distinguished teachers to increase earnings substantially without leaving the classroom.
  • The compensation system should attract, retain and reward effective and distinguished teachers.
  • The compensation system should value professional learning.
  • The compensation system should provide a formal and explicit structure for career progression and opportunities.
  • The design of the system should be sensitive to whether the requirements placed on teachers and school and district leaders are reasonable. The district must have systems/ practices in place to support the compensation system and support teachers in pursuing available opportunities.

The current ProComp agreement expires at the end of December, though it will likely be extended throughout negotiations. The district and the DCTA plan to establish a calendar for negotiations early in the month.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Before tackling southwest schools, Denver hopes to learn from turnaround in far northeast

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:06

dollars and sense

The proposed new formula, which would divvy up funding in a substantially different and more defined way, for funding Colorado’s public colleges and universities would give every institution an increase in 2015-16. But some campuses would gain more than others. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

DPS has released a new guide to its budget hoping to increase understanding of the way the district receive its money and the way they spend it. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history lessons

After four years of turnaround work in the city's far northeast, Denver Public Schools is hoping to learn what it did right before taking on another struggling reason. ( Denver Post )

Hey, I know you

Colorado Senate Democrats have appointed familiar faces to that chamber's education committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Measuring success

The Jefferson County school board is expected to revise their academic goals next month. ( Arvada Press )

Grief counseling

After two students at Broomfield High School died this school year, students are struggling with grief. And teachers and administrators believe its as important to pick up on what students don't say as what they do say. ( Daily Camera )

Access granted

The Colorado Education Initative will work with 30 schools during a three-year period to provide classroom resources and provide training to teachers so those schools can offer a full range of Advanced Placement courses instead of basic ones. ( 9News )


The Douglas County School District has re-upped its membership with the state's association of school boards. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Raising hope

Students at Lakewood High School last week met the 8-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder they've raised thousands of dollars for. ( 9News )

The early (childhood learning) bird, doesn't get the worm

A new study points to an apparent disconnect between 21st-century knowledge about early childhood teaching and these 20th century wages ( NPR via CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

All win – more or less – under new high ed funding model

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 15:19

The proposed new formula for funding Colorado’s public colleges and universities would give every institution an increase in 2015-16, but some campuses would gain more than others.

That’s because the model would divvy up funding in a substantially different and more defined way than has been used in the previous years, when campus financial support was based on past funding, political jockeying and legislative compromise over how much money was left over in the state budget for colleges.

Creation of the formula was mandated by a new law, House Bill 14-1319, that seeks to make higher education finance more transparent and to give colleges “performance funding” for how well they do in retaining and graduating students, among other factors.

Another goal of the law – an aspiration mirrored in the 2012 higher education master plan – is to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation of low-income and minority students.

That law sparked a summer of intense work by the Department of Higher Education, assorted advisory committees and outside consultants. All that work came to fruition this week with approval of the model by two key advisory groups.

The mood was upbeat Friday at the final meeting of the Executive Advisory Group, one of the panels that reviewed the model.

“We’re really shooting for the stars with this one. This is going to be an example a lot of other states are going to look to,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of DHE.

Do your homework

Garcia also said the plan has “a great deal of focus on affordability … targeted toward low-income and minority populations.”

And, Garcia said, the new model should be “more transparent for the public. … We hope it will lead to more public support for funding higher education going forward.”

The next stop for the plan is review and approval by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education at its Dec. 4 meeting. After that the plan will be subject to the uncertainties of legislative review and the annual budget process.

Here’s how the model would work, based on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015-16 budget request for higher education, which overall proposes a 10 percent increase.

  • The full appropriation for higher education would be $665 million.
  • After money is be taken off the top for “specialty education programs” – CU medical programs, CSU veterinary programs, two area community colleges and vocational schools – $525.6 million would be left for distribution through the new formula.
  • Of that, $294.5 million – 56 percent – would be distributed as tuition discounts for resident undergraduate students, known as the College Opportunity Fund stipends. (The new law requires that at least 52.5 percent of funding be distributed in this fashion.)
  • Of the remaining amount, $138.6 million would be distributed to colleges based on factors related to what’s called their “role and mission,” which includes factors such as size, numbers of low-income students, costs of academic programs, location and other attributes.
  • $92.4 million would be distributed among campuses based on their performance, including such factors as graduation and retention of all students, graduation and retention of low-income and underrepresented students and number of degrees and certificates issued in STEM and medical disciplines. Distribution of these funds also would be weighted to account for differences between small and large campuses.

Hickenlooper’s proposed budget also includes some extra funding intended to compensate colleges for a legislative requirement that tuition increase no more than 6 percent in 2015-16 and to provide extra funding for campuses that would receive the smallest increases under the formula. That last measure is intended to ensure that no college receives a funding increase of less than 10 percent in 2015-16. The administration is proposing such transition funding for five years.

Under the formula, Metropolitan State University would receive an increase of more than 16 percent and Fort Lewis College in Durango would get 13.2 percent. At the low end, the University of Northern Colorado would receive only 2.9 percent more. Other colleges and systems would receive increases of between 8 and 11 percent. (The percentage increases are based on the model’s calculations. But the law stipulates that no institution will receive more than a 15 percent increase nor less than a 5 percent hike, so that requirement would override the calculation.)

DHE staffers said Metro and Fort Lewis would benefit because of relatively high numbers of low-income and underrepresented students, while UNC’s increase would be smaller because it has fewer of those students. But, the transition funding would bring UNC and some other colleges up to a 10 percent increase in 2015-16.

While there is widespread support for the formula, some members of the Executive Advisory Group noted that the situation could be much different in years when state funding is flat or is cut.

Jean Adkins, an administrator at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, noted, “If we did not get a 10 percent increase … it would look very different.” She added, “When there is no new money coming in, it is rural Colorado that will get hurt.”

Garcia acknowledged that potential problem, saying, “If you’re in a flat funding year, this [model] looks kind of ugly. That is something that is a long-term concern for every institution.”

The new model also doesn’t change one key fact about higher education funding, that parents and students will continue to pay the bulk of college costs. State funding cuts in recent years have forced colleges and universities to rely on tuition increases to keep the doors open. Tuition revenue currently provides roughly 75 percent of college revenues.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education Committee membership filled out

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 18:32

Senate Democratic leaders on Friday named members of the Senate Education Committee, bringing back familiar names to a panel where Republicans now have a one-vote majority.

Returning to the committee are Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, Mike Johnston of Denver and Nancy Todd of Aurora. Kerr, committee chair during the last session, will be ranking minority member.

New to the committee but not to the halls of the Capitol is newly elected Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, who formerly served in the House and was known for his strong hand as chair of the House Education Committee.

Merrifield is a retired music teacher and former Manitou Springs council member known for his assertive manner and skepticism about some education reform initiatives. He should be an interesting foil for some of the more conservative GOP committee members and perhaps even for Johnston, the legislature’s leading reform advocate in recent sessions.

Kerr is a teacher who was a central figure in school finance and higher education bills during the 2014 session. Todd is a retired teacher who fought hard last session for reduction of the K-12 funding shortfall, commonly referred to as the negative factor. Both are former House members and served with Merrifield on House Education.

Senate Republicans made their committee assignments previously, and the new education committee leaders are Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs as chair and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins as vice chair. They will be joined by new Sens. Chris Holbert of Parker and Tim Neville and Laura Woods, both of Lakewood. Holbert previously was a representative and served on House Education.

Gone from the panel are Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, who’s becoming Senate majority leader, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who was narrowly defeated by Woods in the Nov. 4 election.

The election gave the GOP 18-17 control of the Senate, the same majority that Democrats held for the last two sessions. The new Republican leadership has expanded Senate Education back to nine members. It had only seven members in the last two sessions.

Committee members haven’t been named in the House, where Democrats retained majority control.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: A teacher makes waves with ‘Bored of Education’

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:57

  • A New York City teacher who is also a rapper is making waves with “Bored of Education.” (NPRed)
  • Educators are increasingly reassessing the once-popular “no excuses” approach to discipline. (Atlantic)
  • An investigation found that Chicago’s school financing has come with great risk and little scrutiny. (Tribune)
  • Tracking effectively segregates schools by race and class, and the U.S. DOE wants that to change. (Quartz)
  • Cable news channels aren’t featuring education very much — and they’re featuring educators less. (Answer Sheet)
  • A new report finds that professionals missed many chances to intervene with the Sandy Hook shooter. (Politico)
  • Take a look inside creepy, abandoned school buildings in the United States and Japan. (Buzzfeed)
  • Minnesota could be the next state to see a Vergara-inspired challenge to teacher tenure laws. (Teacher Beat)
  • A new website aims to close the gap between education researchers and practitioners. (Inside School Research)
  • A request for personal recollections of teaching in U.S. schools has already yielded 800 replies. (Gawker)
  • One promising student illustrates the challenges and possibilities of a struggling New Jersey school. (Hechinger)
  • One teacher swapped the podcast phenomenon Serial for Hamlet to achieve Common Core-alignment. (Slate)
Categories: Urban School News

DPS releases first annual “citizen’s guide” to complex district budget

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:33
Budget for Success helps make a difficult-to-understand process very understandable.
– Happy Haynes, DPS board president

Curious about how Denver’s school system budget works but don’t have time to read a 400-page budget book?

Denver Public Schools released a new booklet today called “Budget for Success” that it hopes will serve as a sort of citizen’s guide to the complexities of school finances.

Mark Ferrandino, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said the goal of the new book was to “increase an understanding of the way we receive our money and the way we spend our money,” and to increase the district’s fiscal transparency and accountability.

Other school systems have created similar books, including Douglas County, but this is Denver’s first.

Ferrandino said the book might be especially useful in explaining DPS’s school-based budgeting, which has earned the district national attention. This year’s book also explains state oddities that affect the district’s budget, like the negative factor the legislature uses to keep school spending in check, and highlights the district’s grants from Next Gen Systems, its blended learning pilot, and its educator effectiveness grant.

Ferrandino said that the district will release a Budget for Success book each year after the budget is released in the spring. The book currently only exists in English, but future iterations will also have a Spanish version.

Board president Happy Haynes said at a meeting of the district’s board last night that the resource should help to make the complexities of the district’s budget more understandable.

Read the full “Budget for Success” booklet here.


Categories: Urban School News

How to stop controlling students and start helping them control themselves

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 13:24

Terrance was a third grader whom teachers described as “impulsive.” He couldn’t — or didn’t — stay quiet in class, calling out while the teacher was teaching, during silent work time, and when the class was supposed to be walking silently through the halls.

In the 23 years I’ve been working in schools, including when I was Terrance’s teacher Lauren’s principal, I’ve learned that most teachers have at least one Terrance, if not more. Like most teachers of impulsive children, Lauren wanted him to stop calling out when his behavior interrupted the flow of work in the classroom, over and over again. What’s more, Lauren knew Terrance had to learn to control himself for his own success and for her own peace of mind in the classroom.

More and more teachers are aware that students’ social emotional skills influence their success, alongside their academic ones. But how those skills are taught is crucial and too often, educators turn to what they see as a quick fix.

One typical response focuses on rewards: Give a student like Terrance a “ticket” each time he raises his hand to speak so that he can earn 20 tickets, select a prize from the treasure chest, and eventually, internalize the desired behavior.

Another common response is to issue penalties. That’s the strategy Lauren initially chose. In Terrance’s case, Lauren had him start the day with a pile of colored cubes at his work space. Each time he talked out of turn, she took away a cube. The repeated visual cue, she thought, would teach that he did something wrong.

But in my experience, neither the carrot nor the stick truly works. In both responses, teachers are controlling the child’s behavior rather than teaching the student the skills necessary to manage his behavior on his own. This is a fundamental confusion in so much of the instruction that I see. The end goal should be focused on the student:  What skills am I teaching you so that over time, you don’t need me anymore?

This is an important thing to do because there’s ample research that socially and emotionally competent students behave better, perform better academically, stay in school longer, and have better job opportunities. The research also tells us that social and emotional skills need to be explicitly taught — by educators who know that they must go beyond a quick fix to change behavior for the long term.

That’s where I came in. I’d been a teacher and a principal for long time and had seen many challenging students come through my classroom. Finding a way to devise a strategy that works for every student is an almost insurmountable challenge. A good place to start is talking to the student themselves.

So now, Lauren starts with a conversation: Does he know he calls out repeatedly? Is he aware of when he does it or how frequently? Is he aware of its impact on others? Does he know why he does it?

Then, we developed different strategies to address students’ particular situations. Those ranged from having him keep track of his calling out to encouraging him to research what kinds of talk is appropriate in different places—when do we whisper, shout or be silent. In class, she made sure he had a chance to practice the different kinds of speech and that he had time to talk without holding back, too.

Certainly it can be a slow process and it’s tempting to hope for a quick fix—a ticket, a stop light, a demerit—that will change student behavior. But teaching the emotional and social competencies that will make a student successful takes patience, skill, and repetition. I hope more teachers will turn to less controlling forms of classroom management and focus on developing self-aware students who can decide what is right for themselves.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Program helps more students take AP classes

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:45

DPS charters approved

In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The testing debate

Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year, according to a new study. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Going separate ways

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Expanding AP access

The Colorado Education Initiative is celebrating the results of its program to increase access to Advanced Placement classes for more diverse group of students. ( 9News )

Grow your own

Roaring Fork High School's 1,300-square-foot "grow dome" attracted a visit this week from a federal agriculture official. ( Post-Independent )

Caught on video

A fight between two high school girls in Colorado Springs escalated into one of them punching a school resource officer. ( Gazette )

Points of view

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg writes about the challenges of educating the district's richly diverse population. ( Denver Post )

Two former governors argue that the Public Employees' Retirement Association may not be providing the best pensions for teachers and other public servants. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board approves slate of charter renewals, enrollment changes

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 00:53

In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver.

The board also adjusted the terms of its contracts with one charter school and two contract schools and finalized the placement of the Denver Montessori High School.

The board’s monthly meeting tonight followed a series of community meetings and internal working sessions in which the plans were described, debated, and adjusted.

In southwest Denver, the district held more than 30 meetings with parents and students focused on tailoring and communicating the somewhat contentious enrollment changes there.

And at a public comment session last week, representatives from several schools noted by the district for low academic performance, including Sims-Fayola and Escuela Tlatelolco, spoke on behalf of their schools, while a neighborhood group and representatives of the district’s Montessori secondary school voiced their disagreement over plans for the Smedley Elementary School building.

Check out our board tracker for a run down of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.

Enrollment changes

The biggest change is in southwest Denver, where local advocacy groups and community members had been pushing for more school improvement efforts. (See below for a letter from the superintendent explaining the changes.)

In response to that pressure, the district has created two new attendance zones in the area. Rather than being zoned to one particular school, students in the area will have their choice of a number of schools in the area—though they are not guaranteed access to any.

The new enrollment zones are part of a broader set of changes in the Southwest, which is home to more than 20,000 students—nearly a quarter of the district’s overall enrollment. Charter schools Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep will open their doors in the Kepner middle school building next year, while the current program is phased out. Two other charter operators, DSST and Strive, and a new district-run program plan to open schools in 2016-17.

In a public comment session before the meeting, Veronica Barela, the president of NEWSED — a community development corporation in West Denver — told board members that she was concerned the plan would negatively affect some students who were currently enrolled in schools at West High School. “I would hope that next time there’s more inclusion of parents and people who will be affected by the changes.”

Board chair Happy Haynes responded that the district would monitor how the changes affected families in the area.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiStudents at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school’s model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.

The board unanimously approved the plan. Board members Arturo Jimenez and Rosemary Rodriguez said they supported the plan despite initial reservations.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he was excited about Southwest changes. “I think the community access zones in the southwest will spur quality and help increase enrollment and be of great value to families in the area.” He said similar efforts in the Far Northeast had had a positive effect on enrollment and academics in schools there.

One adjustment was to a resolution that places Denver Montessori High School, a public school, in the Smedley Elementary building while creating a community task force to discuss the space’s use in the future.

In the public comment section, parent Irene Glazer blasted the district for not consulting parents before it made plans to place the school. “You should rename it the community disengagement office,” she said.

Board president Haynes said the district’s effort to find a compromise between the two parties was a “lesson in civic engagement…and how difficult it can be to make decisions that seem easy…We sometimes differ on the details, but I have no doubt everyone here came to the table with what’s best for children in mind.”

The district also approved an enrollment zone change in southeast Denver and the creation of a new “competency-based” program, also in southeast Denver. The district will hold community meetings about the competency-based school next week.

Charters and Contracts

The board also approved a set of actions on the contracts it has with its charter sector and placements for some of its other specialized programs and contract schools.

At a work session of the board last week, the district’s chief schools officer Susana Cordova said staff used information from the district’s School Performance Framework and other qualitative and quantitative information about the schools to determine which contracts to extend for how long.

The board approved a slightly-modified version of that set of recommendations:

  • DSST College View Middle School renewed for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • KIPP Denver Collegiate High School renewed for five years
  • Southwest Early College Charter School renewed for two years
  • STRIVE Smart High School renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Monarch Montessori renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Omar D. Blair renewed for five years
  • Sims-Fayola renewed for one year as a middle school, contingent on performance; its high school will be “surrendered’
  • SOAR Green Valley Ranch approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Green Valley Ranch approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Montbello approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Rocky Mountain Prep approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • The Academy of Urban Learning Charter School approved for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • ACE Community Challenge Charter School approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Cesar Chavez Academy approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Colorado High School Charter approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Contract with Escuela Tlatelolco renewed for a year contingent on board not seeking further renewals after 2016. (Read Chalkbeat’s story here)
  • Contract with Wyatt Academy adjusted to require board to meet certain conditions.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contributed the only nay votes of the evening. He voted against a two-year extension of a school run by the Strive network of charter schools, saying that the district should take into account the fact that its scores dropped precipitously last year and extend the contract for just a year.

Board president Haynes said that “one year’s dip in performance is not a reason to panic. It is a reason to pay attention.”

Jimenez also opposed a construction project that would refurbish a Strive building, saying it had been hastily arrived at.

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Categories: Urban School News

Study: Testing costs up to $78 million, covers most of school year

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 21:11

Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year, according to a new study.

“Only accounting for direct costs, and not the additional opportunity costs incurred by redirected staff time, in total $70-$90 a student is spent on assessments in Colorado. This is between $61.1 to $78.4 million annually,” said the study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a Denver education research firm.

On the issue of testing time, the study said, “When considered in the context of a typical school year of 175 days … between 7 percent and 15 percent of time in the school year [is spent] preparing for or taking assessments.”

The study was done for the Standards and Assessments Task Force, the 15-member appointed group that is studying the state testing system and which will develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. The task force and the study were authorized by a 2014 law that was a legislative compromise in response to growing concerns about assessments. The group was briefed on the study last Monday.

The study’s conclusions were based primarily on information provided by surveys of district-level administrators, building administrators and teachers. Information about testing costs was based on the survey, state data and interviews with administrators in five districts.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • “It is clear that both teachers and students are spending a significant amount of time that could otherwise be devoted to instruction on these assessment-related activities,” despite variations among respondents about specific amounts of time spent on test prep and test taking.
  • “Respondents from all three levels indicated significant impacts and relatively few benefits for most assessments. … A majority of respondents at all levels reported disagreement that the benefits of assessments outweighed the impacts.” (The one exception was general agreement that the benefits of the ACT tests given to high school juniors outweigh its impacts.)
  • “Respondents … suggested changes to assessments, focusing on reducing the length and number of grades of students taking assessment or reducing to the federal minimum.”

The educator opinions collected by the study mirror those captured in an earlier Department of Education survey (see this story for details). But the APA study does combine a wide range of testing data in a single document and provides a fresh look at the alphabet soup of tests facing Colorado students every year – DIBELS, STAR, CMAS, ACCESS and many more.

Here’s a quick look at some of the study’s major findings.

Tests and the school year Do your homework

From a week of school readiness assessments in August to three weeks of early literacy progress monitoring in May, testing goes on across the school year, the study found.

“In this … example, over 40 weeks of assessment windows are open for 10 unique assessments (with specific date ranges overlapping) over a typical 36 week school year. This does not include additional formative assessments, course exams, or AP/IB exams. As is apparent, assessment is a year long process with at least one assessment testing window being open nearly every week of the school year.”

Student time on tests

“While the number of assessments administered varies by grade level, students at every level spend over a week of school time preparing for assessments, with students at key grade levels spending over two weeks of school time preparing for assessments. Time spent taking assessments is similarly high, taking at least a week of school time for students at all levels and more than two weeks of school time for students in some grade levels.”

Teacher time on tests

In the context of a 175-day school year, teachers spend between 5 percent and 26 percent of their time “preparing for or administering assessments.” The variation is accounted for partly by different loads for teachers depending on the grades and subjects they teach.

Costs of testing

The study found direct per-student costs for testing varying between $5 and $50 for state tests and $15-$58 for district tests.

“These figures would be much higher if opportunity costs due to diverted staff time were included. The costs range dramatically between districts and represent different resource starting points and capacity capabilities. Though there is not a perfect correlation the smaller districts tended to have higher costs than the larger districts.”

Costs & benefits

“Ratings of assessment impacts were remarkably similar across district, school, and teacher respondents. Teacher respondents tended to rate the impact of assessments as slightly higher than district and school respondents, but differences were not large. Impact ratings did, however, vary significantly by assessment, with all respondents indicating high level of impact from the CMAS and TCAP/PARCC assessments across all impact areas. Conversely, respondents indicated lower impacts from the ACT.”

What should be done

“A minority of respondents at all levels suggested keeping assessments as they were, with the exception of the ACT. Across all assessments, respondents at all levels favored reducing the length of assessments. There were not major differences in suggested changes from respondents at the district, school, and teacher level.”

The study found about 60 percent of district administrators want to reduce language arts and math tests to the federal minimum of testing 3rd-8th graders and once in high school. Only about a third of building administrators supported that. There was majority support across all three groups for reducing the length of tests.

What happens next

The study is expected to be a key piece of evidence in the task force’s deliberations as it works to prepare its report – or possibly reports – during its final two scheduled meetings on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12.

The group also has gathered a wide variety of information, including comments at several public meetings around the state. (See this page for links to summaries of those meetings.)

An outside advocacy group, the Denver Alliance for Public Education, also is seeking additional parent comment through an online survey, which it intends to present to the task force.

Some members of the task force have indicated support for trimming the testing system back to federal minimums. But there is a wide variety of views represented on the group, and members representing education reform groups are nervous about tinkering too much with the current system. (See the list of members at the bottom of this page.)

While the task force is still deliberating, members of the legislature already are at work on the issue.

“The legislators are drafting their own bills. We’re going to see bills that are across the spectrum,” said one lobbyist. “The legislature is going to have to pick and choose.”

How study was done

APA gathered information through document review, an online survey of district administrators, school administrators and teachers, follow-up interviews with five districts (Aurora, Center, Eagle, Kit Carson and Poudre) on costs and from CDE information. Here’s the breakdown of responses:

  • District-level administrators – Reponses represent 64 districts, or 36 percent
  • School-level administrators – Responses represent 12 percent of schools
  • Teachers – Responses represent 4 percent of statewide workforce

The study concluded that the responses were representative of statewide opinion.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board calls for testing cutbacks

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:46

After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system.

The letter was sent to the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a 15-member appointed group that is developing recommendations on testing for the 2015 legislative session.

During meetings stretching back to August, when 2014 TCAP results were released, board members have clearly indicated that they wanted to add their collective voice to the flow of comment being considered by the task force.

The board’s letter adds to the rising drumbeat of discontent about state testing, which has steadily expanded in recent years with the addition of school readiness and early literacy evaluations, new online science and social studies tests and additional high school tests, including the first assessments for seniors.

Things will change even more dramatically next spring when the first online PARCC tests in language arts and math will be given statewide.

The letter, signed by all seven board members, said, “We ask that the task force give consideration to a system of assessments which is reduced to the federal minimums, with the addition of social studies.” It also suggested a testing system that has limited impact on instructional time, considers sampling systems instead of testing every student every years, allows local district choice of tests and exempts students from further testing if they’ve demonstrated mastery of academic content.

Related stories

“The board is keenly aware of the public’s concerns around the burdens imposed on educators, students, and districts – the impacts on instructional time, questions around transparency, unintended consequences related to course sequencing, and interruption of concurrent enrollment programs. By providing our observations to the 1202 Task Force, we continue that dialogue,” the letter said.

Board chair Paul Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado that the letter represents “a gathering of thoughts and ideas that have been talked about for months.” He said the board discussed the letter during its meeting last week and considered talking about it further in December but decided “we needed to get it out immediately so that the task force would have it.”

The task force has only two more scheduled meetings, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12, before it has to make its report to lawmakers. (The 2014 law that established the group allows the task force to prepare majority and minority reports if it chooses.)

Several task force members are believed to favor cutting the testing system back to federal minimums, although the group hasn’t yet developed detailed drafts of proposals.

Colorado requires more testing, both of additional subjects and in additional grades, than is mandated by the federal NCLB law. Some of those additional tests have been required by the wave of education bills passed by the legislature since 2008.

The issue of federal minimums was discussed at length during the board’s September meeting, when members received an extensive briefing by Department of Education staff. That report indicated cutting back could have unintended consequences, particularly on the operation of the state’s model for tracking student academic growth over time. (See this story for details.)

Testing, including test results and growth data, are key to the state’s systems for rating schools and districts and for the education evaluation system, which is yet to be rolled out fully.

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Categories: Urban School News

Escuela Tlatelolco and Denver Public Schools to end contract

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:18

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday to approve a proposal that would extend the school’s contract with the district for a single year while ensuring that the Escuela board will not seek to renew the contract, which has been ongoing in some form since 2004.

The proposal recommends that the school and district discuss creating a new, different agreement of some sort at this time next year.

Escuela Tlatelolco, founded as a private school in 1971 by civil rights leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, will remain open in its landmark building after the end of the contract, and school leaders say they plan to raise funds to keep all of their current students enrolled.

But while Escuela’s staff and board of directors agreed to the resolution on tonight’s agenda, the school community is contesting the district’s assessment of their school’s academic successes and the timeline of the end of the contract.

“We weren’t thrilled that we came to this place,” said Nita Gonzales, the school’s principal and the daughter of its founder.

When the district and Escuela first entered into a contract in 2004, Gonzales said, “it seemed like a win-win.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiElementary students at Escuela Tlatelolco.The influx of public funds were welcome as more than 90 percent of its students received scholarships and were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Denver Public Schools was looking for ways to help educate English learners and Latino students in West Denver—the same students Escuela, with its bilingual Montessori model, small classes, and focus on heritage and community, seemed to have success with. Some students were already coming to Escuela from DPS schools.

The district agreed to provide funds to Escuela in exchange for the school meeting certain academic and operational benchmarks. The school contracted with the district for some special education services, but retained its status as a private, independent nonprofit.

The contract with DPS was a welcome source of income for Escuela, which provided scholarships to more than 90 percent of its students, most of whom were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

But the school has received low marks on the district’s accountability system for multiple years. It was ranked red—the lowest possibility—each of the past four years. The district’s School Improvement Accountability Council has recommended Escuela for closure three times.

The district’s recommendation to the board last year included a set of cautions about the school’s performance, but the board voted to approve the contract extension.

Gonzales said the current accountability system doesn’t accurately capture the school, which currently houses preK through 12th grade, and its work with students. “Part of what we were trying to do was to see, is there a way to work with DPS to frame an alternative scoring model?”

In a letter to the district’s board, members of Escuela’s board say that the school’s low performance on the district’s performance metrics were representative of systemic problems “teaching and evaluating with standardized tests the large West Denver Latino and English Language Learner population.”

A mural of Corky Gonzales, the founder of Escuela Tlatelolco, on the first floor of the school’s building.

In 2013-14, 72 percent of Escuela’s students were identified as English language learners and 98.4 percent were minority students. In a letter to the Denver board (see below for full letter), Escuela board members state that many of the school’s middle and high schoolers transferred to the school after struggling or considering dropping out of DPS schools. The school is also smaller than average—it has 161 students this year, including preschoolers, and some high school classes have fewer than 16 students.

“It was never evaluated or measured as an alternative school, because their elementary and preschool was a lot more like a regular charter. But they’re actually operating closer to an alternative school,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area around Escuela. He compared Escuela to Florence Crittenden, a contract school that works mainly with pregnant teens, for its ability to meet the needs of a specific group of students.

“We’re looking at numbers and data in this snapshot without all the other things that come into play,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t tell anything about Escuela–but I’m not sure it tells anything about any school.”

“What are you looking for? At the end of the day, is it that your students graduate? Those numbers are high,” she said. “Is it that at the end of the day that parents are involved? Our parental engagement is very high. Is it at the end of the day that students are engaged in their learning and participate? That’s what you’ll find here. Can you gauge that all on a single test? Maybe not.”

The resolution the board will vote on Thursday explicitly acknowledges the school’s point of view. It reads, in part, as follows: “Escuela offers a unique educational opportunity within the Denver context and whereas Escuela does not believe that the school’s model designed to support the whole child can be fully realized or evaluated within the district and state performance and accountability context.”

The move will have financial repercussions for Escuela: Some 50 percent of its funds came through the Denver district. Gonzales said the school had hoped for a two-year extension, rather than the one-year plan currently on the table.

At a public comment session of the Denver school board last week, Angela Alfaro, a parent representative for the school, said that “a one-year contract extension places extreme financial burdens on the school. We think it’s not enough time to raise the necessary funds to continue during the transition away from DPS funding.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiA student and teacher at Escuela Tlatelolco work together. “Did the mom FELL something or DROP something?” “She dropped it.”

The school’s reliance on fundraising had raised concerns in the district about the sustainability of the model. “We have a costly program,” Gonzales said. “But we’re raising money all the time.”

At a work session earlier in the week, Denver board member Rosemary Rodriguez noted the school’s many accomplished alumni and the children of notable Denverites who attend the school, especially its preschool program.

“That’s one of the creative conversations we’d like to have. We have respect for so much of what Escuela has and does, especially creating culturally competent school programs,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s academic and innovation officer. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the school last year to tout the benefits of early childhood education.

Gonzales said that while the school will enter conversations with the district next year about future partnerships, “we really don’t have thoughts on what that’d look like.”

“We were here long before [the contract],” said Gonzales, “and we’re going to be here after.”


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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder gets $1M to improve teacher training

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 09:41

Battle Lines

Denver Public Schools wants to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building. But nearby residents argue the building should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Making a better teacher

Wanting to improve teacher training, a family has donated $1 million to the Boulder Valley School District. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Shuffling the deck

The Colorado House Education Committee is getting a makeover after two members were re-assigned to the budget panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Home at last

After moving several times, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School has a permanent home in Jefferson County. ( Denver Post )

It takes a village

A nonprofit, which has built a broad coalition, aims to improve student achievement in Jefferson County's poorer schools in Edgewater. ( Denver Post )

A helping hand

Lakewood High School students are raising money for an 8-year-old boy who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called FOP. ( 9News )

Taking candy from a baby

A Bennet woman is accused of taking more than $15,000 for her schools parent-teacher association. ( 9News )

After school special (report)

According to a new report, 15 percent of kids in Colorado, or about 146,856, in public schools take care of themselves after the afternoon bell rings. ( Gazette )

Connection failure

President Barack Obama called on school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to nearly every student within a few years. ( AP via Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

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