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Updated: 56 min 21 sec ago

Tax credits, parent rights bills advance in Senate

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 22:22

Bills that would allow state tax credits for private school tuition and guarantee parent rights in educational and medical decisions were passed Thursday by the Republican majority on the Senate Education Committee.

The 5-4 vote on the tax-credits measure marked the first time in several sessions that such a bill has moved out of committee.

The five hours of hearings drew an overflow crowd, and the meeting was punctuated with sometimes-emotional testimony on the parent rights bill.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud and prime sponsor of the tax-credits measure, Senate Bill 15-045, argued that the bill is needed to give more support to private schools and home schooling. The current system “encourages in every way public schools and pretty much tolerates private schools and home schooling. This bill is intended simply to change that policy,” he said.

The witness list for the bill was surprisingly short, and committee members took more time discussing the bill than advocates did supporting or opposing it. Democratic committee members took up a fair amount of time with unsuccessful amendments designed to make points about other issues like education funding and non-discrimination.

There also was a bit of back and forth among committee members about whether tax credits, as opposed to vouchers, actually involve public funds and therefore have constitutional problems.

The bill would allow a tax credit equal to half of statewide per-pupil public school spending for taxpayers with children enrolled full-time in a private school. A tax credit of $1,000 would be allowed for full-time home-schooled students. People who donate to private school scholarships could claim a credit of half of statewide per-pupil funding or the amount of the scholarship, whichever is smaller.

The bill moves next to the Senate Finance Committee, where testimony and discussion is supposed to focus on the possible fiscal impacts of the bill.

Legislative staff analysts estimate the measure would cost the state $12.1 million in 2015-16 and $37 million in 2016-17, involving 35,891 students in that second year. It’s estimated the loss in tax revenues could reach $318.3 million by 2028-29.

K-12 funding is projected to drop by $44.1 million in 2016-17 and $81.3 million in 2017-18. Total K-12 spending currently is about $5.9 billion a year. (Read the full financial analysis here.)

Parent rights bill sparks emotional responses

Parent’s bill of rights sponsor Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said those rights are under “assault” and that his bill would “reinforce” the rights of parents to raise and educate their children as they see fit.

Representatives of  the Colorado Bar Association and children’s advocacy organizations testified against the bill, warning of possible unintended consequences.

Much of the testimony from both sides focused on medical consent issues and alleged problems with family courts. There also was testimony from anti-vaccination activists.

Schools were less of a focus. Witnesses representing the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives said the bill isn’t necessary because existing laws cover parent rights to opt their children out of lessons they object to, or out of sex education.

But anti-testing activist Anita Stapleton of Pueblo complained of students being coerced to take state tests and required to answer questionnaires that asked about drug use and sexual habits.

Senate Bill 15-077 declares that parents have the fundamental right to raise, educate and provide medical care for their children and that government cannot interfere with that unless there’s “a compelling interest.” It sets out a long list of parental rights, including withdrawal of children from classes whose content they find objectionable, receiving information about opting out of sex education classes, access to textbooks, and consent to medical and diagnostic procedures and to video and audio recording of children.

Read the bill text here.

It’s possible that both bills will pass the Senate, where Republicans hold a 18-17 majority. If that happens their chances are dim in the House, where Democrats have majority control. That’s what happens when there’s split legislative control – strongly ideological bills passed in one house tend to die in the other.

Categories: Urban School News

CO Health Institute CEO: Political will lacking to tighten immunization law

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 16:32
"It doesn't seem like it's going to have the political will in Colorado to go very far."
– Michele Lueck, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Institute

That’s Lueck’s take on why efforts to make it harder for parents to claim “personal belief” exemptions from childhood immunizations are unlikely to succeed. She made the comment after a briefing Thursday on the 2015 Colorado Health Report Card, which revealed the state has lost ground when it comes to childhood immunization rates. (Read Chalkbeat’s coverage of the report card here.)

Unlike most of the other 38 health indicators on the report card, immunizations are one area where the numbers go down as income goes up, said Lueck.

“It’s not an issue of cost and it’s not an issue of access.”

Colorado’s legislature tried last year to make it harder for parents to obtain personal belief exemptions by requiring them to be briefed first by a health care professional or complete an online education module. That provision was ultimately stripped from the bill.

Categories: Urban School News

Report card: Low immunization rates ding state’s health grade

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 12:00

With the national resurgence of measles making headlines in recent weeks, Colorado’s latest health report card highlights the state’s vulnerabilities to such infectious diseases.

The state lost ground on toddler immunizations since last year, moving from 18th to 30th on the report card’s state-by-state ranking. That drop is based on a continuing decline in the percentage of Colorado toddlers who are up to date on six key vaccinations. (In 2013, 69.2 percent of toddlers got the six immunizations, down from 75.8 percent in 2011.)

Immunization rates are one of five indicators that figured into Colorado’s C grade—the same as last year– on the “Healthy Beginnings” category of the 2015 report card, which is published by the Colorado Health Foundation in partnership with the Colorado Health Institute. (The Colorado Health Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat Colorado).

Update: See what the head of the Colorado Health Institute had to say about immunization rates here

Analysts from the Institute said Colorado would have earned a C+ this year if its immunization ranking had stayed at 18th. Others indicators in the “Healthy Beginnings” category include prenatal health care, smoking status during pregnancy, low birth weight, and infant mortality.

The state also earned a C in the “Healthy Children” category for the second year in a row. Overall, there was little change in that category’s indicators, which include insurance coverage, obesity rates, poverty status, and dental care. Compared to other states, Colorado ranks particularly poorly when it comes the percentage of children without health insurance (7.1 percent) and the percentage with a medical home (55.3 percent).

Given the state’s lackluster grades in the two earliest life stages, the report card’s authors recommended a focus on improving the health of babies and children in the state. Three older groups received better grades, with “Healthy Adolescents” earning a B, “Healthy Adults” a B+ and “Healthy Aging” an A-.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pre-K reduces special education placement, study says

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 08:07

Talking TFA

A panel discussion at the University of Colorado Boulder today highlighted tensions between Teach For America and traditional teacher preparation programs that persist even as TFA’s priorities and practices evolve. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Future in doubt

For decades, Fletcher Middle School in Lakewood has served "medically fragile" special needs students. Now its future is in doubt. ( 9News )

Measles scare

Poudre School District's vaccination rate for kindergartner's exceeds the state average, but lags the national average. ( Coloradoan )

Special Pre-K

Attending state-funded prekindergarten substantially reduces the likelihood that students will end up in special education programs later on, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University. ( KUNC/NPR )

Finger-Liechtenstein good

A culinary team including four ThunderRidge High School students, teacher Katy Waskey and Douglas County School District executive chef Jason Morse are spending the week showcasing their talents in Vail, cooking for the Liechtensten ski team. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Charter champ

The Colorado League of Charter Schools has named Eric Trujillo from Community Prep Charter School in Colorado Springs its 2015 "Outstanding Teacher." ( The Gazette )

Book review

Longtime education journalist Anya Kamenetz’s new book, “The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be,” acts as a guide for the “small, yet growing group of parents” revolting against standardized testing. ( New York Times )

Bush pushes Common Core

Jeb Bush doubled down on his support for the Common Core State Standards during an impassioned speech Wednesday at the Detroit Economic Club ( The Hill )

testing testing

The head of the U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition, says she's working with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ease the burden of testing for English-learners and their teachers. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

Teach For America, Boulder researchers trade volleys over program’s approach

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 20:46

A panel discussion at the University of Colorado Boulder today highlighted tensions between Teach For America and traditional teacher preparation programs that persist even as TFA’s priorities and practices evolve.

As part of an effort to build relationships between Teach For America and academic researchers, Raegen Miller, TFA’s vice president of research partnerships, told a room full of doctoral students and faculty that the organization is hoping to dig into a set of questions that is broader and deeper than just asking whether corps members help students’ test scores improve.

“It’s boring to talk about how much better teachers score,” Miller said. “TFA has got to be a valuable lens into getting into some of these bigger questions.”

“If you’re interested in having the U.S. be more selective about teachers…if you’re looking at whether diversity among those serving low-income students matters…policymakers can’t lean in without good evidence,” he said.

Teach For America is a 25-year-old nonprofit that recruits teachers-to-be and places them in high-needs schools for a two-year commitment, after a six-week-long summer training. TFA has been in Colorado since 2007, and currently has 235 teachers in Colorado schools.

Miller was joined by Jennie Whitcomb, Associate Dean of Teacher Education at CU’s School of Education, and Terrenda White, an assistant professor at the school and a Teach For America alumna who describes herself as a “critical friend” of TFA. The conversation was hosted by Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center, a national research center housed at the school.

Miller said that there has been a perception that TFA is most interested in publishing research that casts it in a favorable light.

“There’s some kernel of truth to the observation. But it’s not the way things work now going forward,” he said.

But the conversation at today’s event surfaced a continued skepticism among much of the audience about TFA’s approach to teacher recruitment, training, and placement—and about what kinds of projects TFA would want to work with researchers on.

Miller said that over time, TFA has increased its focus on recruiting teachers from low-income backgrounds and teachers of color; beefed up its training; given its local offices more decision-making power; and, perhaps most significantly, taken the official stance that it is good for teachers to stay in the classroom for longer than their two-year commitment through TFA, he said.

He also noted that the organization has for the first time begun to take stances on political issues. TFA recently announced its support for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) which would grant permanent residency status to certain immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors.

Still, White said she wondered if the organization would welcome research about whether it was recruiting educators with different attitudes toward teaching, and whether it would change its training model now that it aims to keep more teachers in the classroom.

An audience member asked how committed TFA is to keeping teachers in the classroom for longer than two years, pointing out that the short commitment is still a prominent part of TFA’s advertising.

Miller said he thought the two-year commitment was likely to be part of the program for the foreseeable future, but that TFA still sees part of its mission as creating change in education systems through people who go on to become leaders in systems as well as through those who remain in classrooms.

The pointed questions directed at Miller were likely not a surprise to anyone: NEPC is often skeptical about current education reform efforts, and last year released a piece questioning Teach For America‘s claims that corps members are more effective than other new teachers.

The brevity of the program’s training, the fees districts pay to bring in TFA recruits, the cultural competency and temporary commitment of recruits, and TFA’s marketing of teaching as a stepping stone to graduate school or a higher-paid profession have all been called into question as TFA has grown. The program has also garnered attention for having an admissions rate comparable to elite colleges.

In general, TFA has been fielding more criticism in recent years, some from its own alumni, as a report released earlier this week highlighted.

“In terms of partnering with critical friends, I don’t think there’s really a choice,” Miller said. “This is how you’re going to address questions that relate to the deepest issues around eliminating education inequity.”

This article was updated to clarify Ms. White’s comments and TFA’s current Colorado membership. 

Talk to us: What types of research projects would you like to see focused on Teach For America? Let us know in the comment section, on Facebook, or on Twitter @chalkbeatco.


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: How many hours are spent on assessments? The world may never know

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 09:39

churn, baby, churn

There is a growing awareness that high teacher turnover is hurting student learning in Denver. And the school district is taking its first steps toward solving the problem. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing time

In the Great Assessment Debate of 2015 all sides have claimed they know how many hours students spend testing. Here's a closer look at where the numbers come from. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Colorado kindergartners have the lowest vaccine rates for measles, mumps and rubella in the country, according to federal data. One reason is a high exemption rate, with parents claiming personal views in opposition to immunization programs. ( Denver Post )

And this week Colorado lawmakers will debate legislation that would underline the rights parents already possess to opt out of immunizations as well as comprehensive sex education in schools. ( KDVR )

Healthier Colorado, a nonprofit that focuses on health related policy changes, began a statewide tour Monday in Greeley to bring healthy food options to Colorado schools. ( Greeley Tribune )

Human Resources

A bill introduced Tuesday would create a pilot program that would give financial incentives to highly effective teachers who work in struggling schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Heading into the new negotiation season, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education said it's starting with a clean slate, and hope to smoothly negotiate a new agreement with the county's teacher union. ( Arvada Press )

An Ohio University professor with a deep background in higher education will lead the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' College of Education. ( Gazette )

No Bennet Left Behind

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he's prepared to ditch the party line as Washington is primed to rewrite the nation's out-of-date education laws. ( The Hill )

No room at the Inn

Residents of northwest Arvada are wondering where their kids are going to go to school next year as enrollment numbers rise. ( Arvada Press )

Meanwhile, School District 27J in Brighton will use a split schedule next year at two high schools to alleviate overcrowding. ( Denver Post )

sorry, not sorry

Colorado Springs students who walked out of class Friday afternoon to protest the firing of the school's head football coach have all received a day of in-school suspension. ( Gazette )

Helping hand

Parents and students can get free help filling out the FAFSA this Sunday, Feb. 8. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Bill would incentivize teachers to work in struggling schools

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 23:23

Rep. Kevin Priola has introduced his promised bill to create a pilot program that would give financial incentives to highly effective teachers who work in struggling schools.

The bill was introduced Tuesday, the same day that Priola joined the 2015 session. He’s been out while recovering from a skiing accident. The Henderson Republican tried a similar bill last session, but it didn’t gain traction. He’s hoping for better luck this year.

Among other education bills introduced in the last couple of days are Republican measures designed to protect student data and another bill to pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards.

Also introduced Tuesday was a measure intended to help boards of cooperative educational services take over some administrative functions for small school districts and charter schools. District consolidation is considered a nonstarter in Colorado for various political, geographical, and financial reasons. The new bill seeks to deal in a different way with some of the challenges faced by small districts.

Here’s a quick look at the latest education bills:

House Bill 15-1199 – Comprehensive Republican bill on privacy of student data, including a requirement that most individual student data be destroyed after five years of graduation. Prime sponsors: Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins

House Bill 15-1200 – Establishes a pilot program to create incentives for highly effective teachers to teach in low-performing schools. Prime sponsor: Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson; Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs

House Bill 15-1201 – Creates a $500,000-a-year grant program for boards of cooperative educational services to provide centralized administrative services to small districts and charter schools that choose to use such services. Prime sponsors: Reps. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and John Buckner, D-Aurora; Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora

House Bill 15-1208 – Would take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards, require adoption of new state standards and new Colorado tests and give districts some flexibility in choice of tests. Prime sponsor: Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, sponsor information, fiscal notes and much more detail about every 2015 education bill.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS moves to address ‘crisis level’ teacher turnover

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 21:10

A growing awareness that perennially high teacher turnover is hurting student learning is prompting Denver Public Schools to seek the root causes of churn and develop strategies to keep teachers in the classroom.

More than 20 percent of all DPS teachers left their positions between 2012 and 2013, according to state data. And according to district information, half of all teachers leave the district within three years.

“Right now, our teacher turnover, in particular in high-poverty schools, is a problem,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg. “Nothing is more important for closing achievement gaps than being able to have our best teachers and our best school leaders working at and staying at our high-poverty schools.”

Denver Public Schools released a report last week highlighting recommendations for reducing turnover, especially in high-needs schools. The district has also started tracking voluntary teacher turnover in schools to determine when and where teachers are leaving for reasons other than retirement or advancement.

The quality of leadership, an unsustainable workload, and too much assessment were among the factors the task force of teachers behind the report identified as leading to high turnover.

At Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, teacher Martha Burgess said that each teacher’s decision was different. “It’s different factors over time: People not feeling respected, not feeling like they’re making an impact. Certainly workload,” she said. “Some retire, some transfer to other schools. But it is important. When you look at what veteran teachers bring, that can’t be underestimated.”

Keeping teachers in the classroom

Denver’s difficulty retaining teachers is part of a statewide trend: A fifth of all Colorado teachers left their positions between 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to the state Department of Education. That’s higher than the national turnover rate of 14 percent.

Statewide, “turnover is at crisis level,” said Shelley Zion, the director of the Center for Advancing Practice, Education and Research at the University of Colorado Denver. The university has also recently launched a program called EDU focused on supporting teachers and reducing turnover.

But the fixes on the table aren’t always simple. “If we want to retain really quality teachers, we need to really shift how we empower and support them to get what they need,” Zion said.

The DPS teacher retention report was based on the work of a group of district teachers, most of whom work in low-income schools. In Denver, teachers who do stay in the classroom tend to transfer to schools with lower poverty rates.

The recommendations fell into four themes: Leadership, supports for students, supports for teachers, and rewards and recognition.

  • Leadership: The panel recommended a clearer process for hiring principals, including a teacher voice in that process; having principals teach a class each week; and requiring principals to be master teachers. (The district has recently launched a number of programs focusing on preparing and supporting school leaders.)
  • Support for teachers: “Put simply, the workload at high-poverty schools is unsustainable,” the authors wrote. “…As it stands…the number of assessments required coupled with the absence of adequate planning time…render teaching in high-poverty schools less attractive.” The panel also urged the district to decrease the teacher-student ratio.
  • Support for students: The task force called for provide more resources in high-poverty schools, including hiring enough counselors, school nurses, and parent liaisons.
  • Rewards and recognition: The report suggested creating clear paths for teachers to grow professionally, and financial recognition for teachers who take on new roles, and those who stay in high-poverty schools for longer stretches of time.

In a public email, Boasberg said the district would heed the task force’s advice and was already taking steps to address the issues it raises. And in an interview, Boasberg said that the district also planned to adjust its ProComp system, which offers financial incentives to teachers who work in high-needs roles or schools, or who accomplish certain objectives, to make it more effective. The district is currently negotiating an update to ProComp with its teachers union.

Baby steps

This school year, DPS officials started using high rates of voluntary teacher turnover as a “flag” that that school may need support or more attention.

At a meeting of the district’s board last November, DPS Chief Academic Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust mentioned turnover as one of the non-academic factors the district uses to gauge school quality. “We know in schools that lack stability, it’s so much harder to improve student outcomes,” she said.

But even as the district looks to reduce turnover, some of its strategies for struggling schools involve replacing staff or entire schools. One teacher, who requested anonymity because she said she feared retaliation, told Chalkbeat that the lack of job security at high-needs schools had influenced her own and peers’ decisions about where to work.

Some of the district’s charter schools are independently examining their own teacher retention and satisfaction. Charter network DSST, for example, has made teacher fulfillment one if its strategic priorities for the current school year.

Beyond “Hoop Jumping”

Teacher fulfillment and satisfaction—or the lack thereof—also drove the creation of EDU, said the University of Colorado’s Zion. “The big idea behind it has been that teachers in the last several years have been disempowered, scrutinized, deprofessionalized and stressed beyond measure,” she said.

EDU members, who can come from anywhere, pay $20 per month to access a set of courses and resources, online and physical, that address both the pedagogical, professional, and social-emotional elements of teaching.

“We in teacher education feel like we do a really good job of preparing them,” Zion said. “But then they go into district schools and classrooms in which they’re sometimes supported well, but often not.”

At Kunsmiller, teacher Mandy Israel said outsiders often underestimate teachers’ workload and emotional commitment. “I get here at 7. The contract doesn’t say I have to get here at until 8:30. And when I get here there are other people in my hallway who are already here.”

Israel is now a teacher-leader at her school—a role that she says has increased her professional satisfaction but added to her workload.

Burgess said she had been reflecting on why teachers leave schools after encountering an editorial by Josh Waldron, who had been named Teacher of the Year by a local group in Virginia only to leave the profession several years later.

In the editorial, Waldron writes that teaching in his district had become unsustainable financially and personally. His top concern at his district was what he describes as “hoop jumping”—adjusting to a constantly-shifting and time-consuming set of requirements from the district.

Burgess, also a teacher-leader, said that in her sixth year teaching, she still enjoys teaching but empathizes with Waldron’s concerns. “I’m excited that there is finally some attention being paid,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Principal supervisors have a new role in Denver, across the country

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 10:08

Principal Leaders

The role of principal supervisors is shifting across the country and in Denver. ( Education Week )

Mapping Trends

The Gazette maps which districts had the highest high school dropout rates in 2013-14. ( Gazette )

Dead bill week

A House panel voted against a bill that would have halted expansion of the breakfast after the bell program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Three African-American students share their perspective on being students of color. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Tell Us More

Question of the week: Should school board members be required to save their emails? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Financial Aid

This Sunday is "College Goal Sunday," when students and parents can get assistance in filling out their FAFSA applications. ( 9 News )

Degreed and Pedigreed

Denver's most educated neighborhoods, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, are Golden Triangle, Belcaro, Washington Park, and Hilltop. ( 9 News )

Teaching Teachers

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has a new dean of its College of Education. ( Gazette )

Quiz Time

A Longmont teacher competed in Jeopardy's Teachers Tournament. ( Times Call )


A team of high schoolers from ThunderRidge High will be cooking for a team from Liechtenstein during the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championsihps. ( Douglas County News Press )

Be Kind

A high schooler working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award organized acts of kindness around Chaparral High School. ( Douglas County News Press )


What kind of education do students get at virtual schools? ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

House panel rejects bill to halt school breakfast expansion

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 23:20

The House Education Committee Monday killed a bill that would have stopped expansion of the breakfast after the bell program to additional schools and students.

Committee Democrats provided the majority in the 6-5 vote to indefinitely postpone House Bill 15-1080. Representatives of health advocacy groups opposed the bill, while school district witnesses supported it. They said scheduled expansion of the program would impose financial burdens on districts that wouldn’t be covered by federal school meal reimbursements.

The bill’s chances were considered slim from the start, but House Education took nearly four hours and 45 minutes to hear testimony, ask questions and indulge in a few moments of parliamentary waffling before voting.

The program, mandated by the 2013 legislature, requires districts to provide free breakfasts after the school day starts to all students in schools where 80 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

The law drops that threshold to 70 percent starting in the 2015-16 school year. The change will cover an estimated 72,000 students, although many of those students already receive school breakfasts before school starts.

HB 15-1080 proposed eliminating the switch to 70 percent. An analysis prepared by the Colorado Springs District 11 staff estimated that lowering the threshold to 70 percent could cost 17 districts more than $660,000 a year. District witnesses said that money could be better spent on classroom instruction.

The problem is that the federal government reimburses districts different amounts for full-pay students, reduced-price students and free-lunch students. But district meals cost the same for all students. So, districts argue, when a school has 30 percent full-pay students, it doesn’t get enough total federal reimbursement to cover the costs, forcing them to make up the difference with their own funds.

Beyond just providing food for students who might not get breakfast at home, the after the bell law is based on two assumptions. The first is that more students will eat breakfast if it’s offered after school starts, rather than before. The second is that serving free breakfast to all students, even those who could afford to pay, puts all students on an equal footing and eliminates the stigma some poor students might feel about getting a free meal.

Prior to the law, many districts offered free breakfasts before the school day started, and many continue to do that. The law is a favorite of many Democratic liberals in the House.

Several witnesses acknowledged that breakfast after the bell has attracted more students than participated in before-school meals.

Witnesses representing districts as diverse as Cherry Creek and Pueblo 60, Jefferson County, and Mapleton testified in favor of the bill. Several warned that unless the bill is passed, districts might be forced to use less-healthy prepared foods in order to save money.

Districts witnesses also said new federal requirements such as larger servings of fruit – without a corresponding increase in federal reimbursement – and rising milk prices have increased the financial pressure.

But in the end the Democratic committee majority wasn’t convinced. Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was particularly skeptical about district concerns. “Hearing all these numbers is kind of frustrating. … One child that is food deprived is one too many.”

Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, sponsor of the original breakfast after the bell law, said he was open to developing a new bill in an effort to reach a compromise but offered no details. Joshi said he doubted a new bill was likely to be drafted and passed this session.

Elsewhere in the Capitol Monday afternoon, the Republican-controlled Senate State Affairs Committee killed two Democratic bills.

Senate Bill 15-033 would have earmarked surplus state revenues for full-day kindergarten, while Senate Bill 15-068 would have set an interest rate cap on some student loans and provided a tax deduction for student loan repayments.

Later in the week Republican bills on union membership and use of locker rooms by transgender persons are likely to be killed in a House committee. A Republican parents’ right bills may get out of the Senate Education Committee and even the full Senate, but it will have no chance in the House.

Such partisan votes on bills are a natural consequence of having split legislative control, and the phenomenon actually is welcomed by many interest groups because it tends to eliminate the more extreme bills from either end of the partisan spectrum.

Categories: Urban School News

“Most teachers expect you to fail”

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 19:14

AURORA — About 100 African American male teenagers from Hinkley High School gathered at a church, just a stone’s throw away from their campus, Friday to discuss what it takes to be successful in today’s society.

The first African American Male Empowerment Summit was organized by Hinkley teachers and mentors. Students worked with African American business and community leaders throughout the day. They talked about how to overcome obstacles, how to set goals, and what sorts of programs or services the school could offer to improve their school experiences.

In Aurora and across the nation, African American males are more likely to fall behind academically, be suspended, and drop out than their white peers.

For example, 37 percent of Aurora’s African American male third graders were reading at or above grade level last year, according to state test results. That’s compared to the 67 percent of white male third graders who were reading at grade level last year.

African American males last year in Aurora were suspended at slightly more than twice the rate as their white peers — 22 percent to 9 percent.

The event also featured Jameel Mallory, a Hinkley alum, who went from being a successful high school football player to gang member and alcoholic. Mallory is now sober and a research assistant for the University of Colorado’s Department of Family Medicine.

“As an African American male, you know how much pressure there is for you to do the right thing — or the wrong thing,” he said.

At the summit, Chalkbeat asked three students about that pressure. Listen to the clips below.

Kelsey Williams, senior

Armand Green, junior PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

Kason Hill, junior PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

Categories: Urban School News

Speak out: Should school board members be required to save their emails?

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 17:11

Last week, the Jeffco Public Schools board members learned they need to adopt a policy that governs how long they must keep their emails.

State law requires local bodies, like school boards and city councils, to develop such a policy. But the law stops short of saying for long those emails need to be kept. Jeffco school board attorney, Brad Miller, correctly pointed out the policy can “be as simple as ‘they are not required to be maintained.’”

Miller’s presentation to the board came two months after a Chalkbeat investigation that found inconsistencies among board members in how they manage their emails, which are public records.

That brings us to our question of week: Should school boards be required to keep electronic correspondence for a certain amount of time? If so, how long and why?  

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: After-school program focuses on academic, social needs of poorest

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 09:56

Capitol Report

A majority of the State Board of Education Friday threw its support behind a Republican-sponsored bill that would remove Colorado from a multi-state testing group and drop the Common Core State Standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Seven education bills were introduced late last week. Several focus on hot-button issues including guns in schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

State lawmakers from the Pikes Peak region heard an earful from constituents this weekend about the Common Core and testing. ( Gazette )

A helping hand

A nonprofit in Aurora is working with 20 students from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods after school. The program supports the students academically and socially. ( Denver Post )

Urban Peak, a nonprofit that serves students who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless, held a job fair last week. ( 9News )

An evening concert scheduled for later this week is the latest attempt by a Longmont high school student to address the topic of suicide in the wake of several deaths in recent years. ( Longmont Times-Call )

transparency matters

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education was told by its lawyer last week that it must adopt a policy outlining how emails are to be kept. That policy could say the emails must be kept forever or communication may be deleted immediately. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Dance, dance, revolution

After school programs often focus on academics. But a new after school program in Aurora Public Schools is getting kids active through dance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Some Chalkbeat readers suggest the state release of graduation rates was little more than a "feel-good" moment for school districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cool kids

A STEM school in Golden is becoming more popular by the year thanks to an emphasis on real-world problem solving and a home-grown curriculum, school leaders said. ( Denver Post )

what's smell got to do with it?

The Boulder Valley School District is investigating whether the city's sewer is the source of a sewer-gas smell at a middle school. But city officials say they don't believe the sewers are to blame. ( Daily Camera )

to the streets

Dozens of Colorado Springs high school students left their desks Friday afternoon to protest the dismissal of a popular teacher and coach. ( Gazette )

Two cents

Teachers unions are stifling student learning, writes a Wheat Ridge High School parent. His essay is published as Jeffco Public Schools and its teachers union are set to begin bargaining their next contract. ( Denver Post )


It is not too much to ask that high school seniors be able to correctly answer the same fundamental questions about their native country that foreign-born seekers of U.S. citizenship must answer. ( Denver Post )


Don’t ever throw the towel in on the kids — especially when you have program like this math intervention class in Chicago. ( New York Times )

Human Resources

A Pueblo City Schools counselor was honored at the White House on Friday as a semifinalist for the 2015 American School Counselor Association's School Counselor of the Year award. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Talking Points

Two Aurora high school students who grew up in Ghana have joined the speech and debate team to improve their English. ( 9News )

school boundaries

The Louisville City Council and Boulder Valley school board will talk enrollment challenges at an upcoming meeting. Parents there are becoming increasingly worried about overcrowding. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Bok-what? Aurora schools try a new form of fitness

Sun, 02/01/2015 - 18:32

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what Bokwa is. You’re not alone.

But if you go to Aurora’s Dalton Elementary on a Friday afternoon, you’ll soon understand the district’s newest after-school fitness activity. Rob Johnson, the energetic P.E. teacher who the kids call “Coach,” will be at the front of the gym with 40 students in scattershot rows behind him.

He’ll play a pop song like “Timber” on his laptop, throw a hand above his head to signal the group, and they’ll launch into a fast-paced Zumba-like dance routine. What’s hard to see is that the students are essentially making the shapes of letters and numbers on the floor with each series of steps, hops and kicks.

Dalton Elementary P.E. teacher Rob Johnson demonstrates Bokwa steps on a recent afternoon.

Think of it as cardio dance with a paint-by-numbers sort of ease. In an era where schools are increasingly trying to get students moving—both to prevent obesity and facilitate learning—Bokwa’s accessibility is part of the attraction.

It was  created in the early 2000s by Los Angeles fitness instructor and native South African Paul Mavi. The name combines “bo” from light boxing and  “kwa” from kwaito, a South African musical genre.

“It’s good music and if you’re drawing letters with your feet…they can relate,” said Johnson, who also uses Bokwa in his PE classes. “It’s easy for them to do it. It’s not like six or seven hard dance moves like when we did Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.’” (Yes, Johnson taught his students the Thriller dance.)

Dalton is among five Aurora schools that now offer after-school Bokwa classes, and administrators say they hope to see more schools sign on. All told, two dozen district schools, including Dalton, began offering some kind of after-school exercise programs this year as part of the district’s “Physical Opportunity Programs” or POP, funded with a $200,000 Thriving Schools grant from Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

The goal is to create a culture of daily physical activity at participating schools, said Curtis Robbins, Kaiser’s senior manager of youth health and educational theater programs.

“I think people are getting much more interested in how do we think about physical activity creatively and engage people creatively around it,” he said. “Kids, they’re not really engaged when you say ‘Lets get up and do jumping jacks.’”

Third-grader Aiden Bojang, who’s become a regular at Johnson’s Friday Bokwa sessions, said it’s “because I have a lot of energy and I like to move around a lot.” Without the classes, he said he’d probably be at home playing Minecraft.

Participation in Bokwa classes has increased steadily since Johnson started them last October.

“I keep getting at least five new people every week,” he said, as he caught his breath after a recent session. “Last week I was so excited, I ran into the office and was like, “Best class ever!”

Sasha Gard, a spritely third-grader who volunteered that she takes nine hours of dance lessons each week, said she was sold on Bokwa when she found out it was another form of her favorite activity. The only problem, she said, is that she’s short and can’t always see Johnson demonstrate the steps if she can’t snag a front row spot.

Indeed, the classes are so new that most participants have to watch Johnson carefully so they can follow along. During last Friday’s recent class, Johnson paused frequently to explain the steps for a new letter or number.

“Right, left, right, left, punch, kick with your knees,” he called at one point. A few minutes later, he shouted, “If you get lost, wait till we go to a ‘one.’ I will try to put as many ‘ones’ in there as possible.”

Aurora administrators say the district is the only one in the state currently offering Bokwa in schools. The activity, while growing in popularity at health clubs in the United States and abroad, is still relatively unknown.

Dalton parent David  Lozornio said when his daughter Melissa brought a flier home about the Friday Bokwa classes, he went on the Internet to learn more.

“I never heard of it,” he said. “I did some research [to] see what it was about.”

So far, students aren’t the only ones coming to the classes. Last Friday, about 10 teachers and a few parents filled in spots at the back and along the edges of Dalton’s gym. One of them was third grade teacher Amy Smith.

She’d attended Johnson’s class a few weeks before because it’s one way for staff members to get workout credit through the district’s “Biggest Loser” competition. She liked it so much, she signed up to take the official day-long Bokwa training the district is offering in February. Once she gets the training, she hopes to incorporate the activity into classroom brain breaks.

“It’s very kid-friendly…Once you learn the steps you can put them together in any order,” she said. “And the kids that are here with me from my class, they are so excited. Then on Monday they’re like, ‘I got to dance with Miss Smith.’”

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Moving past standards to teach joy

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

Fresh bills raise hot-button education issues

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 18:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

State Board endorses anti-Common Core bill

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 17:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Graduation rates a ‘feel-good feeling’

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 16:58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board lawyer: emails can be deleted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I need direction,” Fellman said.

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Students point out school security gap

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 09:59

District wants charter back

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

School safety

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

Teacher tax break

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

DPS closure

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

Change is hard

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

Leadership dispute

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

Looking for a way out

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

Growing pains

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


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

Categories: Urban School News

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