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Updated: 11 min 23 sec ago

Flores wins State Board primary; Neal looks safe

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 21:44

Updated July 25, Noon – Val Flores, a retired educator backed by teachers unions, won a convincing victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for the 1st District seat on the State Board of Education.

In the 3rd District, Republican incumbent Marcia Neal had 51.7 percent of vote with most returns reported at midday Wednesday.

Taggart Hansen, a lawyer backed by education reform groups, got only 41 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns. He conceded shortly after 9 p.m., saying, “While we did not win tonight, we brought a focus to some of the challenges and critical issues facing our public school systems. I want to congratulate Dr. Val Flores on her victory.”

Flores sounded a bit stunned at her victory, saying, “I think the people won tonight. This is a great win for our children and our public schools.”

Her campaign manager, Dave Sabados, said, “I think Val’s message of good neighborhood schools resonated with voters. I don’t think Democratic voters want the Democrats for Education Reform agenda.”

Neal faced Barbara Ann Smith for the Republican nomination in the sprawling 3rd District. Neal ran ahead in the district’s more populous counties, including Eagle, Gunnison, La Plata, Mesa, Montrose and Pitkin, while Smith won well more than a dozen small counties, plus Pueblo, which is on the district’s far eastern end.

At noon Wednesday vote counts were still incomplete in Custer, Gunnison and Montezuma counties, and tiny Hinsdale County in the San Juan Mountains still hadn’t reported, according to the Department of State.

Late Tuesday evening Neal said, “I’m pretty confident. I would be very much surprised if it changed.”

Primaries for seats on the unpaid SBE are rare – the last one was in 2002.

Neal initially decided not to seek a second term but got back in the race because of concerns about Democrats winning the seat if she didn’t run. Smith decided to stay in the race. Both candidates are retired Grand Junction schoolteachers and both oppose the Common Core Standards, although Smith is more adamant on the issue.

The 1st District race was a reprise of recent Denver school board contests that pitted candidates backed by education reform interest groups against union-backed hopefuls. Hansen was backed by Stand for Children, while Flores was supported by the Colorado Education Association and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

The 1st District is centered on Denver but includes a slice of Arapahoe County. Flores ran strong in the city, running strongly in most west side precincts and also winning many east side precincts. (See this Denver Election Division map of how the voting went.) Taggart heavily outspent Flores.

In the 3rd District the GOP candidate will face Democrat Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo City schools. The winner in the 1st District primary is expected to take the seat next January, as there is no Republican candidate.

Neal has been an occasional swing vote on the board, siding with the three Democrats on a handful of issues. But she voted no in 2010 when the board voted 4-3 to adopt the Common Core Standards, “I think it’s very important that we keep the Republican majority” on the board, she said.

Smith has been involved in local Republican politics and is all for local control and against the Common Core. On standards, she said, “We can do our own,” adding, “I’m not in favor of the PARCC testing.” She said she opposes teacher tenure but that teachers need to be paid more.

Flores is a critic of what she calls the corporatization of public education, writing on her website, “ I oppose a ‘reform’ model that is slowly privatizing our public education system.”

Hansen’s campaign stressed equal opportunities for all students and setting high expectations. Hansen, a lawyer, said his two years with Teach for America had an important effect on him and his views on education.

Get more details on the candidates, their fundraising and the SBE in this earlier story.

Other races of interest to education

Hard-fought Republican primaries in two Jefferson County Senate districts have implications for two Democratic senators with strong education ties, Rachel Zenzinger and Andy Kerr.

  • District 19 – Laura Woods, backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, defeated the more moderate Lang Sias to face Zenzinger.
  • District 22 -, Tony Sanchez, the more conservative of the two Republicans, beat Mario Nicolais to oppose Kerr.

Victories by the conservatives are considered a possible boost for Zenzinger and Kerr, as voters generally are more moderate in general election races.

Primary races in three House districts drew endorsements from Stand for Children.

  • District 2 – In this central Denver Democratic race, Stand backed winner Alec Garrett over Owen Perkins.
  • District 22 – Incumbent GOP Rep. Justin Everett, a member of the House Education Committee, easily beat challenger Loren Bauman, endorsed by Stand.
  • District 37 – This Republican race in the southern suburbs pitted teacher Michael Fields, backed by Stand, against winner Jack Tate, who had a comfortable margin of victory.

Get background on these races in this story.

Categories: Urban School News

A student plan to equalize opportunity at George Washington High School

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 16:59

This is the first in a three-part series of First Person essays in which members of the George Washington High School community present their takes on the proposed changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program. You can read all of Chalkbeat’s coverage of the proposed changes here

The students of George Washington High School are no strangers to change. We’ve lived through constant administrative transitions, staff who leave without notice, and the recent eradication of the school’s prized “senior wall” (a brick bench that only seniors had the privilege of sitting on).The student body greets most of these unannounced adjustments with feelings of exasperation.

However, when students heard that Denver Public Schools officials were planning to reform George Washington’s most high-profile academic program, the news was met with an unprecedented amount of fervor from the George community — both in support of and in opposition to changes to the International Baccalaureate program.

As a recent graduate of the traditional (non-IB) program at George, it has been easy for me to get on board with a plan that recognizes and addresses the achievement gap between the two academic programs and negative side effects that have taken a toll on the school culture.

But although the DPS plan does target a real issue, it lacks details on how the administration will cater to a diverse range of students with different academic abilities and needs. In an effort to bring actual value to DPS’s stated core value of “Students First,” an alternative “student plan” was created during a Saturday community meeting in May. This effort was led by me and my classmate Lauren McGovern.

In that meeting, IB and traditional students collaborated and created a plan under which DPS officials would meet the needs and prioritize the values of students in academics and school culture, instead of viewing the school exclusively through the lens of TCAP scores – a recurring theme of which George students are all too well aware.

This “student plan” grew out of the experiences of all students attending George, including my own experiences as a high-achieving student in the overlooked AP/Honors program. Upon entering George as a freshman, I was not aware of the IB program, and was never presented with the opportunity to apply for it.

Coming from Lotus School for Excellence, a small and rigorous STEM-focused K-12 charter school with fewer than 200 students, put me at a disadvantage. The school was new, and guidance counselors were not available to work with eighth-graders, because it was expected that we would continue our education at the same school until 12th grade.

When I finished eighth grade third in my class, I looked to Denver East as a school where I could develop myself even further in academics and extracurricular activities, but ended up at George Washington when I was not admitted to East as a choice-in student. I was immediately placed into an all traditional level course load, where I found myself in boring and unchallenging classes until my sophomore year.

After discovering my academic aptitude, I enrolled in all AP and honors courses through the rest of my tenure at George, and maintained a cumulative 4.0 GPA while balancing the responsibilities of holding seven leadership positions, including president of three clubs, and student body president of a prestigious pre-med program.

Being a student in the traditional program at George has always presented its own set of difficulties. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the many high-achieving non-IB students to take an all-AP and honors course load, especially after the elimination of three core-subject AP teachers at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

Six weeks into my senior year, my academic opportunities were reduced when my AP Biology class was eliminated because my teacher was cut for unexplained “budget reasons.” The day after that cut, an administrator came in and offered a hazy explanation to a room full of frustrated students about why the class would no longer exist . The reason offered didn’t satisfy most of us, though. Several students, including myself, had to skip an entire year of science credits, and others opted to take a gym class to meet the required number of courses.

The cut teachers were arguably some of the best in the AP/Honors program. Many of our probing questions about these cuts remain unanswered to this day, including why only AP teachers were cut, why those teachers in particular, and why this had to happen during the first six weeks of school.

Though the removal of these teachers might seem unfair, it’s nothing new at George. Non-IB students are all too familiar with receiving the short end of the stick. It’s not uncommon to see a teacher with both IB and AP classes (there are a few such teachers) put his or her AP class and its students’ needs on the back burner when it comes time for a big IB project.

The unfortunate reality is that it’s very common for non-IB students with a strong desire to learn and grow to receive a less than stellar education at George. This reality brought about another key point in the student plan, one that was met with great enthusiasm: open course selection.

IB students are presented with the opportunity to take AP classes as electives to further their studies, but AP students are not given the same opportunity with IB classes. With open course selection, AP students would pass an AP class, and then the next year could opt to take a High Level IB course in the same subject.

Ensuring that all students have the opportunity to take classes in subjects in which they excel would not only assist in mending the gap between the two academic programs, but would also increase the morale of AP students.

Struggling against feelings of inferiority is a common theme for most—if not all—non-IB students at George.  Some of my IB peers, and even parents of IB students, have insinuated that I am unintelligent upon hearing that I am a non-IB student. It’s a battle non-IB students have to face every day. So much focus is placed on the IB program that non-IB students, who are a majority of the school, feel ignored.

Providing comprehensive training for AP teachers to create a more focused and stronger curriculum in the AP program would be a great first step in addressing these issues. Adding more resources, including an AP coordinator with an office would prove an invaluable asset for AP/honors students. Even offering more AP and honors classes for students in all grades would ensure that the traditional program, with time, has a chance of becoming as strong an academic program at George as IB.

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed system goes back to the drawing board

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 15:24

With polite smiles firmly pasted on their faces, Colorado’s higher education leaders and bureaucrats are steeling themselves for an intense six months of work on a performance funding system that none of them asked for.

The work ahead seems wearily familiar to many in higher education, which in the last five years has gone through creation of a state strategic plan, the launch of a complex but temporary change in tuition policies, the passage of an earlier performance funding and master plan law and finally the negotiation of performance contracts between colleges and the state.

Through all the hours of meetings and in reams of documents, politicians and policymakers have largely been of one mind about Colorado’s higher education goals – increasing student retention and graduation rates, improving remedial education and reducing the state’s wide demographic gaps in college attendance, retention and graduation.

At a time when the state’s K-12 system is being challenged to increase the percentages of minority and at-risk students who graduate high school and go on college or vocational training, those same students lag behind white students in every key higher-education indicator – enrollment, need for remediation, staying in school and graduating.

Behind those educational and social goals is anxiety that Colorado will lose ground economically if the state doesn’t get more of its residents through college.

Now higher education will have to modify existing plans to achieve their goals, thanks to House Bill 14-1319. A pet project of outgoing House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, the bill easily passed both houses, but not until after the Denver Democrat made significant changes to the measure after pushback from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) and college leaders.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver

Ferrandino, long frustrated by the lobbying and deal-making that marked higher education funding decisions, also wanted to inject more transparency and predictability into the system. The speaker had lined up a long list of both Democratic and Republican cosponsors, and once he made his concessions in committee the bill sailed through both houses with little debate.

Key changes in the bill gave the Department of Higher Education and CCHE a greater role in designing some details of the new performance funding system, a task that will consume much of the rest of this year.

Ask people in higher education about the new law, and the word you frequently hear is “frustrating.” As one person involved in the legislative negotiations put it, “It’s somebody else’s vision. It’s not being built from the ground up.”

Frustrating or not, the ball now is in higher education’s court. “It’s yours now, you own it, it’s not somebody else’s,” DHE lobbyist Chad Marturano told the commission at its June meeting. (Marturano has since the left the Department to work for the University of Colorado System.)

Inside HB 14-1319 History

Documents

Simply put, the new law gives greater weight to enrollment and would base a modest – but still to-be-defined – amount of funding on institutional performance measures such as graduation and student retention.

But the law is anything but simple. “The complexity is pretty intense,” notes Mark Cavanaugh, DHE chief financial officer.

State support of higher education comes from two sources, the resident student stipends (basically tuition discounts) provided by the College Opportunity Fund and direct support of institutions known as fees for service. In the past there’s been little differentiation between the two sources, as total funding has fluctuated (mostly down) based on state revenues and has been allocated to colleges based on formulas negotiated by the institutions and DHE and rubber-stamped by the legislation.

(Colleges and universities will receive $604 million in operating funds from the state in 2014-15, up $90 million from 2012-13 but still below the 2008-09 high of $706 million. Statewide, about three-quarters of campus revenues come from tuition.)

The new law requires 52.5 percent of total funding be devoted to COF stipends. That would drive more funding to higher-enrollment institutions and is expected to most benefit Metropolitan State and Colorado Mesa universities and the community colleges. However, the law does allow adjustments when actually enrollment in the fall doesn’t match projections done when state budgets are approved in the spring, theoretically allowing stipend funding to drop below 52.5 percent in some years.

Fee-for-service funding will be distributed on the basis of institutional characteristics (admissions selectivity, enrollment, rural or urban character, number of graduate programs, etc.) and on the extent of services to low-income and first-generation students, plus two additional factors to be determined by CCHE.

Performance funding would be awarded for student retention and graduation, plus up to four additional factors decided by CCHE.

The law merely requires that fee-for-service and performance funding be “fairly balanced” – a needle that CCHE will have to thread.

There are separate provisions in the law for funding of specialty education programs, such as medical training at CU and for various CSU programs, and for regional vocational schools and non-state junior colleges.

The law also includes provisions to moderate excessive funding swings for institutions through 2019-20 and a way to suspend the system if state funding drops significantly.

The race to December Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia / File photo

Timing is a key challenge, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told Chalkbeat Colorado in a recent interview. No other state has created such a plan “in this time frame,” he noted. “It’s a very abbreviated process.”

Kachina Weaver, a former legislative staffer who’s been hired to coordinate the process, agrees that it’s “an incredibly condensed time frame.” But, she added, “I don’t think it is unrealistic at all.”

The commission was briefed on the project earlier this month, and the law was discussed at a meeting of campus finance officers last week. College and university presidents are to be briefed at a session this week.

DHE staff members are developing a “foundational working document” about implementation for CCHE members to consider during a retreat in July, while August and September will be taken up with interest group meetings and collection of financial data.

An advisory committee including representatives from both higher education and the broader community will review the plan before the commission makes its final decision.

A final financial model is supposed to be selected by early December, with the whole package presented to legislative committees before Christmas.

If everything goes according to plan, the new finance system will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.

The bottom line

“Everyone seems to understand we have to work on this together,” Cavanaugh said of how college leaders are reacting to the process.

But he and others acknowledge that discussions may get more difficult as the financial models are developed.

“They want to know what this is going to mean to their institutions,” he said. Weaver also noted that the thought of divvying up state funding in a new way “makes everybody a little uneasy.”

And without consensus on the plan, noted commission member Monte Moses, “we’ll be reliving this over and over” in future legislative fights over the funding plan, he said.

The biggest financial problem may be the state’s relatively meager support of higher education in recent years.

“The challenge is we don’t have enough money to fund all the things we want to do,” Garcia said. “To help one school means there’s less money to help another.” The lieutenant governor, who also heads DHE, is especially concerned about what happens in years when state funding drops. “We don’t know what money is going to be available the year this goes into effect.”

Tuition is the elephant in the room when college leaders gather to discuss funding. Tuition has risen steadily as state funding has dropped, and now legislators are pushing back. Another law passed this spring limited tuition hikes to no more than 6 percent in each of the next two years.

Tuition isn’t part of current HB 14-1319 planning – but the department and the commission have to produce a report on future tuition policy by Nov. 1, 2015.

Categories: Urban School News

Pension system investments grew 15.6 percent in 2013

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 14:45

Investment returns for the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association were 15.6 percent in 2013, the pension system reported Tuesday in its annual financial report.

The health of the pension system is important to Colorado teachers, all of whom are covered by PERA and who make up the majority of the system’s members. It’s also closely watched by school districts, which make millions of dollars in employer contributions each year.

PERA assumes an average 7.5 percent return over 30 years, so the 2013 report is good news.

The system had $43.7 billion in assets for its defined benefit plan at the end of 2013, an all-time high. PERA’s overall funded status increased to 64.2 percent in 2013, primarily because the $6 billion of investment income earned on its portfolio.

Despite a comprehensive overhaul law passed in 2010, PERA remains the focus of political controversy, with many Republican officials skeptical about the system’s long-term health without significant changes. Public employee groups and Democratic officials generally argue that the 2010 reforms need time to work. A 2014 law commissioned three studies to look further into PERA’s finances (see story).

Get more details on the system’s 2013 finances in this news release, and see the full report here.

Categories: Urban School News

National shift in special ed accountability could impact Colorado

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 14:43

Federal officials have announced a major shift in how states will be held accountable for serving students in special education — and Colorado could be among those affected if it does not show improvement.

U.S. Department of Education (DOE) officials announced Tuesday that states and territories would now be measured on how well special education students perform on state and national tests. In the past, the department has looked exclusively at how well states comply with federal laws on the education of students with special needs.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the shift was intended to raise the bar for states on how well they educated students with special needs.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel,” he said in a press release Tuesday.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government must monitor states and place them in one of four categories: meets expectations; needs assistance; needs intervention; and needs substantial intervention. Last year, nearly all states met expectations.

This year, just 18 states and territories met expectations under the new system, known as Results-Driven Accountability (RDA). Colorado was among those that fell in the second category, needs assistance. If a state remains in that category for two years in a row, the DOE could require them to get technical assistance to come into compliance. They could also be classed as “high-risk” when applying for grants.

To ease the transition, the government is funding a technical assistance center to help states access additional funds, as well as helping states develop comprehensive plans to meet the new guidelines.

More on the changes here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Sleepy proctor means AP tests thrown out, retaken

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 08:45

Money worries

While the state budget for schools will see a substantial increase next year, many districts are still facing cuts, some quite severe. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Both Pueblo-area school districts are facing 2014-15 budgets with serious cuts. The respective school boards are expected to approve them tonight. ( Chieftain )

A year in

July marks the end of Aurora's superintendent's first year. He has overseen substantial staff changes and has begun to make his own mark on the schools. ( Denver Post )

Testing the waters

Three Colorado school districts will be testing out school models that push technology and personalized learning, while aligning with Colorado's new graduation standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Faith-based furor

Dougco schools are under fire over accusations that the district helped promote a student-led Christian mission trip to Guatemala. ( Denver Post )

Asleep at the Scantron

A proctor who fell asleep during AP testing at a Cherry Creek high school has created a dilemma for students, who will have to choose between retaking the test, accepting a projected score or seeing their test thrown out. ( 9News )

Adding, not subtracting

In Milwaukee, schools are fighting the trend of cutting "specials" and are reinvesting in arts and sports to draw students back. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Districts to test out models for new graduation guidelines

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 21:03

Three school districts are piloting a program that could help schools comply with Colorado’s new graduation guidelines.

The guidelines, which are still six years from going into full effect, make graduation contingent on students’ demonstration of mastery, rather than completion of courses. When the state Board of Education okayed them last year, even supporters said the guidelines had a lot of unanswered questions. But, they said, the new guidelines were a much-need move away from a seat-time based system that allows room for districts to game the system.

Adams 50, Colorado Springs D-11 and Thompson School District will all design so-called “next generation learning” models that emphasize personalized learning and use of technology. Two schools in each district will test out the models, which will align with the new requirements. It’s part of a program run by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative to test out ways for schools to comply with the new guidelines.

“The Colorado Department of Education is eager to learn alongside these early adopter districts so that we can share what they learn with other schools and districts across the state that will be doing this work in the coming years,” said Robert Hammond, Colorado Commissioner of Education, in a press release.

Categories: Urban School News

Despite rosier state finances, many districts still face cuts

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 20:06

Districts around the state are finalizing their budgets and, despite an increase in funding, some are still facing cutbacks.

According to the Colorado School Finance Project (CSFP), a nonpartisan school finance research organization, at least 14 districts face six-figure budget cuts for the 2014-15 school year. Another 14 districts will have to dip into reserve funds to cover their costs. The report’s contents was either self-reported or came from media accounts. As such, it does not include all districts.

But the districts’ responses reveal an improvisational approach in some regions as districts tighten their belts. For example, two rural northeast Colorado districts, Brush and Buffalo, are combining food services and raising breakfast and lunch prices to cut costs.

Brush also cut summer school for elementary and middle school students, eliminated a bus route and reduced the number of school days. But one area they refuse to cut is teacher training, which district officials deemed “bedrock and untouchable.”

In Silverton, a remote district in southwestern Colorado, a budget shortfall of at least $200,000 means the district must cut many support staff, including all paraprofessionals and interventionists for struggling students. Last year, Silverton avoided cuts by dipping into its reserves “in anticipation there was hope on the horizon,” school officials reported to the School Finance Project. But this year, they said, the cuts were unavoidable.

The biggest cut reported came from Adams 14, where district officials are grappling with cuts of at least $3.5 million and as high as $5 million. The cuts amount to 41 full-time staff positions and will also hit salaries, benefits and professional development.

For more, read the rest of the CSFP’s mid-year budget conversations here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Revenue projections give hints at the future of the school funding debate

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 09:35

little learners

Early childhood centers are trying to improve the care they give their students by partnering for more effective administration. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

look into my crystal ball

Education lobbyists say that early revenue projections for next year suggest they might want to push for more reductions in the negative factor. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

let's build stuff

A group of art teachers in Boulder were trained to teach metalsmithing to their students. ( Daily Camera )

A team at CU-Boulder is trying to use 3-D printing to create tactile books for blind children. ( 9News )

Two Colorado engineers are partnering with Ken Burns on a new online history education portal. ( Gazette )

it's official

Dan McMinimee has accepted the terms of his contract as new Jeffco superintendent and will start in July. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

stars in the making

Two Colorado high school students won a prestigious performing arts award. ( 9News )

far out

At a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs summer science camp for low-income students, middle schoolers are planning for a mission to Mars. ( Gazette )

unplug and go out

A group of students at Columbine High School are trying to encourage their peers to spend more time outside. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Combating poverty’s effects with lots of love

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 15:43
  • A Los Angeles charter school offers one view into educational efforts to combat the effects of poverty. (SCPR)
  • U.S. News has given its top ranking for teacher prep programs to an online university that has no classes. (Vox)
  • Many states are making it harder to become a teacher, echoing other countries’ policies. (Slate)
  • Half of states let public schools restrain students, a controversial and at times dangerous practice. (ProPublica)
  • Louisiana is the latest state to ditch the Common Core, which its governor did against lawmakers’ wishes. (HuffPo)
  • Only about half of Americans have heard of the Common Core, despite widespread debate. (Curriculum Matters)
  • Now that tenure is being disrupted, is there room for a teacher marketplace along Uber’s lines? (TechCrunch)
  • A New Orleans nonprofit news site is dramatically reducing its education coverage amid budget cuts. (The Lens)
  • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has a lot on his plate this summer. (Politics K-12)
  • Two new studies deepen understanding of Teach for America’s impact. (Teacher Beat)
  • A graduate of a selective New York City school argues against changing the admissions process. (Time)
  • At the end of the “Year of Big Data,” an effort to crunch the numbers on the school year. (Motherlode)
Categories: Urban School News

McMinimee’s contract a done deal, starts in Jeffco July 1

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 14:15

Dan McMinimee accepted the terms of his contract as approved by the Jeffco Public Schools board at their June 5 meeting, and will officially report to duty at district headquarters on July 1.

Because he signed the contract without any further changes, the board was not required to take a second vote on the contract at their meeting Thursday.

The contract’s total value is $280,000, which was the advertised salary in promotional materials during the superintendent search. McMinimee’s base pay will be $220,000. He’ll also be eligible for $40,000 in bonuses and the district will refund up to $20,000 for his personal contributions toward retirement benefits.

The board’s minority members, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, voted against the contract because they don’t believe McMinimee’s experience merits the pay.

Dahlkemper called the contract “a shell game with taxpayer’s dollars.”

In a video posted to the Jeffco homepage, McMinimee says he’s looking forward to listening to the community and to help find compromises among a fractured community.

Relationships between the board’s conservative majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt, who were all elected in November — have been tense and rife with rumor and speculation.

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Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts offer hints on negative factor, higher ed construction

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 14:11

State revenue forecasts issued Friday morning provided a first look at the possible direction of 2015 school finance debates and a better sense of winners and losers among college construction projects.

Economists from the Legislative Council staff and the Office of State Planning and Budgeting each presented their quarterly revenue forecasts and economic reviews to the Joint Budget Committee.

The legislative economists were the more conservative, lowering their forecasts for state revenue growth from what they had estimated in March. The OSPB inched its March forecast upward about 1 percent for both 2013-14 collections and for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Both found the Colorado economy generally strong and growing faster than the national economy.

Four pieces of the forecasts are of particular interest to education, including overall projected revenues, the health of the State Education Fund (SEF), projected inflation and expected marijuana tax revenues.

Here’s a quick look at what the forecasts say about those issues:

Overall revenues: The OSPB projects $10.8 billion in general fund revenues for 2015-16, compared to $10 billion for 2014-15. Legislative Council projects $10.5 billion in 2015-16.

“This is all positive, but they have built in some pretty conservative projections,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards. Urschel said the forecasts make it possible for the education lobby to push for further reductions in the negative factor next year but that it’s too early to say how much.

State Education Fund: The SEF is used to supplement basic school funding and to pay for special programs. Flush with one-time revenues, many lawmakers sought to tap it for pet projects during the 2014 session. The OSPB estimates $693 million will be left in the SED at the end of 2014-15, money that lawmakers could try to spend.

Inflation: The state constitution requires basic K-12 spending to increase annually by the rate of inflation. OSPB projects 2.6 percent inflation; Legislative Council estimates 2.8 percent. A federally calculated inflation rate reported early in 2015 will be used to calculate school funding for 2015-16.

Marijuana tax revenues: State economists are projecting that marijuana tax revenues will be lower than previously predicted, something that has implications both for school construction, which gets a slice of that money, and for funding of marijuana education programs in schools.

Of special interest to higher education this year is the projected amount of the state surplus at the end of the 2013-14 budget year. A law passed during the 2014 session allocated surplus funds first to water projects and the SEF, along with other smaller distributions. Any revenue above those uses was earmarked for a prioritized list of college and university construction projects.

Legislative Council staff now estimate there will be only enough money for a library project at the Auraria Higher Education Center. But OSPB is projecting there will be enough excess cash for the Auraria work plus projects at Fort Lewis College, Colorado State University, the University of Colorado, Metropolitan State University and Adams State University.

The question will be answered in September after updated revenue forecasts are made.

The June forecasts provide lawmakers, bureaucrats and lobbyists with some broad groundwork for the following year’s budget debates. New forecasts in September will provide the base for the governor’s 2015-16 budget plan, which has to be filed by Nov. 1. And updated forecasts in late December set the stage for lawmakers when they return in January.

Lawmakers generally use the more conservative of the two forecasts when making budget decisions.

Read the Legislative Council forecast here and the OSPB projections here.

Categories: Urban School News

Improving care for the youngest by targeting the back office

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 13:36

Last fall, Roman Hollowell contemplated closing the small child care center he runs out of the first floor of his childhood home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood. Enrollment at “Kids 4 Real, Inc.” was dwindling and he didn’t know if he could keep the lights on for much longer.

It was a tough decision for Hollowell. His mother Oneta had opened the center in 1993 and run it for nearly two decades until she died of a rare form of cancer in 2012. Although he’d never envisioned himself in the child care field, he was reluctant to abandon the business his mother began building when he was a sports-loving high school kid.

“It was important for me to continue her legacy,” said Hollowell on recent Monday morning at the center. “Something just kind of told me to hang in there and stay the course.”

What helped turn his intuition into action was a program called Early Learning Ventures Shared Services model, or ELV. The non-profit, launched in 2009 by the David and Laura Merage Foundation, aims to help Colorado child care providers save time and money by giving them the tools to operate more efficiently. In exchange for access to ELV’s web-based platform, providers pay a monthly fee ranging from $50 to $250.

For many of the 556 licensed child care providers participating across that state, the program means discounts on supplies and services, online training for staff, computerized child-tracking systems, help with licensing documentation, and ready-made templates for things like parent handbooks. What helped Hollowell last fall however, was one of ELV’s marketing tools, which gave him access to the addresses of families with young children living near the center.

“That was amazing,” he said, perched on a blue-kid sized chair near shelves full of puzzles and games. “I was able to get my hands on 1,000 plus addresses.”

Hollowell subsequently sent out 400 letters advertising “Kids 4 Real” and enrollment picked up enough to keep the doors open.

A quality improvement strategy

Shared services is a relatively new approach in the early childhood arena, but one that is gaining momentum both in Colorado and nationally. Proponents believe the model will ultimately help providers—often small mom and pop shops—shed inefficient back-office practices so they can save time and money.

“The idea is not just to make director’s lives easier,” said Jonathan Godes, executive director of the Early Childhood Network in Glenwood Springs. “The idea is they take those time saving and money savings and reinvest them into the program.”

Shared services fits with the nationwide push to improve the quality of early childhood care and education, especially for low-income children. Currently, there are shared services efforts in about a third of states, though details—from the sponsoring organization to fee structures–vary widely.

“There are folks all across the country that are experimenting with shared services,” said Louise Stoney, co-founder of the Alliance for Early Childhood Finance and the Opportunities Exchange, a consulting group dedicated to advancing shared services alliances.

“Shared services is still a very new and unique movement in general,” she said.

In Colorado, ELV leaders have big plans for the program, which cost around $7 million to build and administer. In addition to eventually enrolling 2,050 Colorado centers, they hope to become financially self-sustaining by the time they reach 1,950. They also hope to expand the ELV model to other states.

Currently under ELV’s model there are six regional alliances in Colorado. Each alliance is run by a local non-profit, which recruits providers to participate and helps them learn the platform. ELV’s Englewood headquarters provide financial and technical assistance to each alliance.

Providers interested in participating in ELV can sign up for one of three levels of service. So far, there are 485 providers in Tier 1, which offers basics such as purchasing discounts and online training. Tier 2, which adds a computerized child-management system and other services, has 57 providers and Tier 3, which adds billing and financial services, has 15.

Stoney said ELV’s Tier 3 offerings are one of the program’s distinctive elements.

“There’s really not anyone else in the country that’s doing the same thing,” she said. “It’ll be very interesting to see what kind of uptake they get.”

Their passion is children not accounting

While many other industries, including K-12 education, have robust administrative systems in place, early childhood is an exception. A look at the numbers tells part of the story.

In contrast to Colorado’s 178 school districts, there are more than 4,000 licensed child care providers that provide regular care for the 0-5 set. To be sure, some are large programs run by school districts, national chains or sophisticated non-profits that may have specialized finance and operations staff. There are also some that use “off-the-shelf” products that provide some of the same services as the ELV platform. Still, there are huge numbers of small, independent providers that rely on shoestring budgets and paper-and-pencil methods.

Children at Kids 4 Real clown around before rest time.

Most get into the field because they love working with children, but the business side of the job can be a “real shock,” said Emily Bustos, executive director of Denver Early Childhood Council and board president of the Early Childhood Councils Leadership Alliance.

“That becomes the most challenging and time-intensive part of running a child care business,” she said.

In many cases, administrators rise to their positions through the teaching ranks and so while they may understand child development, they lack expertise in accounting, payroll, human resources and the regulatory environment.

“They just get thrown in and it’s kind of sink or swim,” said Godes, whose organization runs one of ELV’s six alliances.

There are plenty of anecdotes about rampant inefficiencies in the small preschools, child care centers and family child care homes that dot the early childhood landscape. Some providers go through the tedious process of hand tallying numbers for food program reimbursements or piecing together attendance records from paper sign-in sheets that some parents inevitably forget to fill out. Even drafting a parent letter when there’s a lice outbreak or a biting incident can turn into a time-consuming task.

Judy Williams, ELV’s program director, told of one rural child care center where the director and a staff member used to spend an entire day every month traveling to Denver to shop at Costco for supplies. It may have been cheaper than shopping local stores, but it cost far more than ordering supplies through ELV’s platform and getting next-day shipping.

Ultimately, many of these long-held practices either drain the budget or suck away the director’s time, keeping her busy with paperwork instead of working with teachers and kids in the classroom. That’s what happened to Kelly Esch when she became the director of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Snowmass Village last year.

She was working 50 hours a week, most of that shut away in her office. Since she began taking greater advantage of ELV’s tools, she’s cut her office work down to 30-35 hours, allowing her to spend more time assisting teachers, giving them breaks and helping them with lessons and activities.

“That way, they’re not so stressed out,” she said. “When you’re in the classroom 10 hours a day it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas,” she said.

Kathryn Hammerbeck, executive director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, believes ELV’s model may also help address her members’ most pressing problem: attracting and retaining high-quality employees.

“If you can control some of your overhead, some of your operational cost, then it frees it a little money to put into wages, which will help you attract and retain staff.”

At what price?

While many providers have gotten scholarships or partial scholarships to participate in ELV, especially for their first year, the prospect of eventually paying a monthly fee can be daunting.

“Early childhood education is a very, very price sensitive program,” said Stoney. “This is not a money-making field. It’s very, very difficult to charge fees for things.”

Currently, about 22 percent of participating providers receive full or partial scholarships to participate. In addition, the state plans to chip in about $500,000 for Tier 2 ELV scholarships over the next 14 months using federal Early Learning Challenge Grant money. The one-year scholarships will target 100 “high needs” providers that serve low-income children and English language learners, and generally do not have a quality rating from Qualistar.

Colin Tackett, business analyst at the Colorado Department of Human Services, said the hope is that the initial subsidies will allow providers to see the benefits of ELV and subsequently continue participating on their own dime.

According to a recent third-party return-on-investment study, there are concrete financial benefits to participating inELV, particularly for center-based programs. The results show that centers would save $84,000 to $114,000 over five years depending on which ELV tier they were in. The savings were smaller for home-based providers, with a five-year return of $270-$1,270.

Among current participants, there’s generally a feeling that the program generates significant financial savings. Hollowell, who has a partial scholarship for Tier 2 of ELV, said he pays $25 a month and realizes savings of about $100-150 a month, mostly due to discounts on office supplies and other equipment.

Esch, who pays $75 a month and has a scholarship to pay the other $100 for Tier 2, estimated similar savings. When other directors ask her if it’s worth it, her go-to example is the paper towel discount.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever bought industrial paper towels, but they’re extremely expensive and kids use them like crazy,” she said.

Sticking points

While Early Learning Ventures certainly has many enthusiastic advocates, it can be a tough sell in some quarters of the early childhood world. Some providers are wary of one of its central themes—using technology to streamline and modernize operations.

“This is a big leap for them,” said Williams, a former child care provider herself.

Aside from the inevitable anxiety or confusion about web-based tools, there’s also the challenge of getting time-crunched administrators grappling with major state-level changes—including the launch of a new mandatory quality rating system later this year—to explore a voluntary program that costs money up front.

While Bustos believes there is a market and demand for ELV, she said the benefits must be clearly spelled out for providers.

“There’s way more hand-holding than you realize…to get someone to that next level of sufficiency.”

That point is not lost on Hammerbeck, who in January signed a contract with ELV to offer Tier 1 services as a benefit to members. Although it’s free for the 400 preschools and child care centers that belong to the association, she said only about 10 providers representing 25 sites have signed up.

“It’s a question of educating them…they don’t have the time to sit and read the information we sent them about it.”

Still, she said, ““It would help them so much in running their program.”

Doing mom proud

Just inside the front entrance of Kids 4 Real is a large framed photograph of a smiling Oneta Hollowell. Underneath it is a bulletin board featuring one of Roman Hollowell’s proudest accomplishments. It is a plastic-encased certificate showing the center’s four-star quality rating by Qualistar.

That rating, the highest currently awarded, replaced the center’s previous three-star rating a couple months ago. Hollowell said meticulous preparation, including a walk-through by an ELV program manager, helped him get the points he needed.

“I was able to be hands on,” he said. “Our preparation in 2014 was perfect.”

It’s impossible to know whether Hollowell’s use of ELV’s purchasing discounts, its computerized sign-in/sign-out system, its address lists or anything else was critical to the four-star rating. Perhaps it all factored in to the equation.

What’s clear is that  Kids 4 Real realized exactly the type of improvement ELV leaders hope to see on a broader scale in the years to come.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rural school district to push for waivers from reforms

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 08:33

Hug it out

The Jeffco school board approved their 2014-15 budget but the board majority and minority could not resolve their differences over how to fund charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And board members also debated, once again, the fight to expand full day kindergarten. It failed to make it in the budget, despite an attempted compromise by board members. ( Denver Post )

Go your own way

A rural district in eastern Colorado is planning to apply for innovation status, which would allow to freedom from some aspects of state statute. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

All talk, no numbers

In a phone call with reporters, PARCC officials defended the field testing in Colorado (and controversy in other states) but did not release many details. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

Schools at the ballot box

Voters interested in education issues have quite a few races to follow, both during the primaries and afterwards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One room for everyone

A charter school slated to open next year in Denver aims to create a classroom environment where all students are included, including students with special needs. ( 9News )

Seeing the light of day

A group of high school students is launching a project to get teens to turn off their electronics and go outside. ( CPR )

Trials and tribulations

An oxygen tank prompted a bomb scare at a Boulder middle school and frightened some summer school students. ( Daily Camera )

Unfortunately, it was just a scare at an Erie elementary school, where an apparent act of arson destroyed the playground. ( Daily Camera )

New day, old rules

After a high school club got in trouble for hanging posters, the St. Vrain school board is considering changing their policies for student clubs, which are three decades old. ( Times-Call )

Down in the valley

Future Farmers of America will soon be expanding to Ortega Middle School, in Alamosa. ( Valley Courier )

And valley officials are pursuing additional federal grants to expand early education services. ( Valley Courier )

school discipline

School discipline data reveals that students, especially those with disabilities, are still restrained and isolated in public schools. It's a practice some critics say is a violation of civil rights and has led to serious injuries for some students. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board OKs general fund on split vote

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 23:58

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education, on a 3-2 vote Thursday night, approved how the district will spend its largest pool of revenue for the 2014-15 school year.

The board split over how and by how much the state’s second largest school district should equitably fund its charter schools.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman opposed the additional funding for charter schools — which was raised in an earlier vote Thursday night from a tentative $3.7 million to $5.5 million — and voted against the general fund budget as a whole.

Dahlkemper told her board colleagues she could support the $3.7 million for charters, pending a recommendation from Fellman to form a committee to discuss how to further evaluate how to increase funding to charter schools in subsequent years. The board majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt — bucked the proposal,wanting to increase the funding this year.

The board, at the request of district staff, did unanimously approve tentatively increasing compensation for teachers by more than $4 million, pending final negotiations with the Jeffco teachers union. The total budget for compensation is now set at about $18 million.

Between increasing charter school funding and tentatively increasing teachers compensation, Jeffco finance chief Lorie Gillis warned the board the decisions they made Thursday could negatively impact the budget for the next several years if funding from the state does not continue to improve.

That could mean the district will face spending down its reserves or face budget cuts by the 2016 school year.

Further, the budget, Gillis said, does not address important issues like capital construction, beefing up technology and infrastructure, and improving the district’s choice system — a recent board priority.

Altogether, the suburban school district’s total budget for next year will be about $1.02 billion, which is broken into several different funds and expenses. The district’s general fund is the largest portion of the district’s entire budget.

The board unanimously approved mostly technical changes to the district’s other funds in subsequent votes.

The budget, despite a ballooning piggy bank, has been one of many ongoing conflicts between the board’s conservative majority and a fraction of the suburban community’s parents and teachers.

The district is expecting an increase of about $360 per pupil. Almost every department and school will see an increase in their bottom line.

In April, the board requested the district provide more money to the district’s charter schools — which claim they aren’t getting their fair share of local tax dollars voters have approved through mill levy questions since 1999.

In the budget that was presented to the board earlier this month, the district allocated an additional $3.7 million for the district’s 15 charter schools.

That money would close the discrepancy by about half. The final budget will close the gap by about three-fourths.

At the board’s first public hearing on June 5, charter school parents and activists asked the board, given the increase of state funding, close the gap completely “one and for all.”

“No one who has read the research would now dispute that there is a sizable discrepancy between the amount of funding Jeffco makes available to students attending its charter schools and the amount it makes available to identical students attending neighborhood schools,” said Nathan Drake, a Jeffco parent and member of the Jeffco Charter School Consortium. “As board members whose duty is to all of Jeffco’s children, you should never lose sight of the fact that this fundamental unfairness exists. The sooner you fully address it, the better.”

Parents who previously organized the district’s bond and mill campaigns said providing more funding to charter schools to make up the difference thwarts the will of the voters. The district and board — albeit comprised of a different majority at the time — made an explicit promises to Jeffco voters: the money would only be used to maintain the status quo.

Board member Jill Fellman, at the June 5 board meeting, suggested, to the ire of some, the charter schools ask the county’s voters for their own additional tax revenue.

In a move that increased tension, the board’s majority also scrapped an initial idea to expand Jeffco’s free full-day kindergarten to more schools to the tune of $300,000.

“You have been asked repeatedly to consider opportunities, such as an income-based sliding scale like Denver’s program, to allow more equitable access to full-day kindergarten,” said Tina Gurdikian, a parent who campaigned in 2012 for the mill and who is now advocating for the expansion of free full-day kindergarten, at the June 5 meeting. “I see from this budget presentation that there is no provision whatsoever for for full-day kindergarten. This concerns me considering 92 percent of budget survey respondents want full-day kindergarten — and the benefits are well-documented.”

In actuality, 71 percent of survey respondents said they supported expanding full day kindergarten.

Part of the board majority’s rationale for not expanding the full-day kindergarten program was the lack of localized evidence that the program increases student achievement, despite a groundswell of evidence from across the nation that it does.

According to district budget officials, Jeffco would have been able to fund more full-day kindergarten seats if the board reversed a previous vote to suspended the district’s participation in a childhood readiness evaluation known as TS Gold.

Littleton parent Katie Beyerlein said Thursday night the state mandate to implement TS Gold for kindergarten dollars wasn’t fair and suggested the district apply for a waiver.

“Sacrificing student privacy for money is an unwinnable situation,” she said.

However, the deadline to apply for the money has already passed, district officials said.

Previously, parents and teachers who have been a part of a pilot program for TS Gold have told the board TS Gold provided them useful information and an individual learning plan for students.

Board members Dahlkemper and Newkirk, who are generally on opposing sides of issues, attempted to find some compromise around expanding full day kindergarten, another sticking point, however a resolution never came to fruition.

Because a school district’s budget is largely based on per pupil funding, which is determined in October, and local tax revenue, which is factored only after the June 30 deadline, they are allowed to revise their budget up until Jan. 31.

Categories: Urban School News

Education-related races to follow in the primary election

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 18:15

People who follow education issues have several races to track Tuesday night when the Colorado primary election returns roll in.

The two contests of most direct interest are the primaries for State Board of Education seats, the Democratic fight between Valentina Flores and Taggart Hansen in the 1st District and the Republican tilt between Marcia Neal and Barbara Ann Smith in the 3rd. (See our detailed story on those races here.)

There also are education connections in three Jefferson County Republican legislative primaries.

Incumbent Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger are awaiting the results of two bitter Republican primaries that seem focused on which candidates are stronger advocates of gun rights. Kerr, a veteran teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Zenzinger serves on Senate Education and was appointed to her seat late last year after longtime education figure Sen. Evie Hudak resigned to avoid a recall election over her support of gun-control bills.

In Kerr’s District 22 candidates Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez are battling for the GOP nomination. Sanchez, who came to Colorado from California a few years ago, is backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the most hardline of the state’s gun-rights groups. Nicolais has irked some Republicans with his support of civil unions and has criticized Sanchez for being a newcomer to the state.

Sanchez has raised $39,130 while Nicolais’ fundraising totals $21,714. Kerr is way ahead of both, having raised $83,340.

As a newcomer, Zenzinger is considered more vulnerable in District 19. Sias, a former fighter pilot, almost beat Hudak four years ago; Woods has the endorsement of RMGO.

Woods has raised $43,578 and Sias $45,530, while contributions to Zenzinger’s campaign already total $54,568.

The general election races are expected to be close, as both districts are evenly balanced among Democratic, Republican unaffiliated voters.

The races could determine control of the Senate in 2015. Democrats now hold an 18-17 majority after losing two seats in gun-related recall elections last year. And a loss by either Kerr or Zenzinger could noticeably change the makeup of Senate Education.

In southern Jeffco’s heavily Republican House District 22, Rep. Justin Everett is being challenged in the GOP primary by businessman Loren Bauman, whom Everett beat handily in 2012’s Republican primary.

Everett has been a distinctly low-profile member of the House Education Committee who tends to vote no on a lot of bills. Bauman has criticized Everett for his negative voting record and for some attendance problems during the 2014 session (background here).

(Get more background on the battle for Jefferson County is this article from the Colorado Independent and in this Denver Post story.)

Bauman has been endorsed by Stand for Children, the education reform advocacy group that also has endorsed candidates in two other primaries.

In the Democratic race for House District 2, Stand has endorsed Alec Garnett, former executive director of the state Democratic Party and son of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett. The other candidate in the race is Owen Perkins, a writer and longtime Democratic activist. They are battling to succeed House Speaker Mark Ferrandino in the heavily Democratic central Denver district.

In House District 37, which covers several southeast suburbs, Stand has endorsed Republican Michael Fields, an Aurora charter school teacher and a former GOP statehouse staffer. He’s opposed by Jack Tate, who previously ran an unsuccessful race for the Centennial City Council.

The Colorado Education Association hasn’t endorsed candidates in any legislative primaries.

Other primary notes

It’s a big year for Republican primaries, with four candidates vying to run for governor against Democrat John Hickenlooper.

None of the four – former congressman Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former congressman Tom Tancredo – have much of a track record on education. All have said they oppose the Common Core Standards.

In the 4th Congressional District, term-limited Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, who’s been the senior Republican on Senate Education, is one of four candidates seeking the seat.

The only other statewide elected education body is the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Three seats are up for election this year, but there are no primaries. School board elections are held in odd-numbered years, but several districts around the state are expected to propose bond issues or tax overrides to their voters in November.

Categories: Urban School News

Holyoke district hopes to modify state education reforms for rural schools

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 17:02

A rural Colorado school district hopes to become the second in the state to make use of a law that allows districts to request flexibility in state statutes.

Holyoke School District, a school district of roughly 600 students, is hoping to acquire innovation status under a 2008 law which allows schools and district to modify state laws in order to adopt pioneering practices.

The move is part of an effort to take state-level schools reforms that some rural leaders say are designed for urban schools and adapt them for rural districts. Holyoke district leaders hope to receive waivers to some aspects of two state laws that govern educator evaluations and early literacy practices.

The sole prior precedent for Holyoke’ actions comes from another small rural school district, Kit Carson, in southeastern Colorado. Kit Carson’s superintendent applied for waivers from the state’s 2010 educator evaluation law, including reducing the frequency of evaluations and extending teacher contracts beyond a year. At the time, the plan won approval from Sen. Mike Johnston, a reform advocate and a key player in passing the evaluation law.

“I don’t think it’s a scenario we’re very likely to see again,” Johnston told Chalkbeat Colorado at the time. The state board approved Kit Carson’s innovation status, four to one.

Holyoke is likely to face a more difficult battle, as it plans to do away with one of the law’s key provisions — the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations. But district officials say they don’t intend to subvert the law, but to comply in a manner that works for their size.

“It’s not about fighting the man,” said Bret Miles, Holyoke’s superintendent. “Both [the early literacy law and the educator evaluation law] are good examples of good intentioned laws. They’re both examples of things that don’t apply to us as much.”

For example, the process of including student test scores in teacher evaluations requires a lot of work from a small administrative staff. And Miles said it doesn’t provide them any information they didn’t have already.

“We already had that kind of accountability in small schools,” said Miles. “When the test score comes out in the paper and 70 percent of sixth graders are proficient, everybody knows who that teacher is.”

He is aware there’s likely to be pushback, although he hopes critics will come around when they understand his plan.

“There’s no doubt some people are uneasy about what happens when a district tries to get out from under a law,” said Miles. But “we can increase the amount of time principals spend in classrooms by simplifying the process.”

Among the other modifications Miles hopes make is to eliminate the use of the only year-end early literacy test approved by the state, TS Gold. Instead, he plans to use a state-approved interim assessment already in place in the district.

On Tuesday, the Holyoke school board gave Miles the go-ahead to kick off the official process of applying for innovation status. In the next several months, Miles and his team will complete an innovation application, currently in the draft stage, and present it to the community. He expects a positive response from Holyoke teachers and parents, many of whom participated in the decision to move forward. If all goes as planned, Holyoke’s innovation plan will be submitted for approval from the state board this coming fall.

And contrary to Johnston’s predictions, Miles thinks his district won’t be the only one pursuing innovation status.

“I think it’s going to be something many rural school districts will consider,” said Miles. He’s already heard from two other interested districts.

Categories: Urban School News

PARCC leaders bullish on field test results, short on details

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 15:15

Officials of the PARCC testing consortium told reporters Thursday that spring field tests of language arts and math went well — but they offered few details because they still are analyzing the results.

“We learned a lot,” said Laura Slover, CEO of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. “Things are going very well.”

She also noted, “We said there might be glitches; in fact there were a few glitches,” primarily easily fixed technical ones.

Colorado participated in the field tests and is scheduled to administer the PARCC assessments in grades three through 11 next spring, replacing the TCAP testing system. (Get details here.)

Nationwide, sample tests were given this spring to about 1 million students in 16,000 schools in 14 states and the District of Columbia, said Jeffrey Nellhaus, PARCC director of policy, research and design during a conference call with reporters.

More than 10,000 different questions – “items” as they’re called in assessment jargon – on 21 different tests were used. About three-quarters of the tests were given on computer and a quarter on paper.

“The purpose of the field test was to test the test questions,” Nellhaus said, not to determine student proficiency.

But because PARCC experts are still compiling and evaluating the results, they don’t yet have detailed answers about how those questions performed.

Among things that need to be analyzed are the validity, reliability and fairness of test questions and whether students performed differently depending on whether they took the tests on computers or paper and depending on what kind of electronic devices they used. PARCC also still needs to compile the results and teacher and student surveys.

Slover noted that every question went through five reviews before being used, so she’s confident about their reliability and validity. “In the fall we’ll know whether that is true.”

Nellhaus said the field testing did reveal that test administration manuals need streamlining, some student directions need clarification and that some online tools like a math equation editor need improvements. “There are some things that need to be perfected.”

PARCC is in the middle of the growing national debate over the Common Core Standards, multi-state testing and education centralization.

On Wednesday Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced plans to pull his state out of the standards and PARCC, a moved opposed by the state’s commissioner of education, state board and some legislators (more details here).

Slover chose her words carefully when asked about that, saying, “We’re committed to proceeding under the memorandum of understanding that is in existence” with Louisiana.

She was equally cautious when asked about a PARCC-related contract dispute in New Mexico.

Officials in that state are negotiating a testing contract on behalf of all PARCC states. The process was challenged by the testing company American Institutes for Research, which claimed the specifications were tailored for the Pearson testing group.

New Mexico officials tossed out AIR’s appeal, but a judge in Santa Fe ruled last month that the state has to consider the protest. (Get more details in this EdWeek story.)

Slover Thursday said “anything that slows down the process” could be a concern but that “We’re confident the process was fair and open” and will be resolved.

Testing concerns started bubbling up in Colorado earlier this year, with both Republican legislators and the Colorado Education Association raising criticisms of PARCC. The debate is expected to resume later this summer, when a 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force created by the legislature will begin its work (background here).

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: House speaker’s next gig is Denver’s school budget chief

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:53

out of the frying pan and into the fire?

Outgoing Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino will become Denver Public School's Chief Financial Officer in July. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR )

know your candidates

Two very quiet primary races will begin to shape the make-up of the State Board of Education next year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

crowded out

Falcon School District 49 officials are considering asking voters to approve their third ballot initiative in five years designed to expand some schools and build new ones. ( Gazette )

New School on the block

The opening of Aurora's first charter school since 2008 signals a change in winds for the suburban school district, but challenges for the school remain. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

joyful noise

Four Colorado music educators are in the running for a Grammy next year after having been nominated by their students. ( 9News )

posted question

The St. Vrain school district is seeking legal counsel on how to amend its policies around student groups after a school's gay-straight alliance learned they were violating district policy by hanging posters. ( Times-Call )

a deepening question

A new report argues that the reasons behind the gap between charter and district school enrollment are more complex than the conventional "counseling out" narrative suggests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

express yourself

About 15 Boulder students learned art and storytelling skills through a summer program. ( Daily Camera )

people are jerks

An apparent arson fire destroyed the preschool playground at Erie's Black Hawk Elementary School on Wednesday. ( Daily Camera )

op-ed

Colorado's former speaker of the House and a local businessman praise the recent district court dismissal of a lawsuit challenging part of the state's teacher evaluation law. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado speaker Mark Ferrandino to join Denver Public Schools

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 17:37

PHOTO: Courtesy Out Front

Mark Ferrandino, Colorado’s first openly gay speaker of the House, will join Denver Public Schools as its chief financial officer, Chalkbeat Colorado has confirmed.

Fox31 first reported the news that the Democrat, who is term limited, will join DPS this summer. His first day is July 21.

Ferrandino, who is widely know for his advocacy for the Colorado Civil Union Act, previously served on the state’s Joint Budget Committee, which writes the state’s finance laws, before becoming speaker in 2013.

On the budget committee he earned a reputation as a master of budget policy and details.

Ferrandino was first appointed by a vacancy committee to represent his Denver district, which includes a large portion of South Broadway, in 2007.

Before entering the legislature, Ferrandino worked as a senior budget analyst for the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the Medicaid program. Before coming to Colorado, Ferrandino worked as a analyst for federal agencies, including the Office of Budget and Management.

He has not been an initiator of K-12 legislation, but he’s been at the center of some those debates as speaker. During the 2014 session he initially opposed reductions in the state’s $1 billion K-12 funding shortfall, known as the negative factor, but softened his position after intense lobbying from district interests.

His signal piece of education legislation was House Bill 14-1319, which lays the foundations for a performance-based system of higher education funding. The measure easily passed the legislature – after significant changes sought by higher education lobbyists and the Department of Higher Education.

Ferrandino has been widely rumored as a candidate for director of the Office of State Planning and Budget if Gov. John Hickenlooper is re-elected and current budget chief Henry Sobanet were to step down. In that job Ferrandino would have been perfectly positioned to oversee implementation of higher education performance funding, something that won’t happen now.

Ferrandino is a member of the advisory board for Democrats for Education Reform-Colorado.

Ferrandino replaces David Hart who left the district earlier this year. According to The Denver Post, Ferrandino will make $145,000 a year with up to $15,000 in incentive pay.

Categories: Urban School News

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