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Updated: 4 min 49 sec ago

Rise & Shine: Marijuana taxes slowly come in for school construction

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 08:42

Do the School shuffle

The principal of Denver's George Washington High School, who had become the target of much parent and teacher criticism, is leaving the school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

trickling in

Revenue from taxes on marijuana are very slowly going toward school construction projects. ( Denver Post )

student, know thyself

A new project seeks a way to measure students' non-academic skills like leadership and critical thinking. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


A policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute argues that charters are mirroring national trends in serving disadvantaged students, despite funding inequities. ( Greeley Tribune )

Around the network

Tennessee state officials said this year's test scores offer only a limited view of the effects of the Common Core on student learning. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Indianapolis' mayor is making pre-kindergarten a centerpiece of his push to reduce crime. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Categories: Urban School News

George Washington High principal, symbol of changes to storied IB program, leaves school for undetermined post

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 18:08

[Updated at 6:20 p.m.] Denver George Washington High School’s principal Micheal Johnson, who became the target of vocal criticism over changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, is leaving the school to take a central administrative job. 

“[I]t has been my honor and privilege to serve your students as the principal of George Washington High School,” Johnson said in a letter sent this afternoon to parents. “It is with deep gratitude for your engagement in our community that I announce that I am moving into another leadership position with the Post-Secondary Readiness team of the Denver Public Schools.”

Jose Martinez, a former Jeffco Public Schools principal, director of diversity, and principal supervisor, has been named the school’s interim principal. Martinez’s first day will be Aug. 6.

Susana Cordova, DPS chief schools officer, said the change was part of the district’s ongoing effort to “support our teams and have people in places where they can be most successful.”

While leading George Washington, or GW, Johnson was paid $112,175. He’ll continue to be paid that salary in his new role, a principal on special assignment for post-secondary readiness at a yet-to-be determined school. Cordova said details are still being worked out on the school or schools where Johnson will be assigned.

Tension between Johnson, who was named principal of the southeast Denver high school two years ago, and the George Washington community escalated last spring as Johnson and DPS officials introduced parents to their plan to open access to the school’s IB program.

The strain was exacerbated by Johnson’s alleged unresponsiveness to teachers’ and parents’ concerns over the changes and next year’s teacher assignments.

Micheal Johnson

The IB plan, slated to take effect in the 2015 school year, is intended to make the  program  accessible to a larger number of students. Currently, the program is highly selective, and only students who enter as underclassmen are allowed to pursue the prestigious IB diploma. The re-imagined program would mirror admissions policies at other IB programs across the nation.

Cordova said that Johnson’s departure in no way signals a weakening of the district’s resolve to make changes to IB, or to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement and lower-grades honors program. “Most definitely, the work will continue. Our commitment to keeping parents engaged [in planning the changes] is critical. Our commitment to keeping students engaged is critical.”

She also said that one of Martinez’s strengths is communicating effectively with a diverse student and parent population “and bringing people together around a common agenda.” A 2006 story in the Denver Post portrayed him as a no-nonsense school leader.

Johnson and district officials believe the IB program, as it is currently structured, has produced unintended achievement gaps between the school’s middle-income and poor students.

Just over 400 of George Washington’s 1,424 students are enrolled in the IB program. And only 14 percent qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, a proxy of poverty, while more than half of the school’s entire population qualifies by the same standard.

Critics, parents and students alike, packed the school’s library in May to voice their concerns about the changes. They fear the proposed changes will water down the elite program’s rigor.

Since then, a vocal group of IB parents have called for Johnson’s resignation.

The news of Johnson’s exit comes one week after the Denver teachers union filed a formal grievance with the district claiming Johnson cut the school’s leadership team of teachers out of the development of the master schedule.

“This continues to fit the double standard that Denver Public Schools has for administration versus other employees,” said union leader Billy Husher. “Administrator after administrator is moved out of their position for district-level positions when they are ineffective as leaders while teachers and other employees are hung out to dry and told that they cannot work in the District for a minimum of 3 years before they are eligible for rehire.”

According to Johnson’s letter, instructional superintendent Fred McDowell will lead the transition, which includes finalizing the schedule, naming an interim-principal, and hiring nine teachers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Micheal Johnson had earned a masters degree from Harvard. He received his masters from the University of Colorado. He also, according to his resume on Linkedin participated in an educational leadership program at Harvard. 

Categories: Urban School News

Project seeks to measure students’ non-academic skills

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 16:59

The riddle of 21st century skills — the broad term often used to describe a set of abilities like critical thinking and collaboration — has always has been about how to measure them. But now an alliance of education groups think they have a way to do that.

The groups this week unveiled Project: BeReady, an online survey designed to indicate students’ abilities in such non-academic areas as professionalism, entrepreneurial skills, personal traits and civic awareness.

“We’re all looking at these 21st century skills, but there’s no tool to measure them,” said Kathryn Harris, a development officer for Generation Schools Network, an education management non-profit.

Michael Simpson, CEO of Pairin, said of the new tool, “This is really about whole student development.” Pairin is a Denver talent and personnel evaluation company that is teaming with Generation Schools, which in Colorado operates a school at Denver’s West High School and is working in the Englewood district.

He said his company got involved in the project because it decided “the biggest impact we could make is to fill that [job] pipeline with qualified applicants.”

Harris, Simpson and others spoke to about 125 invited guests at a Tuesday event in Denver intended to describe the project’s pilot phase, launch a two-year second phase intended to involve 10,000 students and make a subtle fundraising pitch.

The Project: BeReady survey is an online test that allows a user to build a description of herself by selecting whether words and phrases accurately describe them or not. Simpson said it’s based on psychological research dating back to the late 1940s. Developers came up with a detailed list of skills the survey is supposed to test for (see full list at bottom of story). Learn more on the project’s website.

During field testing earlier this year in Colorado, adults took about 12 minutes to finish the survey, and students took about 22 minutes, Simpson said. The current version of the survey is designed for students in 8th grade and above, although promoters hope to eventually develop a version for younger students.

Project: BeReady also is developing tools to help teachers learn how to use the test and a dashboard that will allow teachers and administrators to view and analyze both individual student and aggregated data.

Testing, privacy concerns raised

Project backers acknowledged public concerns about testing and student data privacy in their remarks.

“Project: BeReady is not about just another test,” said Generation Schools executive Mary Cipollone, stressing it’s about giving students, parents and teachers information they don’t have now. “It is not about more data.”

Asked about the ill-fated inBloom data project, Simpson said, “The biggest problem inBloom has was lack of communication, or lack of effective communication. … There were a lot of misconceptions that weren’t addressed until it was too late.”

He added, “I think we know how to communicate in a way that won’t give people the wrong impression.”

Simpson also said the project has strict privacy controls. (See privacy policy here, and the project’s Student Bill of Rights here.)

In an effort to differentiate itself, the project’s website also has a detailed “Is/Is not” section.

What’s next

Generation Schools and Pairin, using about $875,000 of their own money, earlier this year developed the survey and related tools and gave the survey to about 5,900 students in 3,500 adults in Colorado.

Starting in September, the project plans to start a two-year pilot project involving 10,000 students around the country.

“We’re looking to scale this across Colorado and, we think, across the nation,” Harris said.

And, backers are hoping to raise $320,000 to help schools and youth development groups pay for participating and an additional $623,000 to support further development of the tools and professional development for teachers and administrators in using the system and analyzing data.

The project’s business plan envisions charging $10,000 per site and $10 per student a year for the service, which Simpson termed “really, really affordable.”

Who’s involved

The idea originated with Generation Schools and Pairin, but the project’s steering committee also includes representatives from the Colorado Education Initiative (formerly the Colorado Legacy Foundation), Department of Education, Colorado Community College System, Accenture Foundation, Gill Foundation, Donnell Kay Foundation, Get Smart Schools, Colorado Succeeds and Academy School District.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado districts adjust to healthy snacks

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 10:09

Keyboard kids

A two-year study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress has determined that fourth graders do just fine taking writing exams on computers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Good for you

Colorado school districts are falling in line with the federal government's brand-new healthy snacks guidelines. ( KUNC )

Preparing for the worst

Castle Rock police and firefighters honed their skills during a full live shooter drill at Castle View High School. ( Douglas County News-Press )

More than 20 agencies and 240 people participated in an active shooter exercise at a Durango elementary school. ( Durango Herald )

Common Core Roundup

The early pattern suggests that the common standards could undergo some relatively minor changes but still persist in states where opposition has led to high-profile legislation and big headlines. ( EdWeek )

Supporters of the Common Core standards have concluded they're losing the public debate and that they need better PR. ( Politico )

Special education teachers are facing the challenge of implementing the more rigorous Common Core State Standards for their students. ( Hechinger Report )

Image management

The Falcon School District has launched a new logo and a new branding campaign. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Fourth graders able to “meaningfully participate” in computer-based tests

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 20:23
NAEP has studied and captured data on fourth-grade students’ ability to write using a computer, and we are excited to report that they are capable of using computer programs to type, organize and write well enough to be assessed.
– David P. Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board

Driscoll’s statement is based on a first-of-its-kind study of 13,000 fourth graders conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The center spent two years studying whether fourth graders would be able to take the writing test, which is proctored every two years to a national sample of students, on a computer.

The center will be transitioning its exams to computers.

The findings of the report may put some critics of computer-based tests at ease. Those critics have raised concern about whether some students who have less access to technology may not be able to demonstrate their proficiency in writing, for example, because they lack keyboarding skills.

There’s been particular concern about “the digital divide” between technology and students from low-income families and schools.

But the report, which was released last week, found 100 percent of the students who participated reported having access to a computer at school, while 93 percent reported having access at home, and 92 percent reported previously taking a computer-based assessment.

The center  published its finding online with tools and suggestions for educators here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some Dougco Republicans skip breakfast where teachers union president gave speech

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 09:55


A measure to ask Colorado voters to approve the expansion of the state's gambling laws has officially made it onto the ballot. Supporters of the constitutional amendment claim the new casinos would be good for school coffers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The most important meal of the day

Some Douglas County Republicans skipped a monthly breakfast last week when the district's teachers union president addressed the crowd. The event's organizer defended the decision to have Courtney Smith speak. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Decisions, decisions

The Brighton school district is considering asking voters to approve a bond measure in November. If voters reject the proposal to raise taxes for new schools, the district should plan to extend its day and calendar year, a new report found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Are we there yet?

Colorado Springs parents who are dreading the drop-off lane in front of their child's campus have a choice. The Mountain Metropolitan Transit offers a free "schoolpool" program that connects families who want en masse alternative transportation or carpooling. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

Science, techology, enginering, money

The Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 received a $2.5 million grant to develop new programs that will focus biotechnology and engineering. The new classes will be in partnership with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

The Story behind the story

What's the deal with New York's new teacher tenure lawsuit? NPR breaks down the issues behind the teacher tenure lawsuits across the country and looks at who is behind them. ( NPR via KUNC )

And here's Chalkbeat New York's article breaking down — in great detail — the lawsuit's claims. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

Casino expansion initiative makes the ballot

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 18:21

Colorado voters will get to decide if they want a full-scale casino in the Denver suburbs – which backers say would raise millions in supplemental funding for school districts.

The secretary of state’s office Monday ruled that backers of what’s now officially Amendment 68 had gathered sufficient valid signatures to put the proposed constitutional change on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The proposal is being pushed by the Rhode Island owners of the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the southeast metro area. If the amendment passes, they would be allowed to open a full casino at the track. The amendment would allow casinos in Mesa and Pueblo counties as well, five years after horse tracks open in those counties.

In an effort to gain public support, the initiative would devote 34 percent of the casino’s adjusted gross proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund. Arapahoe Park would pay an upfront $25 million into the fund when it opens the casino. Legislative analysts are estimating $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17, the first full budget year of operation.

The revenue would be funneled directly to school districts on a per-pupil basis, bypassing the legislative appropriations process and the state’s school finance formula. Such “sin taxes” have a weak record of delivering promised revenues – see this Chalkbeat Colorado analysis for details.

The amendment probably won’t be backed by mainline education interest groups. Mention of the initiative during a Colorado Association of School Executives convention last week brought chuckles from the crowd.

The committee running the campaign has styled itself Coloradans for Better Schools. Opposing the amendment is a group named Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casinos, which is backed by casino owners in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, the only places where casinos currently are allowed by the state constitution.

Expect a high-visibility campaign – the pro group already had raised $2.1 million, and opponents have a war chest of $9.1 million. Updated financial disclosure reports are due on Friday.

The pro-amendment group turned in petitions with 136,800 signatures on July 14. The secretary of state’s office, using a sampling technique, estimated 102,180 were valid. Some 86,105 signatures were required.

Read the text of Amendment 68 here.

The only other possible ballot measure of interest to education is what’s temporarily named Proposition 124. It would require school district contract negotiations to be held in public and is being pushed by the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank. Aug. 4 is the deadline for filing petitions.

Backers of Proposition 49, which would have allowed bans on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, have withdrawn their proposal.

Categories: Urban School News

In Brighton, booming enrollment could lead to year-round school

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 16:32

During the last decade, Adams County School District 27J’s enrollment has doubled. And there is no sign of a slow down, according to district officials.

The district in Brighton, about 30 minutes north of Denver, is out of room and is considering asking voters this November to raise taxes to finance new school construction.

If that bond issue does not pass, however, a third party is recommending 27J move to a year-round calendar to manage overflowing classrooms.

“There is no foreseeable end to this district’s enrollment growth. We may surpass 17,000 students during the 2014-15 school year and we will be a district of more than 20,000 students in the near future,” said 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler in a media release. “We have worked to squeeze everything we can out of our budget, but we have simply run out of options. The state offers us no help for our crowding issues. If we cannot raise additional revenue for the new students, we will see longer school days and year-round schedules. That’s why we are reaching out to the community for answers.”

The new report, released earlier this month by Western Demographics Inc., recommends:

  • Elementary schools should adopt a year-round calendar in 2016.
  • Middle and high schools should extend their day by two or three periods in 2016.
  • The district should use more modular classrooms at the middle school level.

The Western Demographics report also recommend the district start preparing now. Factors district leaders will need to consider are budget and operational changes, a renegotiated teacher contract, transportation and food services.

The firm also said the district should return to a traditional schedule if and when more permanent space is made available.

According to the U.S. Census, 31 percent of all Brighton residents are under the age 18. That’s a higher percentage of school-aged children than Denver, Aurora, and Jefferson County. About one-third of all children in Brighton are under the age of 6.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Average Colorado teacher’s salary below national average

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 10:03

money matters

The next state legislative session is still months away. But Colorado superintendents and district executives are readying their pitch to lawmakers on why they should spend more on schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

The average base pay for a Colorado teacher with 10 years of experience is $36,700. That's less than the average trucker's salary and about $8,000 below the national average, according to a new survey. ( CPR )

Private practice

The U.S. Education Department on Friday released new "user-friendly" guidelines to schools on how to communicate with parents about the data classrooms are collecting on students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Healthy schools

The Douglas County School District school board has decided to opt out of federal guidelines for school meals and fundraisers that utilize food sales. The decision to ignore the policies outlined in the National School Lunch Program will cost the district about $167,000 ( Douglas County News-Press, Denver Post )

And the Denver Post's Vincent Carroll says Dougco is right to do so. ( Denver Post )

At the same time, a growing trend among some school districts — including Denver Public Schools — is growing its own produce. ( Denver Post )

testing testing

The CEO (and former Coloradan) of the nonprofit developing the state's new standardized tests called the exams "beautiful tools" when she addressed a gather of the state's superintendents. Her comments come as a state panel is researching Colorado's assessment programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

summer school

More than 100 Native American high school students graduated last week from the Upward Bound program at the University of Colorado. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, about 170 new teachers and counselors in the Harrison School District are participating in a four-week program where they work with the district's established teachers to get a jump on the academic year. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

A cut above

Some of the New York educators who developed the proficiency ratings on the state's standardized tests defended the scoring system and reluctantly accepted the results. Still others left feeling the process was so controlled that the results — which saw a shocking dip in student pass rates — were inevitable. ( Journal News )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Building a better conversation about teaching

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 18:13
  • Don’t miss the first excerpt from Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher,” out next month. (NYTMag)
  • Elizabeth shares tips, gleaned from reporting her book, for parents who want to help their children with math. (Motherlode)
  • An educator riffs off the excerpt to make the case for “slow reform.” (Storify)
  • A math teacher rounds up some of the research reflected in Elizabeth’s story. (dy/dan)
  • A researcher found that extra time in math classes didn’t pay off for sixth-graders. (Stanford Report)
  • A New Haven school that scrapped extra time for students in favor of time for teachers represents a trend. (Hechinger)
  • A mother says her preschooler’s experience bears out data about black boys being disciplined disproportionately. (WaPo)
  • A sociologist notes that implicit bias and real differences in behavior can be at play in discipline disparities. (Shanker)
  • The Achievement First charter network is starting its quest for “disruptive change” by overhauling one school. (New Haven Independent)
  • Teachers union contract negotiations are heating up in Los Angeles. (L.A. School Report)
  • From profiles to tragedies, here’s a rundown of New Yorker stories about education to read while you can. (Vox)
  • An educator describes her journey from naive Teaching Fellow to experienced teacher. (Atlantic)
  • Project-based learning is the focus at the teacher-run Workshop School in Philadelphia. (NPRed)
  • The author of “Up the Down Staircase,” the iconic book about teaching in New York City, has died at 103. (New York Times)
  • American principals are more likely than colleagues in other countries to say their students are poor. (Upshot)
  • Chicago has told its largest charter network to make it easier for students to apply. (WBEZ)
  • The start-of-the-school-year nightmares have set in. What’s yours? (Tween Teacher)
Categories: Urban School News

PARCC chief says new tests “beautiful tools”

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 15:37

“I think they’re really beautiful tools, but they’re just tests,” the CEO of the PARCC testing group told Colorado school administrators Friday. “The really important thing is what happens in the classroom every day,”

Laura Slover acknowledged rising criticism of standardized tests but said, “This is not a testing agenda; it’s a equity agenda.”

Slover spoke to the closing session of the Colorado Association of School Executive’s annual summer meeting in Breckenridge, which drew more than 1,000 administrators and others.

Calling the PARCC language arts and math tests “a huge game changer,” Slover said, “This is a quality test. It’s better than anything else out there on the market.”

Some Colorado schools field-tested the new exams last spring, and the tests are scheduled to be given in all districts next spring, replacing the TCAP tests. However, a new state task force is studying a variety of testing issues, and assessment is expected to be a major education issue during the 2015 legislative session.

“There is a lot of frustration about testing,” Slover acknowledged, particularly the perception of a growing testing burden. PARCC is working on a whole system of tests, including diagnostic and formative exams in addition to the end-of-year tests.

Slover asked, “Is this an opportunity to streamline and look at PARCC as a solution and not an additive extra thing you have to do?”

She also said, “The PARCC assessments do not require some separate kind of test prep. … If teachers teach the content their kids will do fine. It’s about good teaching, it’s not about drill-and-kill test prep.”

Slover started her education career as an English teacher and basketball coach at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle County. She recalled that she didn’t pay much attention to standards and assessments in those days.

“Those standards and those results sat in a nice cupboard and I didn’t use them much,” she said. “I wish I’d had tools like the PARCC states are developing now.”

Colorado educators who participated in a panel following Slover’s talk were generally supportive.

Tracy Dorland, chief academic officer of the Adams 12-Five Star district, said Common Core standards and new tests are “about raising the bar for all kids,” adding she hopes the change “re-energizes our teachers.”

She said she’s concerned “that we lack the courage to get it done and that we get derailed by the political rhetoric, whether it’s left or right.”

Dorland also said teachers can help ease public concern about new tests. “When teachers tell parents good things about the work they’re doing parents are really supportive.”

Dan Snowberger, Durango superintendent, said the old state-only standards “created an un-level playing field” and cautioned, “If we think the new standards are about tweaking what we do, we’ve missed the mark.”

Snowberger also said, “My fear is that there will be this groundswell of anti-Common Core and that some educators will get on board with that.”

Categories: Urban School News

District leaders start laying plans for 2015 session

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 14:24

The 2015 legislative session is five months – and one election – in the future, but school district leaders already are strategizing the issues they’re going to push in the new year.

School funding stays at the top of that list, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger told the annual summer meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives during a session Friday in Breckenridge.

“We’re continuing that work,” said Messinger, who’s co-chair of the group’s legislative committee and who was a leading figure in the 2014 lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers to make a $110 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, known as the negative factor.

Asked about the issue by Chalkbeat Colorado, Messinger said the group of superintendents working on the issue haven’t yet decided how much of an additional reduction to push for in 2015. “This is a multi-year effort,” he noted and said superintendents would “hope to match” the 2014 negative factor reduction next year.

He also acknowledged that other financial pressures on the legislature may make for a tough lobbying challenge. “We recognize it probably will be difficult.”

Messinger said superintendents also are focusing on accountability and testing but haven’t yet developed group positions on those issues.

He did say there’s “quite a bit of agreement around finding the right balance” of testing and that superintendents are closely watching a new state task force that is starting to study the issue.

Messinger also indicated that after more than five years of reform efforts some superintendents feel it’s time to look into the workings of those laws. “We’re just not seeing the positive impact” on student achievement.

In his comments to the group Messinger echoed other speakers who called for greater recognition of local leadership and local control.

When superintendents started lobbying on school finance last year, Messinger said they were confronted with “the belief [by some lawmakers] that we don’t control the future of education. … We challenge that, and we will control the future of education.”

CASE lobbyist Elisabeth Rosen opened the Friday meeting with some previews of the 2015 session, saying, “It is anticipated that the House will remain in Democratic control, but there will be leadership change.” She added, “It’s feasible Democrats could lose control of the Senate.”

While 2015 legislation is likely on enrollment counting, testing, turnaround schools and oversight of online schools, Rosen said she thinks lawmakers may not take up teacher licensing changes.

Rosen said CASE won’t decide until September whether to take a position on an initiative proposing casino expansion, with some revenues dedicated to school districts. But her mere mention of the plan brought skeptical chuckles from the audience. She said CASE will oppose a second initiative that would require district contract negotiations be conducted in public. Neither initiative has yet been certified for the ballot.

Categories: Urban School News

U.S. ed department issues new guidance to schools on student privacy

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 14:11

In an apparent response to growing concern from parents about student data collection, the U.S. Education Department this morning announced new “user-friendly” student data and privacy guidance for schools and districts.

The new guidance makes several recommendations including schools and districts share with parents what information they are collecting about students, how is the information protected, and if they share personal information with third parties.

The department also launched a new website that includes resources and information for parents regarding the federal student privacy laws.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

Parents across the county — and in Colorado — have become increasingly anxious about student privacy as more schools are collecting more data points.

Locally, parents in Jefferson County have raised concern about student privacy in two separate matters: inBloom, a now expired project of the Gates Foundation that would have created a super-dashboard for teachers to find student information with just a few clicks, and TS Gold, a school readiness assessment. Earlier this year, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education dropped the district’s use of Gold in kindergarten but kept the tool in its preschools in order to continue to receive funding from the state’s preschool program.

Full release from U.S. Education Department

The U.S. Department of Education today announced new guidance for schools and districts on how to keep parents and students better informed about what student data is collected and how it is used.

In the guidance issued by the Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

The Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a new companion website that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws FPCO administers, and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records.

The new site,, is aimed at being more user-friendly to help school officials, parents and students find the information they are seeking. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints handled by FPCO, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The website will also feature an online “community of practice” for school officials to share best practices, information, templates and other resources.

The new guidance recommends that schools and districts provide parents with information, such as:

· What information are you collecting about students?
· Why are you collecting this information?
· How is the information protected?
· Do you share any personal information with third parties? If so, with whom and for what purpose(s)?
· Who should parents contact if they have questions about your data practices?

To respond to parental inquiries, the guidance recommends that schools :

· Keep the lines of communication open.
· Review parental questions, concerns and suggestions in a thoughtful and careful manner.
· Respond to parental or student requests in a timely manner.
· Periodically review old inquiries and resolutions to evaluate and improve communication and transparency efforts.

The guidance also advises schools to make information about their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website. Members of the community should periodically review the site for ease of use, comprehension and completeness.

Today’s announcement addresses the increasing need for schools and districts across the country to collect data about students, including their test scores, grades, credits earned, and other related information, such as demographics, enrollment, discipline, and special education status.

Education agencies use this information to identify student talents and special requirements, check academic progress and develop successful learning plans. The guidance encourages schools and districts to take a hands-on approach in communicating with parents to help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings about the use of student records.

The Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center is a one-stop resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality and security practices related to student data. The center provides information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and technical assistance.

Besides FERPA which protects the privacy of student education records, FPCO also administers another law related to the use of student personal information. Known as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the statute addresses, among other matters, the use of personal information collected from students for marketing purposes and the administration of certain surveys and evaluations to students.

For more information on the work of the Family Policy Compliance Office, see its website here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Union leaders plan to send teachers door-to-door for votes

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:56

Politics to the core

Those curious about how to lead Colorado away from the Common Core State Standards met at movie theaters across the state this week to participate in a live event hosted by conservative media personality Glenn Beck. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

bell out of order, please knock

Union leaders hope to make the most of their human capital. They plan to send teachers door-to-door to stump for progressive issues. ( Politico )

No brainer

Helmets used by girl lacrosse players have been proven to decrease concussions, a new study found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

systemic racism

In an essay, a mother of two preschoolers attempts to rationalize why her students were suspended. Her conclusion: they're African-American. ( Washington Post )

implementation nation

The Louisianna state school board is considering whether to sue Gov. Bobby Jindal for his efforts to thwart the use of the Common Core standards in the state's public schools. There's just one catch — Jindal has to approve the hiring of any outside lawyers by state boards. ( AP )

Gov. Chris Christie's executive order that would tweak the use of new testing data in teacher evaluations is being dubbed a half-step by those who wish to see the tests and their data gone for good. ( North Jersey )

Meanwhile, in Texas, the state has decided to pilot its teacher evaluation system one more year. The new evaluation program is the first update to the system in 17 years. ( Texas Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Reporter’s notebook: After a night with Glenn Beck, anti-Common Core crusaders look toward election, legislative session

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 19:45

Anita Stapleton, one of the original Colorado crusaders against the Common Core State Standards, didn’t need the validation she felt on Tuesday night.

But it didn’t hurt, either.

That night, Stapleton was one of hundreds of theatergoers statewide who participated in a live event hosted by conservative-media personality powerhouse Glenn Beck, who recently authored a book of opposition on the matter.

Dubbed “We Will Not Conform,” the event — equal parts group therapy, sermon, strategy session, book-sale pitch — was filmed in Texas and beamed via satellite to cineplexes across the nation.

“For him to take this on, it’s been huge,” Stapleton said. Seeing the dozens of educators, parents, and politicians who stood with Beck Tuesday night “substantiated” everything Stapleton has done. “I’m not crazy,” she chuckled. “I’m not alone.”

Stapleton’s small but vocal protest against the standards, which Colorado adopted in 2010, has been a regular fixture at Colorado State Board of Education meetings for more than a year. Multiple times a month, she crisscrosses the state, sharing her reasons for opposing the standards with whomever will listen.

Opponents of the standards, like Stapleton, have a long list of concerns. Generally, they believe the standards — and new standardized tests created to match the standards — stifle local control of schools, parents’ and student privacy rights, and that the true intent of the new standards is to make money for private businesses — not boost academic performance.

Meanwhile, supporters of the new standards, which were designed by a coalition of states and later backed by the federal government, believe the benchmarks are more rigorous than previous standards and will help prepare students for the economy of the future.

“Beck’s book asserts that Common Core is ‘about creating workers, not thinkers,’” said Zack Neumeyer, chairman of Sage Hospitality and spokesman for Future Forward Colorado, the business coalition in support of the new standards and tests. “If he talked to Colorado’s CEOs, they would tell him that we need employees who can think deeply and solve problems. The Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core, are higher expectations that give employers like me confidence that our job candidates will have the skills they need to run a hotel or restaurant or identify a good investment opportunity.”

The standards were also designed to ensure consistency in what schools are teaching across state lines. A student in Colorado, supporters argue, should neither be too far ahead nor too far behind when her family moves to Iowa. Their assessments, which debut next spring, are meant to allow states to compare results.

Beck’s aim was to catch up newbies to the issues and fire up those who have been opposed to the new standards.

And it worked, Stapleton said.

“This was a call to action — to help get the grassroots organized,” Stapleton said after the event. “It gave direction to those who didn’t have direction. We have needed help nationwide — to get to those areas where we haven’t been to raise awareness.”

The question now is whether the intended jolt of energy for those concerned citizens will translate into real political action and results.

To help ensure that translation, Beck’s team crafted a nearly 20-page “action plan” outlining next steps and emailed it to individuals who signed up for it at the event.

So far, three of the original 45 states that signed on to the standards have withdrawn from the Common Core. But in Colorado, as in a number of other states, efforts to abandon the standards have so far failed to gain substantial political momentum.

Stapleton’s organization, Stop Common Core Colorado, had organizers at 12 of the 21 theaters across Colorado that participated in the event.

The average theater, according to her organizers, had about 30 people. A theater in Grand Junction, she said, had the highest turnout with 165 people. In Aurora, where I caught the event, there were more than 60. Neither Beck nor a representative from Fathom Events, the distributor would comment on exactly how many tickets were sold at the 700 theaters that participated. But, in a statement, Josh Raffel, spokesperson for Glenn Beck said the event “would have placed it No. 2 on a per auditorium basis at the box-office when compared to movies showing the prior Tuesday.”

Stapleton said she heard reports along the front range of moviegoers staying out late into the night at nearby coffee shops and restaurants discussing their next steps.

But, she admitted, “I’ve been promised bus loads of people before” that haven’t materialized.

Turnout for a rally in February to support a bill that would delay the new standards and their aligned tests, organized in part by Stop Common Core Colorado and Core Concerns, was expected to be high, but in reality few materialized. (Plenty of folks showed up later to testify both in front of the State Board of Education and a legislative panel reviewing the bill — which later killed it.)

Still, Stapleton said she has renewed hope.

On Monday, Stapleton will kick-off a series of weekly statewide conference calls to better coordinate across the state. A leadership workshop is in the works to train activists across the state. Opponents to the standards are already eyeing the next legislative session.

And of course, there’s the 2014 midterm elections that includes a battle for control of the state Senate and the governor’s mansion. And when I asked if she and her cohorts would be taking an active role in the election, Stapleton replied: “Heavens yes.”

But other parents in Aurora were less committed.

“I’m still trying to digest it all,” said Jenae Hester, a mother of two. She pulled her daughter out of the Cherry Creek School District over her objections to the standards that she believes are a “one-size fits all” approach to education and age-inappropriate. “I took a lot of notes,” she said. “I’m going to some of the websites they mentioned.”

(For a national perspective on Beck’s event — and its possible impact on the debate — check out these articles from The Washington Post, and NPR here and here.)

Categories: Urban School News

Helmets could be a smart addition in girls’ lacrosse

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 17:52

A study on youth lacrosse injuries published earlier this week highlights the potential benefit of helmets for female players. In high school girls’ lacrosse, which typically requires only goggles and mouth guards, 63 percent of concussions are caused by a ball or stick striking players’ heads.

The study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine on Tuesday and co-authored by a researcher from the Colorado School of Public Health, explored the causes and rates of injuries in boys’ and girls’ high school lacrosse. The sport is the fastest-growing youth sport in the nation, with around 170,000 players participating at the high school level.

In contrast to concussions sustained in girls’ lacrosse, where full body contact is prohibited, 74 percent of concussions sustained by boys were due to collisions with other players. In boys’ lacrosse, full contact is permitted and helmets and pads are already the norm. Currently, Florida is the only state requiring helmets for female players, but the rule is new and won’t take effect until this fall.

Overall, sprains and strains were the most common injury sustained by both male and female lacrosse players. Concussions were the second most common for both genders, making up 22 percent of injuries in boys and 23 percent of injuries in girls.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder second grader leads way to new playground

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 10:19

calendar conflicts

The Denver teachers union filed a formal complaint last week with district officials. They claim the principal at George Washington High School has cut his teacher leadership team out of designing next year's schedule. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

From the ashes

A Boulder second-grader is leading the way to build a new playground that was previously burnt down by an arsonist. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy schools

A new report found Colorado schools are becoming healthier based on their policies and programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

hot enough for you?

A summer program gives Colorado Springs girls a chance to build confidence and learn about fire service. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

swimming gap

Swimming pool drowning rates among school-aged black children are more than five times higher than they are among white kids the same age. Here's why. ( KUNC )


Why do Americans stink at math? Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green explains, in this excerpt (published by the New York Times) from her new book, "Building A Better Teacher." Hint: it isn't the curriculum. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers at George Washington High file grievance over imposed schedule

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 14:38

Daniel Singer, an English teacher at Denver’s George Washington High School, has been stood up.

His principal was supposed to call him weeks ago, he said. But he’s still waiting.

The call, which was supposed to happen in early July, was to set a date for Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, to meet with the school’s teacher leadership team and the principal to finalize and approve the school’s master schedule, the document that sets teachers’ and students’ workload.

GW principal Micheal Johnson and his administrative team had published a draft schedule for teachers, but because that teacher leadership team was cut out of the process for next school year, union leaders claim, the document is invalid and in violation of its contract with Denver Public Schools.

With no signal from Johnson to collaborate, the Denver teachers union last week filed a formal complaint with city’s schools administrators.

A meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 12 between the district and the union.

The official grievance is the latest development to rile some of the southeast Denver community of parents and teachers since district officials announced their plans to open access to the high school’s storied International Baccalaureate program. School officials hope that the changes will expand educational opportunities for more of the school’s students. But the announcement sparked a firestorm among some parents who feared the move would water down the IB program’s academic rigor.

While the changes to the IB program aren’t supposed to take effect until the 2015 school year, the process by which officials made the decision has drawn the ire and skepticism of some teachers and a vocal group of parents.

And now anxiety over those changes appears to have been aggravated by their concerns over which teacher will be in which classroom and whether district officials will keep their word to leave the IB program as it is for one more year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Billy Husher, a union organizer, referring to principal Johnson’s alleged disregard for collaboration.

A DPS spokeswoman said the district had no comment pending a full review of the grievance.

But Husher counters district officials have known about the lack of clarity in the scheduling process since late spring.

According to an email dated May 16 recapping a meeting between Husher and Greta Martinez, the district’s assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness, the district in an earlier meeting had agreed that staff should provide input on the schedule.

Days after the school year ended, with still no meeting, Husher filed a grievance with the district. Husher said he withdrew his grievance at the request of the human resources department so that a school-level resolution could be found.

That’s when Singer, one of the building’s union representatives, reached out to Johnson.

“He said he was going to call me in early July and he never did,” Singer said. “In my seven years [at GW], it’s never been done this way.”

Meanwhile, many parents, already incensed over the changes to the IB program, began firing off letters in late May to district officials and school board members demanding to know who would be leading their students classrooms.

George Washington parent Joel Witter, who sent a letter, told Chalkbeat this week that district officials responded that because scheduling decisions are personnel matters, they wouldn’t be able to comply.

“We don’t know if the [IB] economics teacher and the biology teacher are going to be the teachers my son thought he was going to be spending time with,” Witter said.

And that ambiguity is feeding fears that teachers who haven’t previously taught in the IB program will end up teaching IB students for multiple years, Witter said.

“My son has loved the school so far, he loves his friends and teachers,” Witter said. “But, we have very serious concerns about the direction the school is going. We may send his younger brother somewhere else.”

Categories: Urban School News

Schools get improved ranking in annual health scorecard

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 14:10

A scorecard released today by the Colorado Health Institute found that Colorado schools have made progress over the last year in health policy and programming. Overall, schools were rated “mid-high” in the “Reaching Our Peak 2014: Scorecard for a Healthier Colorado” report, compared to “mid” last year.

Several state and federal legislative changes were highlighted for positively affecting the school health environment over the last year. These include $700,000 in new state funding for the Safe Routes to School programming, after federal funding for the program ended this month. Also cited was a new state law allowing third- to fifth-graders who qualify for reduced-priced school meals to henceforth get the meals for free. (Students in kindergarten through second grade already get this benefit.)

The scorecard also mentioned significant statewide increases in school breakfast participation over the last five years, with additional jumps expected this year and the following year as the state “Breakfast After the Bell” law phases in.

On the early childhood front, the report cites $45 million in federal Race to the Top funding earmarked for various initiatives aimed at improving school readiness. The report also praises the addition of 5,000 new preschool and full-day kindergarten slots in 2013-14 through the Colorado Preschool Program, but cautions that the gains are not keeping up with the need.

Also mentioned in the report is an effort by the Colorado Education Initiative, with financial support from Kaiser Permanente Colorado, to create a new streamlined school health data system called The Colorado Healthy Schools Smart Source. That system will be scaling up over the next year. In addition to legislative and policy trends, the schools section of the report highlights a program on the Eastern Plains that arms students with disposable cameras to document healthy and unhealthy aspects of their lives.

Besides rating schools, the annual Reaching Our Peak scorecard measured progress in four other categories, including aging, communities, health care and workplace. The only one besides schools that made improvements this year was communities, which moved from “low-mid” to “mid.” Aging stayed the same at “low” and workplace stayed the same at “mid.” Health care moved from “mid-high” to “mid.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teacher, staff turnover rises in Dougco

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:06

Creative financing

Lower-than-projected marijuana tax revenues for school construction are the latest example of education’s disappointing experience with taxes on things like gambling and drugs to help fund schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Bang for the buck

A charter-friendly think tank found charter students — despite a lack of equal funding — on average meet or beat their peers enrolled in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Staff churn

Teacher and staff turnover has risen in the Douglas County schools but is on a level similar to the rest of the state. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

School bid advances

A proposed charter high school in Falcon School District 49 gained approval from the district's board of education Tuesday night, but it will not be tied to voter approval of a November bond issue. ( Gazette )

More time in Texas

Mike Miles, something of a reform darling when he was Harrison's superintendent, has won a contract extension as superintendent of the Dallas schools. ( Dallas Morning News )

Young philanthropist

An Erie second grader spearheaded a $2,700 fundraiser to help rebuild a school playground damaged by arsonists. ( Boulder Camera )

Perception and reality

A new study suggests that American principals overestimate the number of poor students in their schools, compared to international standards of economic disadvantage. ( NY Times )

Lawyering up

The Louisiana battle over the Common Core State Standards is going to court, with a suit filed Tuesday against Gov. Bobby Jindal, who's had a controversial change of heart on the issue. ( Huffington Post )

Categories: Urban School News

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