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Study: TABOR actually has increased taxes for many Coloradans

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 21:30

A new paper by three Colorado State University researchers argues that residents in many Colorado school districts pay higher property taxes than they would have if the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights hadn’t been passed.

The study provides details for what many Colorado educators and policymakers have long observed – a shift of school funding responsibility from districts to the state and widened funding gaps between richer districts and poorer districts.

“Property taxes in Colorado have become more unequal and less progressive, and somewhat improbably 81 percent of the state’s population is paying more in property tax than if TABOR had not passed and begun distorting school funding,” the study concludes.

“Taxpayers in 74 of the state’s 178 school districts currently pay more in school property taxes than they would if TABOR was never enacted. These 74 districts contain 81 percent of the state’s population,” the report said.

Passed by a statewide vote in 1992, TABOR is best known for its requirement that state and local tax rate increases have to be approved by voters. But it also contains a complex set of provisions that put limits on both government spending and revenue collection, requirements that have created challenges for governments across the state.

The study focuses on one element of TABOR, a requirement that school district mill levies – the tax rate on real estate – be reduced under certain circumstances. In districts where the tax rate is driven down, the state share of school funding automatically increases under the formula in state school finance law.

“In essence, since most of the larger districts in Colorado were not the ones whose levies were driven down by TABOR, the 81 percent of the state’s population living in these districts were left subsidizing low levies in a subset of the state’s smaller districts whose levies were driven down,” the report said.

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“As a result, local property tax rates and burdens plummeted in those [smaller] districts resulting in a reduced reliance on the local property tax and an increased one on state aid. In effect, for these districts, TABOR transferred the burden of funding schools from the local residents to all Coloradans who pay state taxes,” the report continued. “Colorado taxpayers are subsidizing extremely low levies in a small sample of districts, many of which are quite wealthy.”

The study also argues that TABOR has made property taxes more regressive, meaning that lower-income taxpayers pay a higher percentage of their income in property taxes than do higher-income citizens.

And the report also notes that disparities between districts have increased because larger, wealthier districts have an easier time gaining voter approval of mill levy overrides. Those are local property tax increases that provide additional revenue on top of the funding provided through the state school finance formula.

“The use of overrides may be resulting in wealth related spending disparities in public school finance across Colorado,” the report said.

The paper was written with the support of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a foundation that supports research on land policy and land-related tax issues. It was published on the institute’s website.

The authors are economist Phyllis Resnick and Charles Brown and Deborah Godshall of the CSU Colorado Futures Center, a Colorado think tank that originated at the University of Denver but now is part of CSU. Brown and Godshall are former senior legislative staff members with expertise in the state budget and school finance.

The center issued major studies in 2011 and 2013 detailing the gap between revenues and mandated spending Colorado faces in the future. Read about the 2011 study here and see this story about the 2013 update.

A group of civic leaders called Building a Better Colorado is studying possible changes to fiscal provisions and other parts of the state constitution, but no specific proposals have been developed.

Talk about funding inequities among districts starting to bubble at the Capitol during the 2015 legislative session, and the issue is expected to surface again in 2016.

Categories: Urban School News

Julie Williams owned the AP History controversy and four other takeaways from the first Jeffco school board forum

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 19:57

LAKEWOOD — Jefferson County voters got their first glimpse Monday at most of the candidates either running for or defending their seats on the school board.

Nine of the 12 declared candidates and incumbents met at a forum hosted by Colorado Christian University, giving voters a taste of what’s to come in a race that already has drawn national attention to a county known as a political bellwether.

In regular times, two of the five seats on the school board would be up for election.

But barring an unexpected development, voters also will be asked to recall the other three school board members that comprise the conservative majority — Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — and replace them with new faces.

That puts all five seats on the board in play. And it created a lively discussion at the private Christian university’s forum.

Here are Chalkbeat’s five takeaways from the evening:

The missing slate was the elephant in the room.

A few days after the Jefferson County clerk announced the recall campaign had supplied enough signatures to send the question to the voters, a group of three Jeffco residents backed by an anonymous group of parents announced their intention to replace the board majority.

That slate of candidates, however, did not attend the university’s forum. John Andrews, the forum’s host, a former state lawmaker and leader in Colorado’s conservative community, was a good sport about it. While he reminded the audience more than a few times that the slate turned down his invitation, he also encouraged audience members to do their own research on the candidates.

“To me, they missed an opportunity to demonstrate good faith of putting their goals and agenda in front of a large and engaged audience of Jefferson County voters and to submit to some give and take with people who want the same job they want,” Andrews told Chalkbeat.

Other supporters of the recall targets suggested the slate’s absence was evidence that the candidates would snub conservatives in favor of the teachers union.

When asked why he was unable to attend, candidate Brad Rupert said in an email he had a previous engagement.

Candidates Ron Mitchell and Susan Harmon did not respond to requests for comment.

What we’ll be watching next: The next forum is Sept. 12. Will the slate participate?

Julie Williams was more confident than ever and she owned the AP U.S. history controversy.

Conventional wisdom says school board member Julie Williams faces the toughest challenge keeping her seat this fall. Her name is linked with the most public controversy the board has weathered.

But you wouldn’t have known that Monday night. Williams, in a friendly environment, was poised and confident. And she received some of the loudest applause of the evening.

Last fall, Williams made headlines with a request to review the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum to ensure materials were patriotic. Her proposal, which mirrored another in Texas, sent thousands of Jeffco high schoolers to the streets in protest. Williams’s proposal eventually evolved into a rewrite of the district’s curriculum review process. No review of the history class was ordered.

This summer, the organization responsible for establishing the class’s framework and corresponding test issued new guidance that addressed conservatives’ concerns. The group added a section about American exceptionalism and filled in chunks of history Williams and others said needed to be explicitly addressed.

“I was right on AP U.S. History!” Williams said at the forum.

What we’ll be watching for next: How will Williams’s defense of her AP History position play in less friendly settings?

The fault lines on some hot topics like testing are fuzzy.

In an attempt to provide the audience with a snapshot of views on some of the hottest education policy debates in Jeffco and the nation, moderator Andrews asked a series of “yes” or “no” questions.

The candidates also could have answered “pass” if they thought the question was too complex to answer that way.

There were a few shockers:

Candidate Ali Lasell, who has been critical of the board majority’s record, said she supported their efforts for putting charter schools on the same financial footing as district-run schools. Williams broke rank with Witt and Newkirk when she said she didn’t support free full-day kindergarten for students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. And Witt said he he would support vouchers for private schools as a parent, but not as board president of a public school system.

Not every topic drew sharp choices for voters.

Take the PARCC tests. Every candidate and incumbent except Amanda Stevens said they wanted Colorado to withdraw completely or partially from the multi-state testing partnership.

And every candidate and incumbent except Lasell approved of student-based budgeting, which allocates dollars to schools based on the number of students and their needs, and gives schools discretion on how to spend the money. Lasell said she wouldn’t form an opinion until after a year of using it.

What we’ll be watching for next: How do the incumbents and candidates differentiate themselves on complex policy debates, especially when they mostly agree?

The non-slate successor candidates, Noonan and Dhieux, will bring an edge to the debate.

It would be easy for the recall election to become slate vs. slate. But candidate Paula Noonan — running to replace Witt — certainly isn’t going to let that happen.

Noonan took both the recall supporters and targets to task several times. At one point toward the end of the forum, moderator Andrews referred to Noonan affectionately as an “Irish terrier.”

Noonan isn’t the only candidate unconnected to a slate seeking to replace a recall target. Matthew Dhieux, who is running for Newkirk’s seat, earned the attention of the room when he plainly explained — while other candidates dodged — what he believed the recall election was about: local communities losing control of their classrooms to special interests.

What we’ll be watching for next: How do Noonan and Dhieux push both the incumbents and the successor slate in the next debate?

The regular school board election might actually be the more substantive races to watch.

While the recall election is getting all the attention, the more authentic conversations may take place between candidates in the regular school board races.

Take this exchange between Ali Lasell and Kim Johnson about the achievement gap …

Lasell: “What we need to address is full-day kindergarten for every student … Once we get there, we need to man up for preschool.”

Johnson: “There’s more than one solution to close the achievement gap, because there is more than one reason why it’s there.”

Neither Lasell nor Johnson have run for office before. That’s true for Amanda Stevens as well. And Tori Merritts is a stranger to a political campaign in the age of Twitter; her last campaign for Jeffco’s school board was in 1999.

It’s clear that Witt, Newkirk and Williams have their talking points down. And it’s safe to assume the successor slate will bring messaging that echoes the recall campaign’s themes. As true with most campaigns, the incumbents and candidates will strive for fewer and fewer surprises.

So enjoy the fresh debate amongst the novices while you still can.

What we’ll be watching for next: Whose experience will resonate with voters more: Stevens’s experience in the classroom or Merritts’s experience on the board?

Update: This article has been updated to include the host of the event’s first name, John. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver principal explains how he’s improving his school

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 09:50
Turnaround Talks

"We hear all the time that there's not a silver bullet out there — that we don't know how to turn around the schools that have been struggling academically for years. I actually think we do have a very clear road map." – Zachary Rahn, principal Ashley Elementary School CPR

Election 2015

A last minute challenger has stepped in to take on Denver school board president Happy Haynes. That means all three seats up for election will be contested. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

But only two of the four open Boulder Valley School District seats will be contested in November. Daily Camera

labor day

The Thompson school board will discuss repealing all policies that recognize the Thompson Education Association as the exclusive bargaining agent and representative of the teachers and revising policies on disciplinary decisions for teachers. Reporter-Herald

Aurora's school board will decide whether Superintendent Rico Munn may pay teachers at one elementary school more money in an effort to reduce teacher churn. Chalkbeat Colorado

Career readiness

A new state-of-the-art Colorado Springs welding training center is in high demand. Gazette

safe schools

The Colorado State Patrol is ramping up patrols in one part of Grand Junction where a student was injured in a hit-and-run. KJCT


A board that oversees New Mexico’s largest school district unanimously voted Monday to accept the resignation of its embattled superintendent, who hired an administrator charged with child sex abuse in Colorado. AP via SFGate

Honor Roll

Longtime Glenwood Springs High School science teacher Scott Nykerk is among 42 Colorado teachers honored for the impact they have had on some of Colorado’s top students. Post-Independent

Higher ed

The National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend $43 billion on supplies for college-going students. NPR via KUNC

An unknown person wrote about the sexual assault of sorority members on several chalk advertisements for the University of Colorado's Greek Life programs on campus Monday. Denver Post

The University of Denver is violating federal law by paying female law professors less than their male counterparts, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora’s school board will decide whether teachers at one school can be paid more than others

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 19:36

AURORA — Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn wants to give teachers at an academically struggling elementary school more money for sticking around.

Paris Elementary School, which is just north of Colfax Avenue in the Original Aurora neighborhood, has suffered some of the district’s highest teacher churn rates during the last five years.

Staff and district leaders believe this is one reason students — who are mostly Latino and black, and come from low-income homes — are earning poor marks on the state’s standardized tests.

As part of a package of school improvement efforts, Munn told teachers last spring they’d receive a stipend — half then, half in the fall — if they were rated effective and returned to Paris for the 2015-2016 school year.

Of 28 teachers at the school, 20 qualified for the incentive by earning effective ratings and returning this year, a district spokeswoman said. Each of them would receive about an extra $1,000 under the plan.

The Aurora Education Association, however, says Munn doesn’t have the authority to pay teachers any amount other than what is specified in the district’s collective bargaining contract. The union filed a formal grievance. An arbitrator agreed with the union in July, but the decision ultimately rests with the school board.

The board is expected to decide Tuesday at its meeting whether the district may move forward with the plan.

In taking up the issue, the school board will do more than decide whether Munn can give teachers retention bonuses. The board also will wrestle with two questions that have vexed policymakers and school districts across the nation: Should teachers be paid more if they are in hard-to-staff schools and should teacher pay be tied to evaluations?

Munn believes he has the authority to pay teachers at Paris more because the district-union contract describes the salary schedule as the “minimum” teachers must be paid.

“I looked at our agreement and under the agreement, in my mind, it was a settled issue,” Munn said. “There’s a whole sort of issues we know we need to bargain. For the things not in the bucket we move ahead. … We’re not trying to go around anybody or go around the agreement. None of this was meant to be an end run around the union.”

Even though the union opposes the plan, it wants to see teachers at Paris receive the stipends they were promised. But before any other promises are made, the district and union must negotiate, said Amy Nichols, the union’s president.

“Very simply, the matter is to us that salaries cannot be unilaterally increased for one group of teachers,” Nichols said. “It has to be negotiated. We would be interested in having this conversation while we have a task force that comprehensively looks at the issue — not just at Paris, but across the district.”

Munn said the Paris Retention Initiative — the district’s name for the bonus pay plan — is a specific solution for a specific problem.

“We don’t have the same issue or same circumstance anywhere else,” Munn said.

In 2012, three out of every 10 teachers decided to leave Paris. In 2013, more than one-third of teachers moved to another school or left the profession. And last school year, more than half the staff was new. In a drastic reversal, this school year nearly three-quarters of the staff returned.

The district has proposed creating a broader system for hard-to-fill positions in district schools. But that has been put on hold, Munn said.

Research has shown that paying teachers more money to stay at schools with difficult working conditions largely hasn’t worked.

“These types of incremental bonuses or raises are not sufficient,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which tracks issues such as teacher pay. “They’re a well-meaning gesture. But they’re not effective.”

Nichols said other issues contribute to a teacher’s decision to leave the classroom.

“Money is nice, money is great,” Nichols said. “But the retention issue is deeper than pay. It’s about having a leader in the building, having a team teacher working together, about feeling supported, and having the resources to meet the needs of the students in their building.”

Munn agrees.

“I would say nobody, including myself, believes increasing pay by itself is effective,” he said. “It’s in combination with other things you’re doing.”

Other efforts at Paris include a new principal and assistant principal, and more teacher training. The district is also considering including Paris in an effort to free schools from some local and state red-tape.

“I think [the stipend] is probably going to prove an added expense for the district that isn’t going to pay off in higher retention,” Walsh said. “The other things they’re doing there is going to be a larger factor.”

The total for the stipends is about $40,000, according to district documents.

Chalkbeat Colorado made more than a dozen interview requests in person and electronically with teachers at Paris.

Only one, who asked to be identified only as K.C., agreed to speak briefly after school Friday.

“I think we should pay teachers like we pay baseball players,” he said. “If they’re good, pay them more.”

Munn stressed the Paris retention program is not a step toward creating a pay-for-performance model in Aurora.

The state’s three largest school systems — Denver, Jefferson County and Douglas County — all have some variation of a pay-for-performance model. The Harrison School District near Colorado Springs is also considered a national pioneer for linking teacher pay to evaluation ratings.

And under Colorado law, this is the first school year that teachers could lose their non-probationary status if they receive low back-to-back ratings.

But national research on whether linking pay to student outcomes is an effective strategy for better test scores remains mixed.

“If you give teachers more money, they’ll work harder than they already are: That is a false premise,” Nichols said. “Teachers are always working hard — harder than they ever have. What we need to do is pay teachers well to begin with.”

Categories: Urban School News

Last-minute challenger emerges to take on DPS board chair in November

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 18:52

The field for November’s Denver school board election is all set — and it includes a final-hour challenger for board chairwoman Happy Haynes’s at-large seat.

Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent critical of Denver Public Schools’ embrace of charter schools, overtesting and what he calls a “rubber stamp” board, will take on Haynes, a former Denver City Council member, DPS administrator and consultant who has championed the district’s reforms.

Although Speth lacks citywide name recognition, his entry into the race means all three seats up for grabs pit those viewed as supporters of the administration against critics, giving voters clear-cut choices.

The election will not swing the balance of the board, however, even if the three upstarts prevail.

Six of the current seven board members largely back Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s agenda, which includes closing low-performing schools, holding teachers accountable and developing a “portfolio” of traditional district schools, charter schools and district-run innovation schools with many of the hallmarks of charters.

Candidates needed to file 50 valid petition signatures by Friday to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot. Signatures from all six announced candidates have been deemed sufficient, a Denver Elections Division spokesman said Monday afternoon.

The other board seats at stake in the election are in northwest Denver’s District 5 and southeast Denver’s District 1 (more on the candidates and their positions below).

On his just-launched campaign website, Speth describes himself as employed in the telecommunications industry, the father of two students at Valdez Elementary and an active fundraiser in the campaign to renovate that school and press for similar fixes at others.

“I’ve seen a repeated pattern of DPS implementing changes that communities do not want,” Speth says on his webpage. “The school board has simply been a rubber stamp, approving every single DPS recommendation since 2013, often with no serious debate. This has left many communities frustrated and distrustful, and has led me to the conclusion that I must step forward to try and bring the often ignored community voice and perspective to the board.”

Speth declined to discuss his campaign in detail last week and could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. He will kick off his campaign with an event Thursday.

Asked about her opponent, Haynes said Monday: “I can’t speak to what he is saying or says, because I haven’t heard him. I am really focused on the goals that we have set out in the Denver Plan 2020,” the district’s blueprint for lifting student achievement.

“We have set out some ambitious goals,” Haynes said. “We’re going to be focused on the work it takes to get to those goals. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Haynes said her campaign priorities also include investment in early childhood initiatives and providing more equitable access to schools and opportunities for all students.

Another would-be at-large candidate, retired educator Glenn Hanley, filed city and state paperwork expressing his intent to run but did not turn in the required signatures, officials said.

The campaigns for the other disputed seats, meantime, have been humming along for weeks.

The most wide-open race is in northwest Denver’s District 5, where the sole consistent critic of the Boasberg administration, Arturo Jimenez, is leaving because of term limits.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, faces Michael Kiley, a project manager for a software company. Kiley ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in 2013.

Flores is running on a platform of giving more attention to students with special needs, and improving the recruitment, training and retention of top school leaders, among other issues.

Kiley has questioned some district proposals and DPS’s commitment to community engagement. He says that he wants a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

In southeast Denver’s District 1, incumbent Anne Rowe faces Kristi Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

Rowe has said she plans to focus on seeing through a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020. Rowe cites as achievements a new policy that determines where schools should be placed and another sweeping plan that gives principals more control over their curriculum and other matters.

Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input, criticizing the district for taking a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education. She has pledged to take on the problem of teacher turnover.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New Aurora Central principal heads turnaround effort

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 10:10
Aurora turnaround

A fixture in northwest Aurora for about a decade, Geraldo De La Garza was the logical choice, officials say, to be the transitional principal to lead troubled Aurora Central High School as it prepares to embark on massive changes to solve the problem of poor student achievement. Denver Post

District divide

Brighton’s proposed $248 million bond issue could divide district voters along geographical lines. 9News

Locked and loaded

If Colorado lawmakers ever decide to let educators carry concealed firearms in elementary and secondary schools, Pikes Peak area teachers who’ve been taking free concealed-weapons classes will be ready. Gazette

A perfect 36

With six Advanced Placement classes under his belt and a passion to devour math equations, it's no wonder Jacob Ogden of Broomfield High School aced his ACT test. Daily Camera

No contest

Pueblo County District 70 likely won’t have to hold a school board election this fall because the two incumbents were the only candidates to return petitions for the positions. Chieftain

Strike up the band

For music teacher Amy Woodley, it was like Christmas in August to receive instruments for her students from Bringing Music to Life, a drive that asks people to donate old instruments to support schools. 9News

Job on the line

The board of New Mexico's largest school district is scheduled to decide the future of its embattled superintendent following the hiring of an administrator from Denver who is facing charges of child sex abuse. 7News Denver

Something new

The University of Northern Colorado will become the state’s only teacher training program to offer training leading to a state endorsement to teach Chinese. Greeley Tribune

Funding boost

Colorado Mountain College administrators learned recently that their previous $2.2 million Student Support Services federal grant has been expanded to $4.3 million over the next five years. Up to 520 students will be able to benefit from an array of program offerings. Vail Daily

new leader

New Aims Community College President Leah Bornstein is coordinating millions of dollars in construction projects taking place across the college's campuses in northern Colorado. Greeley Tribune

Student health

Despite recent controversy over the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, most districts will continue to participate. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

Editorial page editor Vincent Carroll has some ideas about how Colorado can avoid a budget smashup. Denver Post

The days of flush state funding for higher education are gone, and public universities are slowly recognizing that they must do more than approach state legislatures each year with hats in hand, writes CU President Bruce Benson. Wall Street Journal

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why Chicago parents are on a hunger strike to get their school revamped

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 19:17

School closures, past and present

  • A group of Chicago parents are nearly two weeks into a hunger strike to get the city to revamp their scheduled-to-be-closed school. (DNAinfo)
  • A mother explains the personal history with school closure that led her to join the strike. (Catalyst)
  • And a researcher studying the school’s neighborhood who previously worked in a school that closed shares her perspective. (Seven Scribes)
  • A meditation on the closure of Jamaica High School in New York City and the history, policy, and poverty that got us there. (New Yorker)
  • Here’s what protest against the plan to close Jamaica looked like in 2009. (Chalkbeat)
  • An advocate for overhauling struggling schools says his allies would do well to acknowledge why communities oppose closure. (Justin Cohen)

Ten years after Katrina

  • This week was the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that led to a radical restructuring of schools in New Orleans.
  • A suite of stories recalls the storm’s impact on New Orleans schools, from the explosion of choice to the disappearance of black woman teachers and beyond. (Education Week)
  • While outsiders masterminded much of what unfolded in New Orleans, local educators and advocates played a crucial role. (Andrew Rotherham)
  • A journalist who covered the changes in New Orleans recalls moments when she could see the winners and losers clearly. (Schooled)
  • An advocate who helped create many of the city’s new schools says the overhaul’s benefits to local students are clear but the idea of replicating it elsewhere is not. (Relinquishment)
  • Preschool hasn’t seen needed changes since the storm, according to an early education advocate. (Ahead of the Heard)
  • Here’s a roundup of the best reporting on the storm’s education impact from across the country. (L.A. Times)

What Americans really think about testing

  • Two polls out this week find that Americans either really support testing or really don’t. (NPR)
  • The poll commissioned by a publication that supports testing and accountability policies found wide support. (Education Next)
  • The poll commissioned by a large association of educators, who tend to be wary of testing, found the opposite. (Phi Delta Kappan)
  • Why the disparate findings? One analyst says it’s all in the questions. (Education Post)
  • Here’s what the polls said about other education issues, including the Common Core and charter schools. (The Atlantic)

Back to school

  • Know any ninth-graders feeling jitters about starting high school? Some older-by-a-year girls have advice for them. (Rookie)
  • “It’s not because of the kids,” says a New York City teacher who’s not returning to the classroom after six years. “It’s just everything else.” (Yo Mista!)
  • Come along for a ride as Tennessee educators start their school year by visiting students at home, a practice that can have long-lasting effects on parent involvement. (NPR)
  • An Iowa school district welcomed educators back to class with an education jargon-rich parody of “One Day More” from Les Miz. (WGN)

In other interesting news

  • A new study found that paying parents to help their children with homework produced few academic results. (BloombergView)
  • Rupert Murdoch wants to unload Amplify, the once-hyped ed tech company that former New York City schools chief Joel Klein started. Here are two looks at what went wrong. (BuzzfeedEdWeek)
  • A tiny, mighty Christian lobbying group has successfully blocked states from even minor oversight of homeschooling. (ProPublica)
  • That teacher shortage that doesn’t exist in New York City? It probably doesn’t exist in Indiana, either. (Chalkbeat)
  • In Boston, more homeschoolers are secular, educated, and aiming to insulate their children from school’s dulling effects. (Boston Magazine)
  • How many more children are living in poverty than there were a decade ago? A lot, and this map shows where they are. (Huffington Post)
  • An educator of color pushes back against the call to ally the Black Lives Matter movement with public education protest. (Jose Vilson)
  • A New York City teacher reflects on losing a former student whose death came after a police encounter. (The Atlantic)
  • Two Massachusetts fourth-graders pulled a Chalkbeat and achieved impact with their article on sex-segregated lunchtime. (Good Morning America)
  • The 2012 Chicago teachers strike had many ripple effects. The latest one is an erotic novel. (Teaching Now)
Categories: Urban School News

Most districts still opt to participate in health survey that sparked state board uproar

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:00

Despite last spring’s flap over a student health survey given to Colorado’s middle and high school students, most districts will continue to participate—with several stepping up efforts to give parents more advance notice and detail about the survey.

Of 110 districts invited to give the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey as part of a random statewide sample this fall, 83 have agreed so far, said an official from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which contracts with the state to oversee the biennial survey.

That number may rise in the next few weeks because not all districts have made their final decisions.

“In reflecting on the controversy, we were very concerned that we would be dead in the water with our recruitment efforts,” said Ashley Brooks-Russell, program director of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and assistant professor in the university’s Colorado School of Public Health.

But that hasn’t been the case, she said. While some districts have dropped off, many are continuing to participate and some new ones have joined the effort.

Four of the state’s six largest districts — including Denver, Jeffco, Cherry Creek and Adams 12 — told Chalkbeat that they plan to take part. A spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District, which did participate in the survey in 2013, said its schools won’t participate this year because the survey is invasive and takes away instructional time. A spokesperson for Aurora Public Schools said a decision is pending.

2015 participation…so far
Of the 110 districts asked to participate in the survey as part of the state sample, here’s how many have said yes so far:

  • Districts: 83
  • Schools: 119

Districts and schools that were not selected as part of the state sample can also participate. Here’s how many have opted in:

  • Districts: 7
  • Schools: 58

The survey, which state officials emphasize is anonymous and voluntary, became the focus of a protracted debate by the State Board of Education and dueling opinions from the state attorney general’s office last spring after some parents raised concerns about the explicit nature of questions on sexual behavior, drugs and suicide.

In addition, many critics argued that parents should have to give advance written permission—called active consent—in order for their children to take the survey. Over the survey’s 24-year history, most districts have chosen “passive consent,” which means students are asked to take the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

Ultimately, neither the state board nor State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who issued an official opinion on the matter in April, mandated substantive changes to the survey or consent rules.

Brooks-Russell said a number of questions have changed on this fall’s survey, but not because of the controversy last spring.

“No questions were eliminated due to those debates,” she said.

Instead, the deletions or additions (listed at the end of this story) were made after stakeholder discussions about what was most important to know about youth demographics and health behaviors.

For example, new this year on the high school survey will be questions about whether students consider themselves transgender, and about marijuana and prescription drug use. Gone are several questions each about students’ perceptions of marijuana, their exposure to tobacco, alcohol and drug advertising and their enjoyment of school. Such deletions don’t necessarily mean the survey asks nothing about these topics, but that those sections have been slimmed down.

Both the middle and high school surveys now include a question asking students about their mothers’ highest level of schooling—one proxy for socioeconomic status.

Passive consent still wins the day

The trend of passive consent will continue this fall, with only three of the 82 state-sample districts opting for advance written permission from parents, according to Brooks-Russell.

One of them is Jeffco, officials there said.

The district, where a conservative school board majority currently wields power and student data privacy has been a hot topic in recent years, did not participate in the survey in 2013.

Many survey proponents favor passive consent because it yields higher participation rates and more representative data about the adolescent population.

Scott Romero, school health coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said, “If it did go to active opt-in consent, the numbers and usefulness just wouldn’t be there.”

Although most districts will continue with passive consent this year, Brooks-Russell said schools will be required to ensure that parents get notification forms — which offer the choice of opting out — a full two weeks before the survey is administered. She said the university will monitor districts to ensure compliance.

Survey history 
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names since 1991. The last version given in 2013 folded together multiple health surveys that were previously given separately. Along with questions from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it included additional Colorado-specific questions. Also new in 2013 was a much larger sample size—more than 40,000 middle and high school students, compared to 2,500 previously.

Administrators in multiple districts also said they will make extra efforts this year to make sure parental notification is consistent and transparent.

For example, Karina Delaney, whole child initiatives coordinator in Adams 12, said in addition to sending passive consent forms home to families, the district and the seven participating schools will post detailed information about the survey on their websites.

The goal, she said, is “making sure we, in many ways, are making parents very aware that it’s voluntary.”

In Denver, Romero said parents will receive the passive consent form two to three weeks before the survey is given, will be informed that they can review the survey questions and will be given Brooks-Russell’s phone number in case they have concerns.

Mining data

After months of uncertainty last spring about whether the state board would try to mandate active consent, or otherwise curtail the survey, many school health leaders are now breathing a cautiously optimistic sigh of relief.

They say the survey data, which covers everything from nutrition to risky behaviors, is crucial in tracking trends and crafting appropriate interventions when trouble spots arise.

Romero said in Denver, where up to 60 schools will participate in the survey this fall, principals receive one-page reports that focus on survey indicators they have the ability to address relatively quickly.

For example, one school’s report might show that few students are eating breakfast and provide relevant contact information for district nutrition staff.

“With one call they could change the face of how breakfast is served,” Romero said. “It can be done pretty simply.”

Like her counterparts in other large districts, Jeffco’s Healthy Schools Coordinator Emily O’Winter, said the survey data helps educators attend to the whole child.

“We need to understand all the issues facing our students…including health,” she said.

One example of particular import in Colorado is marijuana, which was legalized for recreational sales in 2014.

“We’ve had parents express concern … about how the new laws are impacting our students,” O’Winter said. “So it will be interesting to see statewide if there’s an impact and how to respond.”

Brooks-Russell said if survey participation rates are high enough this year, Colorado’s data will be included in state-by-state comparisons compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an “opportunity to look at a recreational marijuana state before and after [legalization],” she said.

Many district health coordinators, including Delaney, also say the survey data helps secure health-related grants. Adams 12 has won nearly $900,000 in grants for physical activity and school wellness over the last four years.

“Without Healthy Kids Colorado…we wouldn’t know how to report out how our kids are even doing,” she said.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson contract dispute gets it day in court

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 09:23
contract dispute

A judge weighed testimony Thursday in the Thompson Education Association's civil case accusing the school board of breach of contract in union negotiations. Reporter-Herald

labor day

After months of work against a tension-filled backdrop, the Jeffco school board and union found common ground on a new-look, shorter-term contract. Arvada Press, Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

kids at risk

Bleak statistics about youth suicide and a lack of school counselors marked the second meeting of the state’s School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee. Denver Post

parking violations

In Colorado Springs, police empower Academy School District 20 security staff to ticket vehicles in an effort to stamp out illegal parking around schools. Gazette

security measures

Three schools in Harrison School District 2 have received grants for district security updates. Gazette

pedal power

The League of American Bicyclists has designated the St. Vrain Valley School District as a bicycle-friendly business, lauding its bikeshare program and other efforts. Times-Call

top honors

College-level courses are the calling card at a recently opened Fort Collins charter school recognized by Newsweek as Colorado's top high school. 9News

building reborn

Denver’s Johnson & Wales University has reopened the long-dormant Centennial Hall building as part of a $32 million renovation. Denver Business Journal via 9News

changing places

Longmont's Brandon Shaffer is leaving his post on the State Board of Parole to join the St. Vrain Valley School District. Daily Camera

choice and consequences

Colorado's recent state Supreme Court decision on school vouchers looms over a lawsuit involving a Nevada program similarly tapping taxpayer money for private education. Reno Gazette-Journal

a question of authority

The Denver Post editorializes that a court challenge that grew out of broken contract negotiations in the Thompson district seeks to undermine the authority of an elected board. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board OKs 10-month teacher contract; union leader tells members to ‘get to work’ on recall

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 20:44

GOLDEN — Given all the acrimony, some never thought this day would come.

The Jefferson County school board Thursday night unanimously approved an agreement with the teachers union that governs how educators are hired, fired and paid.

For nearly two years, critics have claimed ad nauseam that the school board majority’s only goal was to end the district’s relationship with the Jefferson County Education Association.

Majority members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk proved them wrong.

For now.

The contract, which is being championed by the majority’s conservative backers, runs just 10 months. The average teacher contract runs three years.

While the contract eliminates or weakens many union practices including seniority protections, it’s the duration of the contract that has teachers spooked. The end goal, to bust the union, is still the same, they believe.

“They want to be able to review the contract after one school year,” said Columbine High School teacher Paula Reed. “But we’ll start negotiations before school ends. If you really want to review something after a school year, you do that during the summer. To me it has nothing to do with how this all works out and everything to make sure the contract ends when it’s hard to organize teachers.”

It’s unclear what relationship the school board, district officials and union leaders will have moving forward. Especially with a nascent recall election.

Outside the board room, union president John Ford told members it was important they put the contract behind them and focus on changing the makeup of the school board.

“It’s a bad deal, we know it. We absolutely know it,” he said. “But we had to get rid of this distraction … We have to get to work. We have to get to work right now. We have a big lift in November.”

Meanwhile, Witt and his conservative colleagues thanked the negotiation teams.

“I want to thank the negotiating teams of the district and the JCEA for their hard work this spring to get an agreement that better supports the goals of having an effective teacher in every classroom, recognizing and rewarding our great teachers, and effectively and efficiently applying our limited resources to maximize student academic achievement,” Witt said before voting for the agreement. “This landmark rewrite of a 120-page agreement and reducing it to 41 pages brings with it, I’m sure, a period of change. We owe it to our students to carefully consider this year, where the spirit of this agreement is being met and where we may need room for revision.”

Other elements of the contract include policies that allow teams of teachers and school administrators to make decisions on issues like school calendars, training, and resources; the district’s pay-for-performance plan established last school year codified; and limits on class size.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Brighton school district puts $248 million bond on ballot

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 09:55
Election 2015

The 27J School District will ask voters to pass a $248 million bond this fall, one year after a $148 million bond failed by 120 votes. Denver Post

A Pueblo County commissioner — and former state lawmaker — is proposing a ballot measure for a program to fund college scholarships from a new marijuana tax. Denver Post

Supporters of Jeffco school board members targeted for recall have spent thousands of dollars on television ads. CBS 4

Roaring Fork School District will pursue a $122 million bond issue for major building improvements, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night. Post-Independent

We have contract!

The Jeffco school board is expected to approve the county's teacher contract at its board meeting tonight. Denver Post, Arvada Press, ABC 7, Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

The former Denver school administrator, Timothy Martinez, who faces child sex abuse charges has been booked into a Denver jail a day after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Gazette

Here's Denver Public School's statement on Martinez's arrest. CBS4

Human Resources

Pueblo City Schools could hire up to 20 teachers from the Teach for America program during each of the next two school years for some of its hard-to-fill positions. Pueblo Chieftain

Teacher home visits are increasingly becoming a tool to spark parental involvement. NPR via KUNC

I believe I can fly

The Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum created a charter school to help kids turn their love of airplanes into a career in Colorado. 9News

simply the best

Colorado Early Colleges-Fort Collins has been ranked the top public school in Colorado and No. 66 in the country in Newsweek's 2015 high school rankings. Coloradoan (Fort Collins)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union members OK contract, school board to vote Thursday

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 18:25

Despite deep mistrust of the county’s school board, Jeffco Public Schools teachers approved a new contract that leaves behind chunks of outdated language and expires in an unusually short amount of time.

The 10-month contract was ratified by a majority of union members, the Jefferson County Education Association announced Wednesday. The union did not immediately disclose the vote count.

“Our priority is our students and our community,” John Ford, JCEA’s president, said in a statement. “This agreement is less than ideal for our students, our teachers, and our community, but we wanted everyone to have clear expectations for the school year. We appreciate that teachers have again stepped forward to stand up for all students.”

The next step rests in the hands of the conservative school board majority, which has signaled it will approve the contract Thursday evening at the board’s first meeting of the school year.

The agreement, which for the first time in decades was almost entirely rewritten, gives more freedom to principals and teachers to make decisions such as what training to provide staff. It also scales back some of the historic arrangements between the union and school district. For example, the school district will no longer automatically deduct union dues from teachers paychecks.

School districts funneling dues to teachers unions is a common critique amongst conservatives because they believe those dues are ultimately used against them politically.

The contract also contains eleventh-hour compromises on limiting classroom size and requires schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian.

It also codifies a pay-for-performance plan rolled out last school year.

But the most contentious feature of the contract, which almost derailed negotiations, is a June 30, 2016, expiration date.

Contracts between the union and school district most recently lasted four years and expired in August. However, school officials on the bargaining team said it was important to align the contract with the district’s fiscal year that ends June 30. The district also want the ability to renegotiate the entire contract given its newness.

There is some precedence for a shorter contract. In the 1970s, the contract would run a calendar year. But the average teacher contract in the U.S. runs for three years.

Before voting opened Friday, teachers pointed out that the district and classified employees union reached a two-year agreement and that Superintendent Dan McMinimee was given a three-year contract when he was hired in 2014. Critics of the 10-month term also complained that rewriting the contract took half that long and said it would be a waste of resources to begin the process all over again in less than a year.

Relations between the union and the district have been tense since the school board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — won their seats in 2013. Some observers have predicted the three would follow Douglas County’s school board’s lead and not renew a contract with the teachers union.

Those fears, in part, are fueling a recall election this fall.

“I feel like the 10-month agreement is just an attempt to set teachers up to face an ultimatum next summer: ‘Accept whatever terms we offer, or leave,’” Erin Murphy, a teacher at Alameda International High School, said in an email to Chalkbeat last week. “This kind of disrespectful treatment is going to push even more teachers out of Jeffco.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teacher contract stalemate continues in Greeley

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 09:48
Contract wrangling

The Greeley school board wouldn’t budge on the district’s budget at its latest meeting, despite hearing that contract negotiations with the teachers union were at a standstill without a larger raise offer. Greeley Tribune

Controversy round 2

The Poudre School District has denied the Fossil Ridge High School football team’s compromise plan to memorialize fallen members of the U.S. armed forces. Coloradoan

Eat on the run

The split schedules forced by a lack of space have left some Brighton district high school students without designated lunch hours. They’re allowed to grab food from the cafeteria and eat in class. 9News

Education research

A nationally representative study of siblings supports previously published research on unrelated individuals that links specific genotypes to educational attainment among adults in their mid-20s to early 30s. CU News Center

Election season

It’s official — voters will be asked this November to support a $92 million bond measure for construction of a new high school and upgrades to buildings across the Steamboat Springs School District. Steamboat Today

Eight candidates have returned completed petitions to run for four seats on the Thompson board of education. Reporter-Herald

One of three candidates for the Greeley-Evans school board has been declared ineligible to run. Greeley Tribune

Ag ed

Middle schoolers in Pueblo are getting their hands dirty in a brand new certified agriculture program, which is one of the first of its kind in the state. KOAA

Borrowing an idea

The trend of co-working space in business is spreading to some metro-area schools. Denver Business Journal

Cyber safety

Digital security has become a major priority for the Douglas County School District. Castle Rock News-Press

Grad guidelines

The debate over what Colorado students should learn to graduate from high school is heating up again. KVNF Public Radio

Scholarship tax

The Denver City Council has placed a proposal on the November ballot that would raise sales taxes to help fund college scholarships. Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado


A Colorado Springs high school teacher has been honored for his services to LGBT students. Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

A Denver judge has revoked bail for a former school administrator who violated conditions of his bond in a child molestation case when he moved to New Mexico to take a top position at the Albuquerque school district. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

College readiness levels up slightly, new report finds

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 03:00

The percentage of 2015 high school graduates who are prepared for college is modestly above levels of prior years, according to a new report by the ACT testing organization.

In Colorado, 26 percent of 2015 graduates met all four of the benchmarks the testing group uses to determine college readiness. The figure was 25 percent in the three previous years. Nationwide, about 28 percent of the nearly 2 million students who took the test met all four benchmarks. That’s up from 25 percent in 2011.

Across the country, 59 percent of 2015 grads took the ACT test, so the report doesn’t evaluate college readiness for all students. In Colorado, all high school juniors are required to take the ACT test, whether or not they plan to attend college.

In 2014, the average ACT composite score for Colorado juniors was 20.3 out of a possible 36. (Search our database for 2014 district and high school results.) Scores for 2015 will be released this fall along with CMAS and PARCC testing results.

In Colorado, college readiness is drawing renewed attention because of a testing law passed by the 2015 legislature. That measure requires that an aligned pair of college and career readiness tests be given in the 10th and 11th grades, and that the 10th grade exam be used to meet federal testing requirements instead of the PARCC tests. That change requires federal sign-off.

The new law also requires that the two tests be put out for competitive bidding, so continued used of the ACT isn’t guaranteed. The state Department of Education expects to choose a testing provider in November.

The ACT’s annual Condition of College & Career Readiness report goes beyond composite scores and uses a variety of data to estimate college readiness. Here are some of the key findings from this year’s study. (Graphics provided by ACT.)

The benchmarks

ACT defines readiness as the knowledge and skills students need to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing first-year courses at colleges or trade and technical schools without the need for remedial classes.

The chart shows the minimum scores needed on the ACT subject tests to indicate a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in credit-bearing first-year college classes.

How Colorado students performed

The first chart illustrates the percentages of Colorado and U.S. students who met individual benchmarks in the four subjects covered by the ACT test — English, reading, math and science — as well as the percentages for the four subjects combined.

Percentages of readiness have remained relatively flat over the last five years.

A third of Colorado students didn’t meet the benchmarks in any subject.

The study also reported that substantial numbers of students were close to the benchmarks. It found that 9 percent of students were within two points of meeting the benchmark for English. The numbers were 11 percent for reading, 8 percent for math and 11 percent for science.

Achievement gaps

The ACT’s analysis found familiar gaps between ethnic groups in college readiness. The majority of students who took the test, 53 percent, were white. Hispanic students were 27 percent of test takers. More than 57,000 students took the test.

High school preparation

The report also examined the relationship between ACT scores and the kinds of classes students took in high school. “Students who take the recommended core curriculum are more likely to be ready for college or career than those who do not. A core curriculum is defined as four years of English and three years each of mathematics, social studies, and science,” according to the report.

There’s a wealth of additional data in ACT’s Colorado full report below, including benchmark attainment based on students’ specific academic interests and non-academic factors that contribute to college readiness. There’s also a chart comparing Colorado results to those of other states.

Read the national report here, and get more detailed Colorado data in this document.

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Categories: Urban School News

Colo. Springs teacher honored by LGBT advocacy organization: All you have to do is open your door

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 19:04

A dozen years ago, Anton Schulzki, a teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, and his students were told the school would not recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance as an official club.

They could meet on school property, but they could not advertise their organization’s meetings on the morning announcements or use school supplies, and Schulzki would not be paid for his services.

In an attempt to protect itself from a lawsuit, District 11 reclassified dozens of other school organizations across the city that had nothing to do with curriculum as “unofficial” clubs.

Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed. And in 2005, Schulzki and his students won official recognition from the school district.

Schulzski, a social studies teacher, is still the faculty adviser for the Palmer student group that creates a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, and those trying to figure out their sexual identity or gender expression. On Saturday, he was recognized for his work with LGBT youth by One Colorado, the state’s largest gay advocacy organization.

Chalkbeat spoke with Schulzki this week about his award, his work and his advice for teachers, students and parents.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Anton Schulzki

How are you feeling?
In all honesty, I’m still stunned. I’m incredibly humbled and grateful for the award. I know that the people who had a chance to vote for this award were the youth who are in and were in the GSA — GSTA, actually. This award came from the youth. And that means everything.

You corrected yourself  just now. You actually have a Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance. Explain that.
When we started, officially now 10 years ago, we were known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, which had pretty much been the model. And then about three years ago, the kids at Palmer decided they wanted to add the ‘T’ for trans students. That made sense because we had a number of trans students who were a part of the club. That was totally the kids. I just thought it was a wonderful move.

What was the purpose of the GSA 10 years ago compared to the purpose of the GSTA today?
There is a common thread between 10 years ago and today. Back then, it was that first opportunity for students to find a safe place where they could talk to their peers — and occasionally an adult — about the issues they were having. For many of them, they were still closeted LGBT and LGBTQ students. The Q is for questioning.

Adolescence is hard enough, but to be coming to grips with your own sexual or gender identity is hard.

Ten years later, society has become far more open, but there’s still an issue for kids today of parents and family acceptance. There are students who still face those concerns at home. Some students might be out to their friends or some teachers, but not their parents There’s no magic formula for coming out. So, I still think our organization is needed.

What’s interesting is that students are becoming more aware of who they are sooner. I think in particular some of our trans students are finding a place of acceptance sooner.

The other big difference in the 10 years has been a decrease in bullying toward LGBT students. I can’t say that it’s 100 percent gone, because bullying happens in schools. But it’s becoming far less accepted and tolerated. And adults are more willing to step in and say “knock it off.”

What’s the next step in schools becoming more affirming for LGBT students?
While there have been state laws that have put forth the notion that protection is enumerated, there are a bunch of school districts that have yet to tackle gender expression and trans issues. There are still some school districts that have a way to go to be welcoming to those students. It’s going to take strong staff development and parents and students telling school districts, “Hey you have to follow the law.”

What advice do you have for students, teachers, parents who want to start a GSA at their school?
This is the one thing that we learned years ago: For as much as we like to say it comes down to teachers in the schools, it’s really the parents and the students who have to bring the pressure to the schools to say, “Hey, this isn’t something that is needed but something that we want.”

One of the things we know, and research bares this out, is that students who feel welcomed at school succeed at school. If a student can come to school and be affirmed, they’re going to be successful. And what do we want? Successful students.

Parents can’t be afraid to open their mouths. In our case, it took the ACLU to sue the school district. That was a difficult process for the students and parents. But in the end, it was worth it.

What have you learned about teaching from running the GSA?
First you become far more aware of the language you use. At the beginning of the new school year, I ask students how they like to be addressed — for example, Richard might want to go by Rick. But I also ask pronoun preference, he/she/they. Those are the kinds of things students recognize and say, ‘Hey, here is someone who cares about me as an individual.’ It changes the dynamics in the classroom and you become a far more effective instructor when you can build those relationships in the classroom.

What are a few tips for teachers who many not want to start a GSA but want an affirming classroom?
When students fill out information cards at the beginning of the year, ask them their pronoun preference. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. Another thing to do is to just kind of be aware of the students in the classroom. Those kids who particularly seem to be withdrawn: A lot of times they’re going through things at home like coming to grips with whether they are coming out to their parents.

If you don’t feel prepared to deal with it, find a counselor, contact GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian Student Educator Network), contact One Colorado. As I’ve told people, my learning curve has been steep the last decade. And it continues. I’m still learning.

And as I’ve told parents, when they ask, how do I deal with it: Their kids still have to make their bed, take out the trash. That doesn’t change. The same with the classrooms — you have classroom expectations. They have to be on time. They have to raise their hands.

What else?
The best thing I did was open my classroom door to students who said, ‘We’d like to have this club.’ That’s what did it for me. It is just this notion that all we have to do is open doors for kids — and they’ll lead us.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver City Council approves sending scholarship initiative to voters

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 11:53

The cost of college — and whether Denver city sales taxes should help offset it – will get a thorough airing this fall in the buildup to the November election.

Denver voters will decide whether to increase the city’s sales tax by 0.08 percent, raising $10 million a year to bankroll college scholarships and help students without scholarships repay their loans.

The City Council voted 8-4 on Monday night to send the measure to the all-mail ballot.

To qualify, students must be under 25, enroll in an in-state higher-education program, meet family income requirements and make satisfactory academic progress.

The measure has support from powerful quarters — Mayor Michael Hancock made it a centerpiece of his inauguration speech, and business and education leaders helped craft it. The business community is framing initiative 2A as a key economic development tool that will cost relatively little (8 cents on a $100 purchase).

But skeptics question whether subsidizing higher education should be the city’s business when other more traditional roles are going wanting, including fixing sidewalks and streets.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Medical pot not allowed at Colorado schools despite policy change

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 09:33
the school bell rings

More than 90,000 Denver students returned to their classrooms Monday. 9News, CBS 4 Denver

Medical marijuana

Despite a new law that says Colorado schools can allow some forms of medical cannabis on campus, no major district in is changing its policy. Denver Channel

days of future past

The Emily Griffith Technical College welcomed students to a new campus at 1205 Osage St. Monday. But what's going to happen to the school's historic campus on Welton Street? Westword

Parent rights

Denver parents are demanding to be part of the principal hiring process at Cheltenham Elementary School. Colorado Independent

Healthy schools

All Pueblo City Schools students, regardless of family income, will be able to eat breakfast and lunch for free this year as part of a federal universal food program. Pueblo Chieftain

Crime & Punishment

A former Denver Public Schools administrator who took the No. 2 spot at New Mexico’s biggest school district is facing felony charges in not one, but two separate criminal cases in Colorado. Albuquerque Journal

Election 2015

The Boulder Valley school board on Tuesday will consider asking voters to exempt the district from a 2005 state law that limits local governments and school districts from offering internet services. Daily Camera

Denny McCloskey, a Realtor with Middleton Realty Group Inc., recently announced that he is running for a seat on the Boulder Valley School Board. Daily Camera

Boulder lawyer Kathy Gebhardt, director of Children's Voices, recently announced that she is running for a seat on the Boulder Valley school board. Daily Camera

Back to cool

The Roaring Fork School District is welcoming three new principals this school year. Post-Independent

A Mesa County charter school is starting the school year with a new building of its own. Grand Junction Sentinel

Equity and integration are among the five issues to watch this school in Denver. Chalkbeat

Gifted & Talented

The U.S. if failing its brightest students, according to new research. NPR via KUNC

Categories: Urban School News

Five issues to watch as Denver Public Schools students return to the classroom

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 19:06

Denver Public Schools understandably gets more attention than any other school district in the state.

It’s Colorado’s biggest school district and a nationally recognized petri dish for reform. As a skyline of construction cranes stand testament to the city’s booming growth, DPS continues to grapple with the ever-present challenges of educating students on the margins of society.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg just re-upped for another two years leading the country’s fastest growing large urban school district — and he has a largely supportive board behind him. Although some schools got a head start, most of DPS’s roughly 90,000 students said goodbye to summer Monday.

Here are five issues to watch in DPS this school year:

Equity and integration

Equity is an omnipresent DPS buzzword, and providing a great education for all lurks at the heart of many a district initiative. Closing achievement gaps between students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities and their peers is a priority of the district’s Denver Plan 2020, its strategic planning document.

To that end, the district incorporated equity into its School Performance Framework, its color-coded guide to how schools are doing.

An open question is how integration of schools fits into this vision.

DPS has promoted shared enrollment zones — in which traditional neighborhood boundaries dissolve and residents in a larger geographic area pick from a variety of schools but may not get their first choice — as a tool for promoting school choice and integration. Will that eventually help lead to more integrated schools? Or when given a choice, will families opt for schools that will keep races largely separate?

School segregation has received national media attention in recent months, and the spotlight will fall on Denver this year with the 20th anniversary of the end of school busing.


Three of the seven school board seats are in play in November. This may seem like somewhat of a snoozer, since the outcome will not swing the pendulum away from board support (for the most part) of the district’s direction. But it could result in an even more united front — and 7-0 votes.

Boasberg on the record
We asked DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg what his list would look like. His answers:

  • An emphasis on classrooms being “joyful, rigorous and personalized” and giving teachers the training, coaching and feedback to realize that.
  • The expansion of DPS’s teacher leadership program, which created a hybrid role in which teacher-leaders teach some classes while taking on additional responsibilities.
  • Expansion of career and technical education programs at several high schools.
  • The district’s offer to give school leaders more flexibility and autonomy.
  • Developing stronger school leadership pipelines and preparation.

There’s a compelling argument for the value of voices that push back. But a united board can be hard-nosed, too, and some insiders say the current majority has asked harder questions of Boasberg than the previous one from a more closely divided era.

The most hard-fought race is shaping up to be in northwest Denver’s District 5, where lone consistent dissenting voice Arturo Jimenez is leaving because of term limits.

Will candidate Michael Kiley assume that mantle by tapping into the same anti-establishment feeling that carried Rafael Espinoza to a Denver City Council seat in the same neighborhood? Kiley faces Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation who would mesh well with the current majority.

In southeast Denver’s District 1, Anne Rowe has the advantage of incumbency. She faces upstart Kristi Butkovich, who has criticized “privatization” of education. Records show another potential wild card in District 1, Mike Zink, took out petitions on Aug. 17 but has yet to turn them in. (UPDATE: Zink, a self-described conservative with Tea Party leanings, said Monday he has decided not to run, citing a lack of time and money).

Board chair Happy Haynes so far lacks an opponent for her at-large seat.

Greater autonomy — if schools want it

In a major shift, DPS offered principals the chance to opt their schools out of centrally approved curriculum, teacher training and assessments this school year and go their own way. About one-fifth of principals seized the opportunity.

A more decentralized district is a significant turning point for a district with a historically strong central administration.

What will this end up looking like? What kind of choices will principals make, and why? How many will take the option next year, with more time to plan?

“I think principals have tremendously welcomed it,” Boasberg said in an interview last week. “I think we’re early in the process. The biggest concern we heard from principals last year was, ‘I wish I would have known this earlier.’ Now they do know it, they have multiple months to plan out as they think about their own budgets and their scheduling and their own processes.”

Manual High

What’s next for Manual, the proud but long-troubled high school in near northeast Denver at the heart of the city’s African-American community?

The school has been the focus of one failed reform effort after another, and most recently has suffered from a decline in academic performance and a staff exodus.

The man charged with turning things around this time is principal Nick Dawkins, who is banking on a new career and technical education program bankrolled by Kaiser Permanente as a catalyst.

The Manual community has another major issue on the plate this fall — a new middle school to be co-located on the campus. The hope is to bring a much-needed additional quality middle school to the area and steer more area kids to Manual.

Three schools are seeking to fill that role — a spinoff of McAuliffe International School in Park Hill, Denver Dual Language Academy and Denver School of History Speech and Debate.

New schools — and where to put them

The district faces several other decisions about new schools, including in southwest Denver and seeing through a major expansion of the homegrown charter school juggernaut that is DSST.

In June, the DPS board approved a plan to add eight new schools to the network, in addition to nine existing schools and five previously approved. Four of the schools — two middle schools and two high schools — will focus on the humanities, a break from the DSST model. The district will decide on a location for a new DSST middle school this fall.

One subplot to watch — the charter network’s growth comes as the district faces increasing pressure in gentrifying northwest and northeast Denver for stronger traditional neighborhood schools. If space becomes a premium, will those visions be at odds?

In southwest Denver, where choice and transportation continue to be vexing issues, DPS will choose from both charter- and district-run options for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and a new middle school to share a campus with Abraham Lincoln High School.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Poll highlights Common Core concerns

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 09:48
Survey says

A new national poll shows that the majority of respondents oppose teachers using the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach. EdSource, EdWeek

Funding squeeze

Education leaders are calling for change in the state’s school finance system as districts struggle to recover from past cuts and as funding disparities increase. Denver Post

Cheltenham controversy

An interim principal has been hired at Denver’s Cheltenham Elementary after the principal's resignation. C.J. Grace, a principal and principal trainer, takes over at the school Monday. Denver Post, 9News, Chalkbeat Colorado

Settling in

Deirdre Pilch, new superintendent of the Greeley-Evans schools, is working to adjust to differences and instill positive attitudes. Greeley Tribune

Academic experiments

The Thompson School District is kicking off the new year with dual-language immersion programs in kindergarten classrooms at two schools. Reporter-Herald

Jeffco’s experiment in combining middle and high school in one part of the district kicked off with this school year. 9News

Intellectual property

A dispute between the Greeley-Evans schools and a Northridge High School art teacher over ownership of the school’s logo has resulted in removal of the logo and a $21,500 check for teacher Dean Dickson. Greeley Tribune

Career prep

With a $450,000 state grant, the Unlimited Learning program in the Cortez schools is working to develop hands-on and industry-focused science, technology and math curriculum to help students prepare for careers. Cortez Journal

Tell us why

With high teacher turnover and large numbers of students leaving the district each year, some parents and teachers are asking why Moffat County School District does not do formal exit interviews with departing teachers and students. Craig Daily Press

Election season

Small business owner Inge Burbank said she's concerned about how the performance of the Pueblo City Schools will affect future business in the city, and that has led her to seek a seat on the school board. Chieftain


A group of high-ranking military brass held a Colorado Springs news conference last week to warn parents and politicians that most kids in the Pikes Peak region are too fat, frail or stupid to fight for their country. Gazette

School safety

Dougco leaders say student safety is a top priority, and the district has taken steps to improve security. Douglas County News-Press

A sophomore at Thornton High School brought a handgun to school last week but was picked up by police without incident. 9News


The former Lincoln Elementary School in Colorado Springs is on its way to becoming a new brewery. The Colorado Springs Planning Commission has approved plans for the Lincoln Brewery project. KOAA 5

Cost of college

Colorado students who have had difficulty affording college in the past may get some relief after the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative board adopted new rules relating to the state's ability to match scholarship funds. Denver Business Journal

Students preparing for college need to think realistically about affordability and value, writes a Denver high school senior. Denver Post

Jeffco Interrupted

Members of the Jefferson County Education Association began voting Friday on a proposed new contract with the district. Online voting continues through Wednesday evening. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

If the Denver City Council on Monday votes to place a tax-funded college scholarship plan on the November ballot, then voters should reject this well-meaning but misguided proposal, recommends The Denver Post editorial board. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: GOP presidential candidates on school choice, Common Core and teachers lounges

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 22:43
  • Here’s a video recap of the discussion at the New Hampshire education summit for GOP presidential candidates hosted by Campbell Brown. (The 74 Million)
  • The candidates talked a lot about school choice but said very little about issues of race, class and poverty. (Slate)
  • New research suggests that, even when they’re well-intentioned, “colorblind” social norms hurt black and Latino kids because race is salient to their identities. (Science of Us)
  • And another new study suggests that non-black teachers have lower expectations for their black students to succeed, which is a problem since teacher expectations can be self-fulfilling prophecies. (Vox)
  • In some school districts and reservations, officials are becoming increasingly convinced that hiring more American Indian teachers will help their struggling students succeed. (Slate)
  • The pressing questions that face Nashville and especially its schools in 2015 are very similar to the ones the city faced in 1971. (Nashville Scene)
  • A Teach for America alum calls the organization’s approach a “bait and switch,” arguing the approach capitalizes on young teachers’ idealism and then tells them they are making excuses when they struggle. (Alternet)
  • Dale Russakoff’s forthcoming must-read book “The Prize,” about the rise and fall of reform efforts in Newark, got a rave review from Alex Kotlowitz. (New York Times)
  • For the first time, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is advising educators to start middle and high schools later in the mornings because of research showing the time switch’s benefits. (The Atlantic)
  • But as the story of a time shift proposal in Denver shows, moving start times back is a policy easier said than done. (Chalkbeat Colorado)
  • Here’s maybe the only time Diane Ravitch will give Michelle Rhee a professional recommendation. (Twitter)
Categories: Urban School News

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