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Updated: 42 min 22 sec ago

School finance lawsuit arguments focus on meaning of “base” funding

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 16:56

Plaintiffs in Colorado’s latest school finance lawsuit have fired back at Attorney General John Suthers, arguing that his motion to dismiss their lawsuit is wrong and that the state’s “efforts to avoid judicial inquiry into their devastating interpretation of Amendment 23 should be rejected.”

A group of parents, school districts and advocacy groups filed suit in late June, arguing that the “negative factor” used by the legislature to set the amount of annual K-12 funding is a violation of Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that requires annual increases in school funding. (See story on lawsuit.)

In a brief filed in August, Attorney General John Suthers asked that the suit be dismissed, arguing that A23 clearly applies only to “base” K-12 funding, not to the additional funds districts receive to compensate for their size, number of at-risk students and other factors.

The funding shortfall created by the negative factor, used since 2010, is just under $1 billion. Suthers also argued that the plaintiffs don’t have proper legal standing to file the suit. (See story on the state’s motion.)

The plaintiffs’ answer, filed Monday in Denver District Court, argues that use of the negative factor “cuts statewide base per pupil funding” by any definition of that term and that “Defendants’ interpretation of Amendment 23 contradicts both the text of the amendment and the overwhelming evidence of voter intent. Plaintiffs have alleged and will show that Amendment 23’s requirement of annual increases in ‘statewide base per pupil funding’ was intended to prevent the legislature from doing exactly what it has done via the negative factor: slashing per pupil funding across the state.”

The state’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs’ answer are standard opening gambits in lawsuits of this kind. Even if a district judge grants the state’s motion, that won’t be the end of the suit as the plaintiffs would appeal that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The suit, Dwyer v. State, asks that the negative factor section be stricken from the state’s school funding law and that the legislature be barred from reinstating the factor in another form. The suit does not ask that lost funding be restored.

The plaintiffs’ answer brief is below. See the original lawsuit here, and the read the attorney general’s motion here.

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Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teacher on why her colleagues called in sick: “it’s about the disrespect”

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 14:51

After so many teachers called in sick or took a personal day that classes at four Jefferson County high schools had to be canceled, observers are split on whether those teachers are heroes or harming children.

Some parents have told Chalkbeat they support the teachers, even if it means their students have to stay home for a day.

Critics, including The Denver Post’s editorial board, say the teachers’ “antics” are “indefensible both ethically and professionally.”

Many of those critics point out the district’s new teacher compensation package — which links compensation to raises and bonuses to evaluations and has been the focal point of the teacher sick-outs —provides most teachers with raises.

But Tammie Peters, a Golden High School teacher, says it’s about more than money. In a statement she emailed to Chalkbeat, Peters  — who did not actively participate in the sick-out due to a prior commitment — explains why 81 percent of teachers at her school might have chosen to participate:

I stand with my fellow teachers who are “sick” of the board majority’s actions.

While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want.

The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters, the taxpayers, the teachers, the parents and the students of Jefferson County.

Some of you may have heard that teachers received a pay raise, so you might wonder why we are so upset.

It’s not about the money — it’s about the disrespect.

The board majority has refused to work with teachers to develop a fair and equitable pay system.

The board majority blames teachers for the student unrest, as though teenagers can be intellectually herded like sheep, and they have shown great disrespect for the voices of our advanced placement students who are concerned about their educations.

The board majority has continually wasted money of the taxpayers and rejected the input of Jeffco citizens in the budgeting process.

The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters of Jeffco who approved a recent mill levy override under certain conditions — the board majority has decided not to honor the promises made.

It’s not about the money.

Many of those Golden teachers today are taking a day without pay to make a point. It’s not about money — teachers willingly took pay decreases and pay freezes for the past five years to help Jeffco weather the rough economy.

Our frustration is with the way the Board has implemented policies without any sort of collaboration, all the while treating teachers and their professional association as some sort of enemy.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: What exactly is “count day”?

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 08:44

The drama continues

Teachers shut down two Jeffco high schools yesterday by calling in sick or taking a personal day. ( Westword, AP via Times-Call, Westminster Window, Reuters, CBS )

District officials are warning of disciplinary actions for teachers who closed down the two Jeffco high schools. Meanwhile, the union continues to deny involvement in organizing the protests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said principals would sit down with teachers to verify the reasons behind their absence or face docked pay. ( Denver Post )

Teachers said they did not take the decision to do a "sick-out" lightly, while the district's superintendent worried about the impact on students. ( CPR )

Candidates in the race for governor weighed in on the hubbub. Both cautioned students and teachers on the impacts. ( 9News )

Historical perspective

Controversial changes have rocked Colorado Springs D-11 over the past several years, much like Jeffco. So why did students and teachers not protest then? ( Gazette )

Count off!

Jeffco students threatened to protest on Wednesday on the state's official "count day." What exactly is count day? And what happens for schools if students are absent? ( Coloradoan, The Denver Channel )

Pueblo-area school districts are predicting higher enrollment than originally thought for tomorrow's count day. ( Chieftain )

Election season

Colorado's school boards group opposed two education ballot measures. One would expand and tax gambling for schools. The other would require open negotiations between boards and unions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Gaming the system

Douglas County officials and community members are working on a curriculum that would use popular video game Minecraft to teach students. ( Douglas County News-Press )

School safety

A school bus caught on fire on the way to a football game over the weekend. Everyone on board evacuated in time. ( Journal Advocate )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco superintendent vows “appropriate action” after second sickout closes two high schools

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 19:34

GOLDEN — Teachers who prompted two Jefferson County high schools to close today by taking either sick or personal days may face disciplinary actions, the district’s superintendent said this afternoon.

Teachers at Jefferson and Golden high schools will be required to meet with building principals to either provide proof of their illness or prove they followed the guidelines to request personal time off laid out in a collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teachers union.

If teachers are unable to provide proof or requested time off too late, Superintendent Dan McMinimee said, they could lose a day’s pay.

In less than a dozen days, Jeffco Public Schools has gone from the quintessential suburban school system to a district in crisis mode. Along with shuttering schools due to teacher absences, Jeffco officials have had to respond to student-organized protests over a proposed curriculum committee critics believe will lead to censorship.

Now, Jeffco’s controversial leader, hired just months ago on a split vote by the board of education, is walking a tight rope between the conservative board majority bent on upending the status quo and a vocal community of teachers and parents demanding to be heard.

“I’m really disappointed,” McMinimee said. “We don’t need to be in this place … We’re all adults.”

In an effort to curb anxiety over a proposed review committee critics believe could lead to censoring parts of U.S. history, McMinimee also told reporters today he plans to recommend board members work within current policies that guide curriculum challenges at an Oct. 2 meeting.

Today’s apparent teacher sick-out is the second time in two weeks Jefferson County teachers actions have led to the district closing entire buildings. At Golden High, 81 percent of teachers called in. At Jefferson High, 75 percent of teachers called in. Previously, about 30 percent of the teaching staff at Conifer and Standley Lake high schools orchestrated the first sick-out Sept. 19.

The Jefferson County Education Association today once again denied any role in the mass teacher absences.

“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration our teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their school board majority are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” said John Ford, president of the union, in a statement.

Tension between the board majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — and vocal teachers and parents has been high almost from the moment the three conservatives were elected in November. But a series of recent decisions have only increased the criticism and fear among some portions of the community.

The sick-outs are an attempt by the teachers to raise public awareness across the county about those fears. While teachers are concerned about the direction the district’s board majority is taking them, the mass absences are perhaps most directly linked to the adoption of a new pay-for-performance compensation plan for teachers.

The new compensation plan, which is expected to go into effect in November, links teacher raises and bonuses to evaluations. Previously, teachers saw an increase in pay based on time served and their own education level. Under the new model, nearly every teacher will see a raise.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia A Jeffco Public Schools employee arrived at Jefferson High School Monday morning to learn classes had been canceled. Too many teachers requested substitutes Monday at Jefferson and Golden high and school was canceled.

But teachers have two primary concerns. First, the model will rely almost exclusively on a teacher evaluation system a third party fact finder found unreliable. Second, because the new compensation model was proposed by Jeffco board chairman Ken Witt without input from educators, teachers are frustrated and worried their pay could change all over again in a year.

“Given the consistent academic success of Jefferson County Schools, a merit based compensation program is greatly to the advantage of the overwhelming majority of Jeffco teachers,” teachers from Conifer High wrote in a statement after their sick-out. “Merit based pay is not the issue. This issue is the use of an arbitrary, nontransparent evaluation system that vests absolute authority in administrators to determine all levels of teacher effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, the sick-outs have provided plenty of grist for critics of teachers unions, who believe the actions are informal strikes.

Legal experts who spoke to Chalkbeat about the sick-outs today said if the district were to pursue legal action, the burden would likely be on Jeffco officials to prove an explicit link between the teachers calling in sick and the union.

“Some courts have seen through that,” said Dick Mandelson, a labor attorney with the Baker-Hostetler law firm. “But it’s a fine line.” 

McMinimee declined to call the sick-outs illegal, and said the district is not considering legal action against individual teachers or the union.

The sick-outs also bookmark a week’s worth of student-led protests over a proposed curriculum review committee that made national headlines. Over the course of the last week, students from each Jefferson County high school took to the streets to rally against a proposed curriculum review and stand in solitary with their teachers.

Those protests continued today when about 50 students at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, just west of Denver, also demonstrated.

“We have a right to our education,” said Laura Solis, a Jefferson student. “For them to not want us to know the full story of our history — that’s wrong.”

The curriculum review committee, if established as proposed by board majority member Julie Williams, would go to work first on an advanced history class conservatives believe is revisionist and unpatriotic.

Despite mounting public pressure in the streets and a trending backlash on social media, board members who support the idea to establish a community committee to review curriculum at their pleasure don’t appear to be backing down.

But McMinimee told reporters today he’ll suggest the board work within the district’s existing policies to vet their concerns.

“There are already vehicles [to address concerns],” McMinimee said.

There are currently more than 20 policies governing curriculum in the district, including one to directly challenge classroom materials.

McMinimee said after listening to students throughout the district, he’s prepared to recommend to the board they expand those committees on a case-by-case basis and include students and community members.

Today’s developments in the ongoing turmoil in Jeffco clearly frustrated McMinimee.

“Everybody owns responsibility for where we are now,” he said, urging all parties to make better decisions for students.

Correction: The caption on the accompanying photo has been corrected to reflect the woman photographed is an employee of Jeffco Public Schools, not an administrator. 

Categories: Urban School News

School boards group opposes two education ballot measures; defeats anti-PARCC resolution

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 17:27

Members of the Colorado Association of School Boards have voted to formally oppose Amendment 68 and Proposition 104, the two education-related measures on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The CASB delegate assembly, which met Saturday in Pueblo, approved resolutions opposing both measures by wide margins, according to Jane Urschel, CASB deputy executive director.

The assembly defeated another proposed resolution that would have called on state elected officials to withdraw from PARCC, the multi-state group that has produced the online language arts and math tests that all Colorado students will take next spring.

Urschel said the delegates were opposed to A68 because it sends “an unfortunate message” about funding schools with unpredictable revenues. The amendment would allow opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park race track, with part of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil distribution to school districts. Proponents claim it would raise more than $100 million a year for schools.

Proposition 104 would require that all school district contract negotiations be open to the public, as well as school board strategy discussions. Urschel said delegates opposed that measure “because they feel that’s an issue that should be decided locally.”

Members of the Colorado Association of School Executives voted earlier this month to remain neutral on A68 but to oppose Proposition 104 (see story).

While both groups take positions on ballot measures, and CASE endorses legislative candidates, neither group makes campaign contributions to candidates or committees.

Every school board that belongs to CASB is entitled to send one member to the delegate assembly. Urschel said 81 delegates attended Saturday’s event.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Looking forward (and back) at Jeffco controversies

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 09:58

BREAKING NEWS

Classes at Jefferson and Golden high schools were canceled this morning due to an apparent sick out by teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interupted

After a week-long districtwide protest over a proposed curriculum committee, It's unclear where the Jefferson County community heads from here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

However, the organization behind the advanced history course in question said Jeffco may lose its ability to offer the course for college credit if substantial changes are made. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, KDVR )

Jefferson county students disputed the claims made by some board members that their teachers persuaded them to walkout. ( CPR )

Echoing earlier reports, teachers tell the Denver Post not much has actually changed despite the new Advanced Placement Framework. ( Denver Post )

Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican challenger Congressman Bob Beauprez weighed in on the mounting tension in Jeffco. Hickenlooper said he hopes the history curriculum covers a variety of topics. Beauprez said if the residents don't like what the school board is doing, they can let them know that at the polls. ( Durango Herald )

Meanwhile, a member of the Jeffco school board member defends the actions of the majority. ( Denver Post )

ICYMI: Here's the long (Denver Post) and short (Chalkbeat) of how Jeffco became a suburb divided. ( Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado )

"Testing madness"

Superintendents from Douglas, Jefferson, and Eagle County opine there are too many tests that don't provide enough good information to schools. ( Denver Post )

back to school

School at a Colorado youth detention center begins today, more than a month later than usual. But things haven't been on track at the state-run center for a while. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

School improvement

Denver Public Schools needs to replicate the success at McMeen Elementary School, the Denver Post editorial board said. ( Denver Post )

Exit ticket

In a letter to parents, a Denver principal said she's leaving at the end of the year due to low test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

"There's a lot of work needed to be done," said Pueblo City Schools' superintendent pitching her new strategic plan to The Pueblo Chieftain. ( Chieftain )

"Friday Flu"

Local school districts regularly see an uptick in requests for substitutes on Fridays. The increase is putting pressure on an already shallow substitute pool. ( CBS4 )

Teaching and learning

For a third year, Boulder Valley fourth graders got a lesson in agriculture last week. ( Daily Camera )

With the help of technology, Lego toys are teaching Palmer Lake Elementary students reading, writing, computer and teamwork skills. ( Gazette )

Cassidy Montoya, the Fort Collins teacher of the year, said education is a team sport. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

This fall, about 2,000 St. Vrain students in 12 schools are learning Mandarin. It's one of the largest Chinese programs in the state. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco cancels classes at Golden, Jefferson high schools due to teacher absences

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 08:01

Classes at Golden and Jefferson high schools are canceled today because of a large portion of teachers called in either claiming to be sick or using a personal day.

At Golden, Jeffco officials said, 81 percent of teachers requested a substitute. It was not clear how many teachers requested a substitute at Jefferson.

It’s the second time this month that Jeffco Public Schools is canceling class due to a high number of teacher absences.

It’s unclear why the teachers are calling out en masse. But tension between the suburban community’s teachers and school board has been rising for months. It reached a symbolic boiling point earlier when the Jefferson County Education Association voted no confidence in board chair Ken Witt. The union denied having any role in the earlier sick out.

The apparent Golden sick out follows a week of protests organized by students. Students are upset about a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship. No action has been taken by the school board on the committee.

Previously, classes at Standley Lake and Conifer were canceled Sept. 19, when about a third of teachers at those schools missed classes.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Valverde principal to depart at the end of the year, citing test scores

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 20:36

The principal of a southwest Denver elementary announced plans to resign at the end of the school year, due to a drop in the school’s scores on statewide tests.

Franziska Zenhaeusern informed her staff Friday that this year would be her last as principal of Valverde Elementary School. She cited the school’s stagnating proficiency scores and low growth on this year’s test scores, released in August.

Explore Chalkbeat’s database of this year’s TCAP results.

This year, the school saw small gains in both reading and math and a seven percentage point jump in writing. Still, the school’s growth scores were below the district average, by double digits in several subjects.

In her letter, Zenhaeursern said, “our students’ growth compared to similar schools in the district has been very low.”

She also cited ten years of stagnating reading scores at the school. Roughly 29 percent of students scored proficient or advanced this year. In her letter, Zenhaeursern said that 60% of 3rd through 5th graders read below grade level. She called this fact “unacceptable.”

“As a leader, I take responsibility for these disappointing results and have decided to resign by the end of this school year,” she said.

Zenhaeusern plans to finish out the year, which would be her fourth year as principal at the school. On average, principals in traditional Denver Public Schools stayed for 3.4 years.

She plans to meet with parents and community members on Monday at 3 p.m. at the school to discuss her decision and what is next for the school.

Read her full resignation letter here:

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Categories: Urban School News

After week of protests, an uncertain path forward for Jeffco schools

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 19:14

LITTLETON — After a week-long student-organized protest against a proposed curriculum review panel that some fear could lead to censorship, it appears both sides of a fractured Jefferson County Public Schools community are digging in their heels.

In interviews and statements to the media, members of the school district’s majority appear resolute in their pursuit of a commission to study an advanced history course’s curriculum and other texts as they see necessary to ensure coursework is balanced.

Meanwhile, parents and teachers critical of the board are preparing to step up their ground game by establishing a countywide network in order to quickly mobilize parents if they believe the board steps out of line.

Given the battle lines drawn, it’s becoming more uncertain how the two sides of the fractured community can find their way back to one another.

“There’s just so much,” said Jeffco Public Schools parent and teacher Allison Olis, referring to the growing list of controversies that have fractured the school system.

Olis was one of about two dozen parents and teachers who gathered early Friday morning to wave protest signs at a busy intersection in the suburban Denver commuinty. Another, larger protest is scheduled for next week.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco Interrupted 

Tina Gurdikian, a vocal parent activist who also joined the morning gathering, said the rash of student protests — and rumors of more — should be enough to get the board majority to listen to the community.

“We’re doing our part,” she said. “Now they need to do theirs: listen.”

The board will have that chance at its Oct. 2 meeting, the first since the controversy around the proposed review committee made national headlines. Students who participated throughout the week’s protest pledged to take their concerns to Golden, where the board meets.

An agenda published for the meeting late Friday afternoon did not include the proposal. However, the board can add a discussion item to the agenda up to 24 hours before they meet.

The stakes for the school district might even be higher next week, according to 9News. The station reported that students are considering a districtwide walkout on Oct. 1, the state’s official “count day” that establishes funding for school districts. If students skip school en masse Wednesday, that would cause a logistical nightmare for Jeffco Public Schools, the second largest school system in the state.

In order to secure funding for students not present on Oct. 1, schools must provide additional evidence to the state to prove just how many students are enrolled in its schools.

Students who helped organize walkouts at Chatfield, Lakewood and Pomona high schools said they haven’t heard of such plans yet. But the Chatfield principal took to social media to plead with her students not to miss class.

“If we have an inaccurate October count, we will end up being shorted on money that supports all facets of the school and school district, including possible class offerings and teacher staffing and salaries, two of the issues that many students have said they are fighting for,” Principal Wendy Rubin wrote on the school’s Facebook page. 

Board chairman Ken Witt said in a statement to Chalkbeat that he hopes the students who took to the street realize that curriculum review is just part of the job for a school board.

“To ensure that the board fulfills that charge, it has been proposed that the board establish a curriculum review committee to provide input from parents and the community, in addition to many other inputs, including the school district,” Witt said. “My goal is to ensure we have balanced and thorough curriculum.”

In interviews with other media outlets, Witt has laid blame on the student walkouts at the feet of the county’s teachers union.

“I have had students tell me so, directly,” Witt told Chalkbeat when asked for evidence to support his claim the union fostered the student protests. 

But dozens of students who spoke with Chalkbeat throughout the week of protests expressed frustration that their teachers in fact aren’t talking about the growing tension.

The Jefferson County Education Association has strongly pushed back against Witt’s claim it had anything to do with the protests or an apparent “sick-out” that forced Jeffco officials to close two high schools last week.

“It’s defamation of character, as far as I’m concerned,” Gurdikian said. “Give our kids some credit.”

Gurdikian said she and other parents critical of the board majority are working toward establishing a network of parents throughout the county — at least one family from every school.

“Seventy percent of Jeffco isn’t connected to the school district,” Gurdikian said, referring to those who either don’t work for or send their children to the system’s schools. “We have to reach them. This majority was elected by the people who didn’t vote last year.”

In the off-year election, about 130,000 people, or 31 percent, voted in the last year’s school board race. Williams won by the widest margin, with 61 percent of the vote. Witt earned 58 percent of the vote and Newkirk beat his opponent with 54 percent.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of reform-minded Jeffco Students First and general supporter of the board majority, pointed out those who did vote are getting what they asked for.

“We ran on giving every effective teacher a raise,” she said. “And that’s what the board majority is doing.”

Nearly 100 percent of Jeffco teachers are expected to see a raise this year after the board approved a new teacher compensation model earlier this month. The proposal came at the same meeting that the board’s majority rejected recommendations from a third party on how to settle ongoing negotiations with the teachers union.

While some teachers are concerned about linking raises to evaluations, which the third party found to be unreliable, a louder concern was the lack of collaboration between the board and the Jefferson County Education Association.

And Atwell acknowledged the criticism that chairman Witt’s sometimes-bullish behavior at meetings doesn’t provide a welcoming atmosphere.

“I want [the board majority] to succeed,” Atwell said. “So, it’s frustrating. I do wish Ken had a more conciliatory style. That would be nice.”

Categories: Urban School News

College Board: Jeffco could be dropped from AP U.S. history program if district alters curriculum

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 17:44

The College Board, the company that administers the Advanced Placement history course that has recently become the center of a firestorm in Jefferson County, threw its support on Friday afternoon behind the hundreds of Jeffco high school students who walked out of class this week to protest a proposed curriculum review committee.

“These students recognize that the social order can – and sometimes must – be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice,” the organization said in a statement. “Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history – from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.”

The proposed committee, first proposed by Jeffco board member Julie Williams last week, would review courses offered in the district — beginning with the AP U.S. history class – to make sure that materials do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and that curriculum “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” Since then, hundreds of students in the suburban Denver district have protested, arguing that such criteria for board oversight of coursework would effectively white-wash history and censor their instructors.

In its statement, the College Board warned of additional possible consequences if Jeffco’s board proceeds with its review committee: if the board moves to alter the coursework in any way, the district could risk losing the AP designation — a common marker for colleges to understand that students have taken higher-level coursework — for the class.

In interviews, Jeffco board president Ken Witt has said that he believes the board’s job is to monitor curriculum and would be willing to eliminate the disputed course if the board found it to be inappropriate for the district.

The College Board’s complete statement is below:

A Statement on Censorship of AP® U.S. History

26 September 2014

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colorado to protest a school board member’s request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course. The board member claims that some historical content in the course “encouraged or condoned civil disorder, social strife, or disregard for the law.”

These students recognize that the social order can – and sometimes must – be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice. Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history – from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.

The College Board will always listen to principled concerns based on evidence – and in fact has announced a public-review process for the AP U.S. History course framework. But in light of current events, an important policy reminder is in order:

College faculty and AP teachers collaborate to develop, deliver, and evaluate AP courses and exams. Their partnership ensures that these courses align with the content and rigor of college-level learning, while still providing teachers with the flexibility to examine topics of local interest in greater depth.

To offer a course labeled “AP” or “Advanced Placement,” a school must agree to meet the expectations set for such courses by the more than 3,300 colleges and universities across the globe that use AP Exam scores for credit, placement, or consideration in the admission process.

As vital context for the courageous voices of the students in Colorado, the AP community, our member institutions and the American people can rest assured: If a school or district censors essential concepts from an Advanced Placement course, that course can no longer bear the “AP” designation.  

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reading: Can we reinvent school accountability?

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 13:05
  • Ignore the politics. The Common Core will “live or die” by how well it works in classrooms. (Vox)
  • Why should preschoolers get suspended? One teacher explains. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • Providence, R.I. teachers rejected a tentative contract that allowed for layoffs and altered the pay structure. (Teacher Beat)
  • A teacher wonders whether her well-intentioned advice on reading has hurt her students. (Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension)
  • Education and medicine used to be quite similar and they could become that way again. (The Atlantic)
  • We need to rethink how we hold schools accountable, three columnists argue. (Flypaper)
  • Philadelphia will borrow $30 million to fund its schools, on top of $27 million borrowed earlier this year. (The Notebook)
  • A Colorado teacher is refusing to administer the state’s Common Core-aligned test. (Answer Sheet)
  • A teacher reflects on what it takes to get students to learn — and giving them their hardest quiz of the year. (The Jose Vilson)
  • African-American girls face an long list of barriers to succeeding in school. (Huffington Post)
  • A collection of tweets on the student protests against the board’s actions in Jefferson County. (Buzzfeed)
  • In Mississippi, some Teacher for America alums are sticking around to make the changes they felt they couldn’t as teachers. (Hechinger Report)
  • Are the central complaints about Teach For America coming from critics of school reform outdated? (Salon)
  • Book author Dana Goldstein on why Arne Duncan’s comments on testing are “staggering.” (The Daily Beast)
  • An attempt to turn around low-performing Detroit schools run afoul of education technology and a lack of transparency. (Metro Times)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Board member at center of Jeffco hubbub speaks out

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 10:05

Students in the streets

Jeffco students walked out for the fourth day in a row at Lakewood High School. ( Westminster Window, AP via Aurora Sentinel )

But they took a different form that previous protests, as many students opted to return to class afterwards. That came out of debate among students about the best way to signal their concerns without disrupting their learning. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Students are threatening to up the ante by walking out on Oct. 1, or "count day," when the state counts the number of students present in order to determine funding allocation. ( 9News )

From the center of the storm

Julie Williams, the board member whose proposal sparked the controversy, has largely remained out of view. But she broke her silence yesterday to say her intent was never to "censor" curriculum or students. ( KDVR, 9News )

The board president Ken Witt also spoke out, saying the students were being used as "pawns" and blaming the teacher for the protests. ( Gazette )

A columnist says you won't get far in America by telling people to respect authority. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco fun and games

The hashtag #Jeffcoschoolboardhistory remains an object of fascination as folks tweet mock history lessons in response to William's proposal. ( Westword )

Take a quiz to see the difference between the old AP U.S. exam and the current one, which is at the center of the controversy. ( CPR )

Caught in a bind

For working parents, Colorado's high quality childcare options are expensive and limited. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School safety

A fire broke out at Denver's Godsman Elementary Friday morning. ( 9News )

Separate incidents involving a BB gun and pepper spray disrupted two Colorado Springs schools. ( Gazette )

turnaround

A Harrison elementary school climbed from the state's lowest ranking last year to its highest this year. ( Gazette )

Healthy schools (employees)

St. Vrain schools are creating ways for employees to learn about wellness during the workday. ( Times-Call )

Time for teachers

Giving teachers the time for lesson planning topped the list of priorities for Montrose School District, during a meeting of educators, board members and education observers. ( The Watch Media )

Categories: Urban School News

Shortage of options for working parents seeking quality child care

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 17:29

Even if working parents want to send their children to a licensed child care provider, many don’t have that choice, finds a new report from the non-profit Qualistar Colorado. That’s because there’s only enough capacity among licensed providers in Colorado to handle 23 percent of the state’s children aged zero to five.

The shortage of licensed providers is particularly acute in some rural counties, according to the annual Qualistar Colorado Signature Report released today. For example, licensed facilities, which can include both child care centers and home-based providers,have capacity for less than 10 percent of children under six in Jackson, Kiowa, Rio Blanco, Custer, Moffat, Park, Conejos and Morgan counties. While some parents may be able to find relatives, friends or other unlicensed providers to care for the young children, licensing guarantees that a basic level of health and safety measures are in place.

The child care outlook is worse for babies and toddlers under two. There is only enough licensed capacity to provide care for 18 percent of them statewide. The report goes on to say that some counties are experiencing an “infant care crisis,” with increasing numbers of providers choosing not to care for babies even though they are licensed to do so.

The news is not all bleak, though. Some communities are getting help from a 2013 state law that created and funded the “Infant and Toddler Quality and Availability Grant” program. Eleven early childhood councils around the state are getting money this year to add slots for babies or improve facilities for that age group.

In addition to the 2014 Signature Report, Qualistar has recently published two special reports on the cost of child care in Colorado. The first, released in June, examined child care prices and affordability. The second, released in August, looked at the cost of doing business in the child care field. The final brief in the three-part series is set to be published in late 2014 and will look at recommendations to improve child care affordability.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco countywide protests continue; Lakewood Tigers roar against curriculum review

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 13:36

LAKEWOOD — As expected, hundreds of high school students left their homeroom this morning to join a week’s long protest against a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship.

But unlike the other protests that have unfolded across the sprawling suburban county, most Lakewood  students returned to class after about 20 minutes.

By 9:40 a.m., more than half of the protesters were headed back to class. Some students are expected to return to the busy street throughout day during off periods.

Student organizers at Lakewood, who took great lengths to both showcase their concerns but not interrupt classroom learning, said they were happy how their peers were behaving.

As the protests, which began last Friday, have grown, it’s become apparent that a growing number of students have used the opportunity to ditch class than familiarize themselves with the issues.

“We wanted to find a way to do without actually missing school,” Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, told Chalkbeat Wednesday. “All of us really value our educations.”

Other schools expected to protest today included Bear Creek and Columbine high schools, The Denver Post reported this morning.

Of the Jefferson County neighborhood high schools, only Jefferson High School has not led some action against the proposal. A Facebook page indicates students there will walkout Sept. 29.

If formed, the proposed panel, which came out earlier conversations among board members regarding standards and assessments, would start its work by reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course. Architects of the new framework believe teachers should spend more time teaching major arcs and themes of U.S. history and spend less time on memorization of key dates and figures. Conservative critics, like Williams, believe the course is revisionist history and portrays the nation in a negative context.

The proposal, which was first presented earlier this month, was tabled at the same Jeffco school board meeting.

Williams, in a statement earlier this week, said critics of the proposal are misinterpreting her intention.

It’s unclear when the board, which has been at odds with the Jefferson County community for nearly a year, will take up the issue again.

CPR education reporter Jenny Burdin tweeted there are currently no plans for the board to take up the issue at its Oct. 2 meeting. The same students rallying throughout the week have pledged to be at the meeting to more formally voice their concerns.

#Jeffco “at this point….no plan to have this [curriculum review resolution] discussion on 10/2 [brd meet].” #edcolo #JeffCo #Jeffcostandup

— Jenny Brundin (@CPRBrundin) September 25, 2014

While Jeffco officials confirmed the topic isn’t on the Oct. 2 agenda yet, that could change, they said.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify that it appears a growing number of students walking out of schools have used the opportunity to simply miss class than lodge participate formally in the student led protests.  

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Protests likely to continue in Jeffco Thursday

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 10:33

taking it to the streets

Jeffco students protested for a fourth day; more than 1,000 students walked out of four more high schools on Wednesday and more are likely to walk on Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR, Coloradoan )

But not all students think that walking out of class is the best way to protest the school board's proposed curriculum review committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

taking sides

The dispute over the proposed curriculum review panel is the latest example of partisan politics playing a role in public education. ( Denver Post )

And here's a Q&A reviewing all of the issues behind the students' protests. ( CPR )

it's getting nasty

The Jeffco sheriff confirmed the department is investigating threats to the children of two school board members. ( KDVR )

down with bake sales

New rules may force many schools to consider healthier options for fundraising drives. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

opting out

The Colorado Springs D-11 school board voted unanimously to seek alternatives to state testing. ( Gazette )

Banned Books

Just in time for Banned Books Week, here's a list of policies in Aurora Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools for challenging material. ( 9News )

paving the way

A technology push in Adams 12 has led the school to be recognized by a national nonprofit as a leading innovator. ( 9News )

request denied

The St. Vrain school board voted to reject Lyons' request to swap land so that Lyons could replace homes destroyed in last years' floods. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

At Lakewood High, students wrestle with whether to walk

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 23:31

LAKEWOOD — Anna Tiberi hasn’t decided whether she’ll join her classmates Thursday morning, when hundreds  of students are expected to leave their desks and head toward a nearby avenue to become the latest Jefferson County school to partake in a week’s long protest.

“I love that we’re doing something,” said the Lakewood High School senior. But, she said with a sigh, “I don’t think it’s the right thing.”

To be clear: Tiberi, like many of her classmates who are preparing to rally in the streets, is adamantly opposed to a controversial curriculum review committee, proposed by a Jefferson County school board member. Many believe Julie William’s proposal could lead to censorship; it has sparked nearly a week’s worth of student protests.

But Tiberi isn’t convinced the students’ message — essentially, “back off our classrooms” — is getting across. She’s actually concerned the walkouts may backfire.

“Just the idea behind [the panel] is so primitive and dictatorial,” she said. “But if they’re trying to stop us from being — in their words — ‘rebels,’ I think by [walking out] it furthers their cause.”

Williams’ proposal specifically requests that the yet-to-be-formed committee review an advanced history class to ensure it teaches a positive view of American history and discourages students from breaking laws.

Because some of Tiberi’s classmates share her concern, and because student leaders here have been debating for days about how best to make their opinions known, the student protest at Lakewood High might look very different from those earlier in the week.

“We wanted to find a way to voice our concerns without actually missing school,” said Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, previewing tomorrow’s plans. “All of us really value our educations.”

Since Friday, students from 13 of Jeffco Public Schools’ 17 traditional high schools have rallied in opposition to the proposed community curriculum review panel. Lakewood High, the county’s largest high school, is expected to be the 14th.

Each day’s subsequent protests have grown — from about 100 at Standley Lake High on Friday to 1,000 at Chatfield High today. The students have gotten louder and rowdier. And while student organizers have done their best to maintain the activist spirit of the walkouts, it’s becoming clear that some students are just out for a day off.

So, even though Lakewood is a school known for its grandiose school spirit, elaborate YouTube videos, and one-of-a-kind Katy Perry concerts, the student body may keep things pretty subdued tomorrow.

Instead of an early-morning mass exodus with no specific end time, students are being encouraged to rally for about 20 minutes during their homeroom at 9:20 a.m., be back for class at 9:40 a.m., and only return to the demonstration if they have a free period.

“To clarify the intent of this is not to ‘walk out’ in the sense that other schools have done,” Lakewood High organizers posted on Facebook. “We will in no way promote kids walking out of classes. This will be classier and show that we value our education.”

Organizers have also posted a detailed list of appropriate behavior and rules for tomorrow on social media.

To prepare, student leaders have met with school staff and Lakewood police department. And 650 students met with the county’s superintendent Dan McMinimee earlier in the week.

“Our students are well-informed,” said Lisa Ritchey, Lakewood High’s principal.

Lakewood students who participated in the meeting with McMinimee said they believe they have a grasp on the issues, even though there are still not a lot of answers about what’s next for the school district, which seems to be in a continuous frenzy.

Many upperclassmen at Lakewood, and throughout Jefferson County, said they’ve noticed their teachers have become increasingly frustrated.

“It’s unfair how they’re being treated,” said Liz Crosland, a senior.

What’s worse, students said, is that their teachers are trying their hardest to not bring their personal feelings into class.

“They’re not allowed to talk about it,” several students said.

The most specific advice any teacher at Lakewood High has given, students said, is “make sure you know what you’re walking out for.”

That’s advice that Daniel Torres, a senior, and Brayan Meza, a sophomore, are heeding.

“A couple of friends were talking about it this morning,” Torres said, “But I’m not planning on walking out.”

“I’m not sure what it’s all about,” Meza said. “And I won’t walk out until I do.”

Whether Lakewood High’s walkout will be more civil remains to be seen.

“We’re trying to keep it as controlled as possible while making sure everyone can be involved,” said Thomas Sizemore, another student organizer at Lakewood.

Tiberi, the senior struggling to find another way to make her voice heard, said Thursday can go either way.

“They’ve locked us into the corner,” Tiberi said, referring to the school board’s conservative majority. “We don’t want to be the rebels they’re trying to paint us as. We’re just frustrated and don’t know what to do.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco student protests continue; Littleton rally tops 1,000

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 14:08

[Updated] LITTLETON — Stretching on for a fourth school day, students from some of Jefferson County’s largest high schools gathered at a busy intersection here to echo concerns about a proposed curriculum committee they believe could lead to censorship and show solidarity with their teachers.

The rally appeared to be the largest thus far. More than half of the 1,900 students at Chatfield High School, coupled with hundreds of students from Dakota Ridge walked, ran, and drove up and down a stretch of Simms Street shortly after classes were supposed to start at the two schools.

According to the Denver Post, students at Bear Creek High School also walked out this morning. Chalkbeat also confirmed students at Alameda International High School walked out after meeting with Jeffco’s Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Students, as they returned to school,  told Chalkbeat McMinimee wasn’t answering their questions.

“He didn’t listen to what we had to say,” said Regina Rios, a sophomore at Alameda High.

McMinimee told 7News later he wasn’t dodging questions — he just doesn’t have the answers yet.

“I do understand there was some frustration from some of the kids around feeling like I was trying to not answer their questions, but that’s because we’re not there in the process yet — haven’t had the discussion about how this committee might affect AP US History,” McMinimee told 7NEWS after the meeting. “The discussion [among Board members] was about the formation of the committee.”

Including Alameda, students at 13 of the district’s 19 high schools have walked out.

“I’m just so proud of them, the students, the teachers, the parents, for standing up,” said Cindy Heyerdahl, a Jefferson County resident who sent three students to the locals schools. Heyerdahl held back tears as she watched the students chat from a near by gas station.

But not all are impressed with the student-organized action.

“If I was a student, I’d want a day off, too,” said another gentleman at the gas station. “I think that’s why most are out here.”

Unlike earlier protests, the Littleton students, boisterous and sweaty, were under supervision by school administrators, coaches, and teachers. Some of the district’s highest ranking central administrators were also on hand with sheriffs.

The ongoing protests, which are likely to continue through the week, have drawn the attention of the national media and scrutiny of social media. A playful but critical thread of comments, marked by the hashtag “#jeffcoschoolboardhistory” was trending on the social media service Twitter last night.

For previous coverage of the student protests and background on the the proposed committee click here. 

 

Categories: Urban School News

New rules may force schools to look at fundraising through a healthier lens

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 13:46

When Allison Howe’s son started preschool in the Morgan County School District two years ago, her stomach churned when she learned about the school’s chief fundraising tool: frozen pie.

For Howe, a mother of three and healthy living blogger, it presented an ethical dilemma. She felt the pies were unhealthy and overpriced and she knew her northeastern Colorado region had the highest rate of child obesity in the state. At the same time, she knew that kids who sold the most earned prizes and special recognition. Plus, the fund-raiser consistently brought in $10,000 a year for the district-run Sherman Early Childhood Center.

“It felt icky,” she said.

Fast forward to this fall. With the help of a supportive principal, Sherman’s pie fund-raiser is gone in favor of catalog sales and an online donation platform. That said, Howe is not exactly waving a victory flag. She’s still frustrated by the resistance from some parents and staff to what she calls “overtly healthy” fundraisers like jogathons. She also believes the district lacks a cohesive approach to remaking the fund-raising landscape around healthier options.

But for Howe and other wellness advocates across Colorado, things may get a bit easier this year with the implementation of new federal rules that put stricter limits on some school fund-raisers. While the “Smart Snacks in Schools” rules won’t ban the sale of cookie dough, frozen pizza or pie, which are generally meant for consumption outside of school, they could curtail in-school bake sales and candy sales, and eliminate products like chips and Gatorade from school stores.

Nutrient standards for snack items under Smart Snacks in Schools

    • Maximum calories: Up to 200
    • Maximum sodium: Up to 230 mg
    • Total fat: Up to 35% of calories
    • Saturated fat: Less than 10 percent of calories
    • Trans fat: 0 grams
    • Maximum sugar: Up to 35% of weight from total sugars
*Foods exempt from the rules include fresh fruit and vegetables, certain canned fruits and vegetables, low-fat cheese, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, dried fruit with no added sweeteners, and sugar-free chewing gum.

The Smart Snacks rules, which took effect July 1, establish limits on calories, sodium, fat and sugar in “competitive” foods sold at schools. In addition to food-based fundraisers that occur on campus during school hours, the rules apply to vending machine products and a la carte items sold in the cafeteria line.

Perhaps more important than the nutritional nitty gritty of the new rules, is the overarching message that school-sanctioned junk food–even if it’s lucrative for student council or PTA- is wearing out its welcome. Emily Jacobs, wellness coordinator for the Adams 50 school district, said she hopes the new rules will help build awareness about healthy fundraising options.

“I think that it’s something that’s been off the radar and is slowly creeping up and getting more attention,” she said. “Each year, as we get one or two people on board…the needle will move a little more in that direction.

Ch- ch- changes

At many schools, the concept of  non-food fund-raisers is nothing new. Some schools have been sponsoring walkathons, fun runs, plant sales, coupon book sales, car washes and auctions for years. But food fundraisers remain popular, and the desire for tried-and-true revenue streams can make them hard to shake. That’s part of what made the pies so appealing in Fort Morgan, said Howe.

“It’s not that teachers care about the actual product, it’s more the consistent funding every year,” she said.

Resources

Jacobs found the same thing when she worked in the Adams 14 school district several years ago and questioned the wisdom of annual candy bar sales.

“I was told right off the bat, ‘Don’t touch our fund-raisers,’” she said. “One principal said, ‘We make $20,000 off these chocolate bars…That funds our books. We literally need these.’”

Some school leaders believe the trick is a gradual weaning so that other kinds of fund-raisers have time to prove their worth. At Putnam Elementary School in Fort Collins, a candy bar fund-raiser has routinely brought in $4,000-$5,000 a year, said Melissa Rivera, the school’s child nutrition manager and wellness leader. But last year, Rivera and the Parent-Teacher Organization decided to add a jogathon during the school’s annual field day

It didn’t raise a lot of money—a modest $1,144, but it was a fun community-building event that organizers plan to continue. Meanwhile, chocolate bars will be phased out of the school’s fund-raising mix.

Over the next three years, Rivera said, “That’s the one we’re trying to kick out.”

Exceptions to the rule

Even with the new Smart Snack rules, Colorado schools will still have some leeway to sponsor occasional in-school candy sales or bake sales. That’s because every state is allowed to set the number of “exempt” fund-raisers that each school building can have annually. In Colorado, that number is three, though the maximum duration of those fund-raisers isn’t specified.

About 30 states chose to give schools no exemptions, while a few grant so many or give so much flexibility it seems the rules hardly apply. For example, Georgia and Tennessee allow 30 exemptions per building and Wisconsin allows two exemptions per student organization per year.

Amanda Mercer, a program specialist with the Office of School Nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education, said when districts in the state were surveyed about the number of exemptions to offer, most landed in the zero to five range. Some expressed concerns about having to decide which school groups would get to sponsor an exempt fundraiser.

The issue could be particularly tricky at the high school level where between sports teams, student clubs and parent-teacher groups, there might be scores of fundraisers each year. Take Weld County District 6, for example. Last year, 64 groups at the district’s three high schools ran 132 fundraisers, with per-school numbers ranging from 39 to 53.

Not surprisingly, the process for monitoring fundraisers and ensuring compliance with Smart Snacks rules will vary by district. In Weld 6, the Nutrition Services Department will begin assisting the Office of Academic Achievement with the process this year, flagging fundraisers that don’t comply with the federal nutrition requirements. The mechanism for deciding who will get to run exempt fundraisers is still unclear because the issue hasn’t arisen yet, said Jeremy West, the district’s nutrition service director.

CDE officials plan to solicit feedback from district officials later in the school year about the new rules.

“We plan to…assess how this has impacted schools to see if we’re going to continue with the three exemptions next year or revise that,” said Mercer.

Moving the needle

While talk of Smart Snacks rules has been moving through school food service circles for months, many educators and parents are just beginning to hear about them. West said when he covered the topic with district principals this summer, they were apprehensive. To some, it felt like the sky was falling.

“It’s going to make our sponsors of our clubs a little more creative,” he said.

It may also require persistence and finesse. Some advocates of healthy fundraisers have discovered reluctance to try family-inclusive events like jogathons because of concerns that it puts extra stress on struggling parents working multiple jobs. Similarly, there’s a sense that  families who are contributing in any way might stop if organizers rock the fund-raising boat.

“Let’s not give our parents more barriers,” is the message Jacobs sometimes hears.

For her part, Howe plans to continue pushing for healthy fund-raisers though she knows it will take time.

“It’s all about managing transitions,” she said. “It’s a lot of PR work.”

A training being developed by the non-profit RMC Health may help. Focused around healthy fundraisers, celebrations and rewards in schools, the training is set launch in early 2015 with 23 districts that have been part of the “Healthy Schools, Successful Students” grant program.

Baseball players from Greeley West High School shucked corn on a recent afternoon as part of the team’s fundraising effort.

Even with the new rules, some school groups won’t have to change much about their fundraising repertoire. Take the baseball team at Greeley West High School. On a recent afternoon, more than a dozen coaches, players and parents shucked 1,800 ears of corn in the district’s central production kitchen as part of an annual fundraising effort that nets $400 over two days. It will help pay for the team’s annual spring break trip to California.

Shucking the corn that will end up in school lunches during the fall is an opportunity West began offering to various teams and clubs five years ago when he realized it would be cheaper to do the work in-house than pay the local farmer to do it.

In addition to corn-shucking, Coach Brian Holmes said his team will sell Qdoba cards, run the concession stand at a high school football game, and work with a local Buick dealership to get people to test drive cars. In the past, the team cleaned out ditches in a local subdivision.

“I like kids to do fundraisers that involve them working for their money. I think they appreciate it more,” he said.

Some schools, like Lowry Elementary in Denver, have recently turned toward active fundraisers, but it wasn’t because of Smart Snacks rules. Instead, parent organizers decided to switch from catalog and magazine-type sales to a fun run last fall with the hopes that it would be enjoyable, healthy and allow every child to participate.

As for fundraising side of things, parent April Archer, co-chair of the school wellness team, said the idea was, “Let’s ask people to contribute to our school–not in exchange for anything–and see what happens.”

What happened was an event with almost no overhead and a $16,000 return.

“It wasn’t like we had elaborate tents and banners and decorations…It was all about getting kids running, dancing, skipping and jumping,… getting people involved and having a lot of fun,” she said.

Mission accomplished.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise and Shine: Colorado Springs school board may seek to opt out of state tests

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:47

taking it to the streets

The third day of Jeffco students' rallies against a proposed curriculum review committee was the largest, and more walk-outs are planned for later this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, AP via the Coloradoan, CPR, New York Times )

The president of Jeffco's teachers union applauded students for exercising their First Amendment rights. ( 9News )

history lessons

A process already exists for parents to challenge curriculum that they feel is biased or inappropriate, and since the late 1960s, it's been used to change what students learn almost 20 times. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

The dust-up over the proposal to review history curriculum to ensure that it promotes patriotism and a positive view of the United States prompted the rise of a satirical hashtag on Twitter that jokingly proposed history lessons that meet the board's requirements. ( Denver Post )

a different kind of rebellion

The Colorado Springs District 11 school board will consider a resolution asking to be allowed to pursue alternatives to the state's testing regimen for three years. ( Gazette )

campaign season

Education dominated a conversation with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez in Colorado Springs; Beauprez suggested passing a "teachers' bill of rights," increasing accountability measures, and improving implementation of the state's READ Act literacy effort. ( Gazette )

The National Education Association is airing Spanish-language ads in Colorado targeting Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner. ( CQ Roll Call )

splitting down the middle

Two University of Colorado campuses that currently share leadership will move to a model in which each has its own chancellor. ( Denver Post )

to prevent another tragedy

The mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold is planning to write a book sharing her story. ( AP via 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

19 times Jeffco parents challenged curriculum and changed how students are taught

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 19:53

In 1981, a Jefferson County curriculum review committee banned The Book of Lists, which, according to the book’s publisher, is “filled with intriguing information and must-talk-about trivia it has spawned many imitators — but none as addictive or successful.”

In 1989, a similar panel said a “homosexual speaker” was only allowed to address students who had permission from parents.

And in 2008, Stephen King’s It, the graphic horror novel that depicts seven children terrorized by a clown, was removed from middle school libraries but remained in high schools.

For the past three school days, Jefferson County students have rallied in the streets against a proposed curriculum review committee. We wanted to examine how often pieces of curriculum have been successfully challenged in the school district.

Since 1968, nearly 100 pieces of curriculum — books, movies, entire courses — have been challenged by Jefferson County parents and community members.

About one-fifth of those challenges have resulted in either an outright ban on classroom materials or restrictions put in place, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of Jeffco Public Schools documents. In some instances, it is clear why certain curriculum was either challenged or banned.  

INTERACTIVE: Search the Jeffco “banned book” database here.

The complaints were filed under existing school district policies that allow parents to challenge materials his or her students are provided either in a classroom or school library.

According to Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the district has 24 such policies to either establish or review curriculum.

But conservative school board member Julie Williams wants to establish one more: a community committee that would serve at the school board’s pleasure. Williams would like that committee — which has not yet been established — to start off with an advanced history course that is drawing the ire of conservatives. It is her proposal that has ignited the three days of student protests.

While Williams’ proposal has sparked debate, it is true Jeffco has existing policies that provides the board the ability to weigh in on curriculum.

Take for example, the May 1996 case of Nova: The Miracle of Life. The school board at the time overturned a decision by the district’s superintendent to ban the video.

Here are some other interesting takeaways from our analysis of the challenged curriculum:

  • More than half the challenges to Jeffco curriculum happened in the 1980s
  • Novels, including classics like Of Mice and Men, have been challenged the most, 34 times.
  • Other language arts texts have been challenged 18 times.
  • Science curriculum has been challenged eight times.
  • Social studies curriculum has been challenged 14 times.
  • No other author had more books challenged than King. Eight of his books were challenged in the fall of 2008. Only It was removed from a middle school library. His other works were permitted to remain in the school district’s library.

Social studies material that has either been banned or had restrictions placed on them include the books Human Expression: A history of Peoples and Cultures and My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban. The movie The Seduction of Joe Tynan also makes the list.

The last recorded challenge to any Jeffco curriculum was in 2011; that would be Patricia McCormick’s book about a 15-year-old girl who self-mutilates. The book remains in Jeffco libraries. 

Categories: Urban School News

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