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Updated: 34 min 55 sec ago

Rise & Shine: Indiana abandons the Common Core

Tue, 03/25/2014 - 09:18

By the numbers

More Colorado students are living in poverty and those students are concentrated in the state's lowest performing schools, according to this year's KIDS COUNT report. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Westword )

Pueblo received low scores for measures of child wellbeing, as did Montezuma and Denver counties. ( Chieftain )

A seat at the table

A bill to consider charter school requests in designs of mill levy overrides, a common way to raise local funds for schools, passed the House Education Committee yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Build it up

Dougco is considering a new facility for special education students with the highest needs, to ease the pressure on other district schools. ( Denver Post )

In the shuffle

Hayden School District, in northwest Colorado, is looking for a new superintendent and they've narrowed the list down to four. Those four include three Colorado natives and one candidate from Kodiak, Alaska. ( Steamboat Today )

It's a maze

For some families, navigating the costs of college and the daunting aid process proves overwhelming. Advocates are pushing to simplify the process. ( NPR via KUNC )

Not so common anymore

It's official. Indiana will be the first state to drop the Common Core standards, after the governor signed a bill into law yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

It's the latest battle in a fight that has divided Republicans and set off political firestorms. ( AP via Sentinel )

But one teacher says there's more in common between critics and proponents than people think. She hopes to find "the common ground around the Common Core." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Bipartisan committee support for charter revenue bill

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 18:28

Colorado charter schools have long complained about being left on the sidelines when districts ask voters for additional operating funds through what are called mill levy overrides.

House Bill 14-1314, approved 12-0 Monday by the House Education Committee, wouldn’t guarantee charters a slice of the revenue pie, but it would require they have a seat at the table when districts consider whether to ask voters for overrides.

The bill “seeks to increase the cooperation between districts and their charter schools,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and is modeled on a 2008 law that requires charter school participation in planning for district bond issues.

Don Schaller, advocacy director for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, testified that one of the challenges facing charters is “consistent access to local revenue” and that if the bill passes, “the charter school voice will at least be brought to the table.”

Representatives of some other advocacy groups, including the Colorado Association of School Boards, also supported the bill.

The bill would require:

  • Inclusion of charter representatives on override planning committees and in any other district study and decision-making methods
  • Districts to consider and prioritize charter requests for override revenues
  • Mutual agreement on division or allocation of new revenues
  • A district to formally notify a charter if it chooses not to include a charter request in a ballot proposal

Even after consultation, the decision to include a charter in an override proposal would be solely up to a district’s board. (The bill wouldn’t apply to charters overseen by the state Charter School Institute, which doesn’t have taxing authority.)

The bill also contains provisions governing the sharing of election costs between districts and their charters.

Tax overrides enable districts to raise additional property tax revenue, usually for specific purposes. Override revenues aren’t counted as part of the basic state/local revenues known as Total Program Funding and sometimes have been criticized as contributing to financial disparities between districts.

Read the bill text here and See the bill summary here.

Bills keep trickling in

The House and Senate have big backlogs of education (and other) bills to consider, but that hasn’t stopped new ones from being introduced.

Unveiled in the Senate Monday was Senate Bill 14-167, which would create a pilot program under which two small groups of alternative education campuses would receive 30 percent increases in per-pupil funding to pay for new initiatives and programs to increase student achievement in such schools.

Alternative education campuses are defined as schools that serve populations that are at least 95 percent at risk. They generally serve older students. There has been concern in recent years about student turnover and low completion rates at such schools and debate about the appropriate accountability measures for those campuses. See this story for background on the accountability debate, and read the bill here.

For those who weren’t paying attention last Friday, Sen. Mike Johnston’s bill to allow districts one-year of flexibility in using student growth to evaluate teachers was introduced as Senate Bill 14-165. It will be heard in Senate Education on Wednesday morning. (See this story for background and read the bill here.)

Categories: Urban School News

Finding common ground on Common Core

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 15:00

In his song, In This Love Together, Michael Bernard Beckwith urges us to:

See with the eye behind the eye
Hear with the ear behind the ear
Feel with the heart behind the heart
So we can
See the invisible
Hear the inaudible
Do the impossible.

We live in interesting times where cynics would have us believe that people are separate from each other and that we must identify ourselves as “us” vs. “them.” Frequently this division translates into the perception that in order for our views to be right, the other side’s must be wrong. Nowhere in education is this more evident than the swirling controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

What if it weren’t true that one side must be right and the other side must be wrong? What if there was a place where both sides could be right? What then?

I would suggest that this is absolutely possible, and that there is a third position, one where everyone is seen, heard, and understood. This is a place where everyone is right. Through discovering and embracing this third way, we can finally move beyond the status quo and engage in real transformation of our education system on behalf of all students and their future.

Over the last several days I listened to many hours of panel discussions, legislative testimony, and hallway conversations from both supporters and detractors of all things having to do with the Common Core State Standards. At first glance, you might believe that this is an either/or proposition; that you either support CCSS or you don’t. But what was most striking to me about these interactions was that everyone, regardless of what “side” of the issue they aligned with, had a lot more in common than not.

As I thought about Michael Bernard Beckwith’s song and the stories from both sides that resonated with me,


  • Parents and community members who love their children and want what is best for them.
  • Teachers who have had the love of teaching sucked out of them by over-testing and being held accountable for things over which they have little or no control.


  • Frustration that school experiences have been narrowed to the point where there are few, if any, opportunities to engage students in music, art, and physical education since those subjects are not tested.
  • A desire to do what is best for students and advocate for more support and resources like time, materials, and technology.


  • The pain of one mother whose child became sick over high stakes testing and another whose child has an individualized education plan yet does not receive individual treatment because of the over-emphasis on accountability.
  • A desire to prepare kids to be successful adults by engaging them in authentic learning experiences where they can apply their learning in a real-world context.

When the Common Core debate is framed this way, there is no right or wrong; there is no “us” vs. “them.” There are only parents, teachers, and community members who want our kids to be happy, healthy, and well prepared for what life has to offer them.

I, for one, am ready to become a warrior for the human spirit and work towards solutions based on common ground around the Common Core. Anyone interested in joining me in doing the “impossible”?

This post originally appeared on Divided No More: Integrating Soul and Role, a Center for Teaching Quality blog.

Categories: Urban School News

More children now in poverty than during the recession, according to 2014 Kids Count

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 14:59

More children are living in poverty than during the 2008 recession, and that number is growing.

That’s the latest from the 2014 KIDS COUNT report from Colorado Children’s Campaign, the annual report on the state of child health, wellness and education. Colorado has one of the fastest growing rates of child poverty, a consistent pattern since 2000.

“We are heading in the wrong direction, and quickly,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign

The KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report is part of the national KIDS COUNT project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Colorado report.

Wide gaps, from early years on

There were few bright spots in the report, which showed wide disparities between the state’s affluent and poor students.

“Why would such a prosperous place to live be such a tough place for families?” said Watney. “It was no one factor.”

The report did show the costs of childcare outpacing families’ ability to pay for them. Enrollment by low-income families in early childhood education still lagged, even among those eligible for either state or federal aid.

That may be largely due to access, which has failed to keep pace with demand. An estimated 500 Colorado students could lose access to the federal early childhood program HeadStart, due to cuts made during the government sequester. Colorado’s state-funded preschool program served 21 percent of all eligible four years olds and 6.2 percent of all eligible three year olds. That number could increase this year, with legislative approval of additional seats.

The economic disparities don’t disappear in later years. The report found that for K-12, the state’s poorest students are concentrated in the lowest performing schools.

Schools in the state’s two lowest rankings for performance had on average 70 percent low-income students, nearly twice the percentage in the state’s highest performing schools. The report also found consistently wide academic achievement gaps between affluent and disadvantaged populations, among the widest in the nation.

Other highlights

The report also looked at other measures of childhood wellness and education. Key findings include:

  • Colorado’s graduation rate continues to increase, up to 77 percent in 2013 from 72 percent in 2010.
  • Colorado ranked as the fifth least affordable state for childcare, an improvement over last year’s fourth place ranking.
  • The state’s teen pregnancy rate continue to drop statewide, although Eagle County, which includes Vail, saw an increase.
  • In one of the positive outcomes, the number of children living without health insurance dropped to below the national average. Since 2006, 63,000 children have gained insurance.
Location, location, location

The report found strong geographic patterns in child well-being, one of the key metrics studied in the report. Douglas County ranked at the top of the state’s counties for child wellness, for the third year running.

Also for the third year in a row, Denver ranked at the bottom, due in large part to factors related to high poverty levels. Denver serves nearly a tenth of the state’s homeless students and has nearly double the state’s percent of students receiving free lunch, a federal indicator of extremely low family income. On the bright side, Denver has high rates of kindergarten enrollment, nearly 100 percent, compared with 70 percent state-wide.

While most counties saw no change in their status this year, several saw a decline in their childhood well-being score. Montezuma County, which ranked as the second worst on the metric this year, saw a decline in its status.

Although Watney and others were unsure as to the exact reasons for that decline, the county’s low ranking can be attributed to a high poverty rate and the presence of a larger proportion of American Indians, who continue to struggle on a host of both academic and health metrics.

Watney hopes the report will prompt counties to reexamine their practices.

“We are very hopeful that communities will take a deep dive into their numbers and can look at opportunities for improvement,” she said. “I think KIDS COUNT gives you a chance to compare yourself to other counties in your area.”

She also said the report has influenced the Children’s Campaign’s lobbying efforts at the state level.

“One of the policies we are focused on at the legislature is making improvements at the early childhood level,” Watney said. “For children living in vulnerable families, we believe early childhood education can really improve outcomes.”

For more on the report, see here. County-level data is available on nearly all metrics and the report covers a variety of metrics not explored here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. schools, teachers looking for standard-aligned materials

Mon, 03/24/2014 - 07:57

High-Stakes Health

Schools across Colorado are in the midsts of high-stakes standardized testing. And for many that means a renewed push for healthy habits. But some critics, including parents, wonder if schools are sending the wrong message. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teaching to the (Missing) Text

Colorado educators are working to fill in the gaps between out-of-date textbooks and the state's new academic standards. The effort is underway while the state begins to assess teacher effectiveness largely based on student results on standardized tests. ( Denver Post )


Opponents gave it their best, but the Colorado House Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1288, an immunization measure that has touched a few nerves at the Capitol and among the public. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A technical bill that would allow armed guards at charter schools — similarly to district run schools — moves to the state Senate. ( KKTV )

A K-12 Online Education Commission, set up by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers who are considering introduction of online legislation this session, made a few recommendations Friday, including updating the definition of online education and should change the way multi-district online schools are managed. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Abort Mission

Despite the advice from district staff, the Jeffco Public Schools board of education decided to abandon a legal appeal over a piece of open land. The board said the district had more to lose by pursuing the case. Some in the district believe it will set a far-reaching precedent. ( YourHub )

Why ask why?

Teachers in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction are applying new STEM skills they've learned to their classrooms. And they believe students are already seeing the benefits. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

H.R. Department

A Denver elementary school has ended a contract with an after-school basketball coach after the school learned of some inappropriate musings on social media. ( 7News )

Former Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson must have a brain tumor removed. She learned of tumor after she left the district. ( 9News )

Barbara Ann Smith announced her candidacy for the Colorado State Board of Education during the Republican County Assembly meeting at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. ( Durango Herald )

The Bessemer Academy in Pueblo has a new principal, its fifth since 2007. The Academy is a turnaround school. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

And during its meeting Tuesday, the Poudre School District’s Board of Education is expected to confirm David Patterson as Beattie Elementary’s new principal. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Quick-turnaround online task force makes recommendations

Sun, 03/23/2014 - 16:32

Colorado needs an updated legal definition of online education and should change the way multi-district online schools are overseen, a task force that’s advising four legislators has recommended.

The group made no definitive suggestion on the touchy issue of accountability for online schools, concluding that the issue needs more discussion among educators and interest groups and that new ways to measure the performance of such schools should be tested in a pilot program.

The K-12 Online Education Commission was set up by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers who are considering introduction of online legislation this session. The panel was on a short timeline, having been convened on Jan. 30.

The four lawmakers face equally tight timing. The 2014 session must adjourn no later than May 7, and the next two weeks will be dominated by consideration of the 2014-15 state budget and related bills. Once the budget clears, there will be only a month left in the session, with plenty of other issues still to be resolved, including other education measures.

“We’ve got to move quickly. It’s a little challenging,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, one of the four. Young and Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood met with the task force Friday. Young said he, Kerr and Republicans Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida probably will consult by phone over the weekend.

Here’s a summary of the group’s recommendations:

  • Definition – Current law defines online programs and schools primarily in terms of instruction done “primarily through use of the Internet.” The task force proposes a broader definition that accommodates the variety of online and electronic learning methods that have evolved since the current state law was written.
  • Attendance – Enrollment and attendance of online students basically is calculated the same way as for students in buildings. The task force felt that doesn’t work and that more flexible enrollment counting methods are needed for online students. (This is an idea that may get tangled up in the broader – and unresolved – debate about whether the state should convert to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment.)
  • Records transfer – Current procedures require student records to be transferred to online program within 30 days. The task force is suggesting 14.
  • Authorization – Currently, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education certify online programs that are open to students in multiple districts. (Some of those schools have been criticized for low achievement and high student turnover.) The task force suggests that the state should instead set standards for and certify the authorizers – districts and the state Charter School Institute. The idea is that authorizers would become more responsible for the performance of multidistrict online programs. Although this sounds bureaucratic, this is a significant recommendation.
  • Pilot programs – The task force recommends that the legislature require CDE to work with online interests on development of pilot projects to experiment with course-level and competency based funding, different accountability measures for online programs, improved ways to count enrollment, better methods for helping struggling students and better ways to make students more accountable for their online success.

“The current accountability system is an unrealistic and incomplete indicator of student and school performance,” the task force report says. “The prevalence of difficult issues requiring more time and voices led to the commission’s recommendation of creating pilot programs.”

The task force recommended that the issue of drop-in centers for online students also needs further study and isn’t ready for legislation.

The task force was supported by staff of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which has done previous work on online education.

Read the full report, including the detailed recommendations, and see list of task force members here.

Categories: Urban School News

Updated: Vaccination education bill passes House 42-19

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 18:57

Updated March 24 - The House voted 42-19 Monday to pass House Bill 14-1288, the immunization measure that has touched a few nerves at the Capitol and among the public.

A small band of opponents gave it their best during preliminary debate on Friday, but the House gave easy preliminary approval to the measure, setting the stage for Monday’s final vote.

The House passed the measure on a voice vote following a 40-minute debate, during which one opponent complained the bill was telling parents “you’re too stupid to make this decision on your own.” A final roll-call vote will be taken later.

The bill would require parents who want to opt children out of immunizations for reasons of “personal belief” to obtain a note from a doctor or medical professional certifying they have been briefed on the benefits and risks of vaccinations. Or, parents could complete a state online training about those risks and benefits.

State law requires certain vaccinations for all children entering licensed daycare facilities and all schools, public and private. But the law also allows parents to opt out for religious, medical or personal belief reasons. To use the latter option parents need only sign a slip saying they’re opting out.

HB 14-1288 wouldn’t change the law on religious or medical opt outs but would require the educational component for parents who use personal belief.

Sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the bill is aimed at parents who think that “it’s easier and more convenient to sign the form rather than provide immunization records” and who don’t actually have strong personal beliefs about the safety of immunizations.

“I stand firmly for parent rights on this issue,” said Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Windsor. He added, “I’m not confident that [education] is the ultimate goal.” (Some witnesses at a recent committee hearing said they fear the bill is just a step toward later elimination of the personal belief exemption.)

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, argued, “Parents have done their research” and the bill isn’t needed.

Minority Leader Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, took that idea a step further with the “too stupid” comment.

Opponents tried various amendments, all of which failed. The only successful amendment makes it clear that the bill wouldn’t apply to children who are fully home-schooled or enrolled in a full-time online program.

No debate on this one

The House Friday voted 59-3 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards. (Districts already have that power.) The bipartisan measure is a kind of a “consolation prize” for another guns-in-schools bill that was killed earlier. (Get the background in this story.)

Categories: Urban School News

Wellness follows a questionable path at test time

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 13:46

It’s TCAP season and at many Colorado schools that means a major effort to push healthy habits that will help kids perform their best. Think school-provided breakfast, pre-test laps around the track, deep breathing exercises, contests to encourage enough sleep, and special snacks and drinks.

But some parents and advocates worry that these efforts, while well-intentioned, have limited value if they only last as long as the spring testing window.

“It’s sad,” said Shawn St. Sauveur, a health specialist for Denver Public Schools. “Why are we so focused on it during testing but not the rest of the year?”

“It’s just sending the wrong message that testing is more important than anything else that happens in a school,” said Rainey Wikstrom, a Denver parent and wellness consultant.

To some educators, that may well be the case. With test results impacting everything from school performance ratings to teacher evaluations, it’s hard to take a chance that hunger-induced headaches or stomachaches will impair test-takers. And with strong evidence showing that exercise boosts focus, a pre-test regimen of jumping jacks, brisk walking or aerobics seems like common sense.

At some schools, it’s already part of the daily routine. At Bauder Elementary, a health and wellness-focused school in Fort Collins, universal breakfast and brain breaks occur daily whether or not it’s TCAP time.

“I’m hesitant to do anything special or unique just because of TCAP,” said Principal Brian Carpenter. “It should not be a big deal.”

Healthy snacks that aren’t so healthy

Healthy snacks during TCAP time are a common initiative in elementary and middle schools, but many parents say the snacks are often full of sugar and empty calories.

One Denver mother, who asked not to be identified, walked by her daughter’s classroom before TCAP testing, and saw a stack of pretzels and cookies on her desk along with a juice pouch. She saw the same types of snacks over five or six days of testing, and then on the last day there was an ice cream party.

Wikstrom said similar snacks popped up during testing at her daughter’s middle school, which solicited healthy snack donations from parents in an e-mail that said the effort would “make this time special for the students.”

“It’s really used as a way to motivate and manage kids’ performance,” she said.

At University Park Elementary, where her daughter used to go, parents typically put together an elaborate breakfast buffet in the hallway during testing time. While Wikstrom said the food was generally healthy, with items like fruit and yogurt parfaits and bagels with cream cheese, it often amounted to a second breakfast since many student either ate at home or in the school cafeteria first.

“Just the chronic overfeeding of kids in school is rampant,” she said. “Kids underperform when they’re overfed.”

TCAP Snack Makeover

At Denver’s Montclair School for Academics and Enrichment, parent Kristen Cooper has the job of organizing TCAP snacks. Last year when a local church donated money for the effort, she went out of her way to buy healthy foods, including organic strawberries and carrots, bananas, sunflower seeds, cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Those items were served along with bagels donated by a local Einstein Bros shop. This year, Cooper said, parents and school staff decided to bake those snack costs—about $300—into the school budget.

“You can do it healthfully,” she said. “I wish I could do away with the bagels…but you have to find that balance. At least it’s not Capri Sun or cookies or goldfish.”

Montclair is not immune to the siren song of candy during TCAP time. Cooper said students got two squares of dark chocolate–she chose a variety with 77 percent partly because it has less sugar–as part of one pre-test snack. In addition, teachers hand out small packs of “Smarties” or “Nerds” as a reward after a day of testing.

It’s hardly uncommon. Lots of schools give out candy or sponsor treat-filled events this time of year. Some schools even hand out peppermints because the scent is supposed to help kids stay alert during the test.

But some schools are making small changes for the healthier. For example, Soroco middle school and high school in the South Routt School District used to throw ice cream parties to celebrate the end of TCAPs. This year, smoothies were the centerpiece of those parties.

An extra push for exercise

Increasingly, schools are incorporating more physical activity into the average school day with classroom movement breaks, structured recess or after-school fitness activities. Even so, these efforts definitely ramp up during testing.

This image was sent out to staff at Montclair Elementary School in Denver prior to testing.

At Dupont Elementary School in the Adams 14 district, students got extra recess during TCAP time, plus special activities at the end of test days, including a Zumba class one day and a dance party another.

“We wanted to keep it healthy and active,” said assistant principal Don Bertolo, who noted that the only food-related activity was one day of cookie-decorating. The idea was “to get their minds off of TCAP and get…decompressed.”

In Jefferson County, students and teachers at Falcon Bluffs Middle School fan out around the building before TCAPS for a 30-minute session of relay races, jump-roping and other heart-pumping movement. The pre-test physical activity was launched last year as the school was piloting a year-long effort to increase physical activity among at-risk students in hopes of improving reading performance.

Principal Ryan West said his staff noticed big differences in students’ test-taking behavior after the movement sessions. They took more time, were more thorough and went back to double check answers.

At Montclair, teachers also do pre-TCAP exercises, ranging from Tae Bo and yoga to jogging on the track. Cooper said brain breaks are used regularly during non-testing times as well.

Eat your breakfast!

Perhaps one benefit of the wellness push during TCAP time is the chance that some efforts will take root. St. Sauveur said principals often contact him asking how they can serve breakfast in the classroom during testing weeks.

“This is the time we get our foot in the door,” he said.

While principals are given the choice to discontinue the program after testing, nine times out of 10, that doesn’t happen, said St. Sauveur.

Denise Marques, a parent of two children at Charles Hay World School in Englewood, said the school used to provide breakfast only during testing time.

“That really bothered me,” she said, adding that it didn’t make sense to focus “on healthy food and breakfast for only two weeks out of the year.”

Things changed last month when Charles Hay launched a permanent breakfast in the classroom program. Marques isn’t sure if the timing was related to testing or not, but she’s pleased nevertheless.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: It’s official, no e-cigs for Pueblo students

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 08:19

Add that to the list

Jeffco parents and teachers have a long and detailed list of what they would want to see in a new superintendent. And they have some tough questions for the people doing the hiring. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Another new face

Parents at Morey Middle School found out Wednesday who the school's new principal will be. It's the latest in a series of leadership changes at Denver schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Working out the bugs

Colorado will join 13 other states in running field tests of the upcoming new standardized tests and officials expect there to be glitches. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing season

Some teachers say they are "tested" by the testing and struggle to balance the time requirements of the tests with instructional time. ( 9News )

How I learned to stop worrying and love the new standards

One teacher finds a lot to love in the new Common Core standards, including higher expectations and less memorization. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Ban the smoke

Pueblo's school board has officially banned electronic cigarettes, which some worry are targeted at teens. ( Chieftain )

Around the network

150 teachers in Indiana spent the day on an experiment: could they build a better school budget, with better teacher pay? ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Memphis and Colorado principals were featured in videos about school leadership. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

New York's new chancellor of schools says the city will not force teachers into positions they don't want or force principals to accept an unwanted teacher, a practice known as forced placement. In Colorado, that practice has also been banned under SB-191, through so-called "mutual consent," which is currently being challenged by the teachers' union. ( Chalkbeat NY )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado among 14 states to begin field testing new assessments Monday

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 18:37

Colorado students at more than 400 schools will be among thousands across the nation that will take part in the trial run of new standardized tests beginning Monday.

And officials behind the tests, which will be used in more than a dozen states, are expecting there to be plenty of hurdles, hiccups, snags and snafus. But that’s the point of the trial run, they said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

The aim of the pilot tests here and in the 13 other states apart of the coalition that developed the standardized tests, known as PARCC, is to work out any technological mishaps and to gauge the quality of the test questions, officials said. Those who designed the test, including teachers and instructional leaders across the country, want to make sure the questions are fair and accurately measure what students know.

“It’s my hope that when glitches arise — and they are inevitable — we don’t immediately assume things aren’t going well,” said Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education and chair of the governing board that is developing the tests.

Colorado is one of the 14 states participating in the development and execution of new standardized tests that will be used next spring. Most students will take the PARCC tests on computers and mobile devices in lieu of the paper-and-pencil TCAPs. The tests are supposed to measure student knowledge against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based in large part on the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 45 states.

The state also uses several years of testing data to measure student growth, or how much a student learned from year-to-year compared to their academic peers. That information factors heavily into school and district accountability measures.

Colorado schools have been putting those new standards into effect this year at various paces. And several districts have raised concerns that their technological infrastructure could be maxed out during testing time periods.

Most of the Colorado schools and districts participating in the trial run were identified by officials at PARCC, said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessments for the Colorado Department of Education, in a separate interview. But whether they participated was left up to local leaders.

She said the department hopes to learn how it will best be able to support districts when most students begin taking the new exams next spring.

No student, school or district data collected from the field study will be released, officials said. However, the PARCC governing board is expected to release several findings including how comparable the paper-and-pencil is to its digital counterpart.

Categories: Urban School News

In the latest DPS leadership change, a new principal at Morey Middle School

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 17:18

District officials announced the new leader of central Denver’s Morey Middle School yesterday, replacing the school’s current leader who will leave at the end of the year.

It’s the second such announcement this month. Two weeks ago, Columbine Elementary School parents met their school’s new principal, after the controversial departure of its current leader.

In both of these cases, the district replaced the leaders after only two years and both schools have seen repeated leadership changes. Columbine has seen five principals in seven years. At Morey, the new leader, Noah Tonk, will be the third in five years, although past leaders have stayed as long as seven years.

A Morey parent who participated in the public interviews of candidates said Tonk seemed well-prepared and aware of what’s happening at the school. Tonk, who will take the reins this summer, previously taught in Adams 12 and has been an assistant principal for the past four years at Goshen High School, in Indiana.

The letter Tonk sent to parents to introduce himself is available here. Check back for updates.

Categories: Urban School News

Amid tension, Jeffco parents, teachers outline priorities for superintendent search

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 16:17

ARVADA — Wanted: Proven leader for large suburban school district. Five years of classroom experience a must. Exceptional communication skills, working knowledge of how to manage a multi-million dollar budget and previous experience negotiating contracts with labor organizations imperative. Should be detailed-orientated, student-driven, able to understand large amounts of data. Advanced degrees in education preferable. Must be able to mend fences.

That’s the description of the kind of superintendent Jefferson County teachers, parents, and students painted Wednesday night when they met with the superintendent search firm, Ray and Associates, Inc.

The meetings at Arvada West High School concluded two days of conversations the search firm, contracted by the Jeffco Public Schools board of education, held with individuals interested in the hunt for a new leader.

The suburban school district, west of Denver, hopes to have a new leader chosen by May. The search comes after Cindy Stevenson, who led the district for 12 years, left abruptly in February. Stevenson announced her plans to retire at the end of the school year after a new conservative majority was elected last fall. She said her decision to leave early was born out of distrust between herself and the board’s majority.

The tension between Stevenson and the board has spilled out to a portion of the Jefferson County community. While the breadth of the apprehension was not evident at the evening meeting — the size of the crowd was far less then the hundreds who have become regulars at board meetings — the depth was apparent. Some teachers and parents who spoke out against the board declined to give their name to a report out of fear of retribution.

Whoever the board chooses to lead the district will have to be able to bridge the widening division between some portions of the Jeffco community and the board’s majority, those in attendance said — repeatedly — Wednesday.

“He or she is going to have to find a way to unify the district,” said one parent.

Some participants feared the superintendent search would drive a deeper wedge between the district’s community. They questioned the search firm: Had they already began identifying candidates? Has the board’s majority already made their decision?

No, said Bill Newman, executive director of Ray and Associates.

Newman continued, the process of hiring a superintendent can be healing for a split board of directors. He hopes his company’s process of hiring, which relies on individual and team work among the board, will provide that opportunity.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” Newman said.

Researchers have routinely concluded hiring a superintendent is the most important role of a school board. And a weak transition between leaders could hinder a district.

Other issues the new superintendent will have to navigate include leading contract negations with the district’s unions, shepherding new projects like teacher evaluations and administering new tests that will be conducted on computers and mobile devices. The superintendent will also be in charge of a nearly-billion dollar budget, community members said.

The new leader will also to develop a detailed understanding of Jefferson County and the many different communities it serves. The district sprawls from north-Littleton to south-Westminster and west from Edgewater into the foothills of Conifer, teachers and parents said.

“Every building in the district has its own life, its own culture,” said Debbie Millard, a parent and counselor at Bear Creek K-8. “Whoever is selected needs to be in those buildings. They have to know the unique struggles and successes. They have to know the school’s heartbeat.”

Parents and teachers agreed a leader with new ideas could be beneficial for the district, especially for some of the district’s more urban schools that border Denver and are lower-performing than more affluent schools deep in the suburbs.

“Those schools sometimes don’t have a large voice,” said Michele Bonfoey, a parent and teacher at Arvada West said. “We need to think about them sometimes more then we think about the schools that are doing well, because they won’t speak up for themselves.”

But a one-size-fits-all agenda pushing superintendent would face backlash, those in the school’s auditorium said.

“Picking up the newest fad will not work in this district,” a teacher said.

A crucial decision for the board and its new superintendent will be around how much “reform” the district needs, Newman said. He said he’ll coach the board to ask questions that will address what candidates have accomplished in previous positions rather than what they’d like to accomplish in Jeffco in order to gauge possible proven strategies that could yield the kind of outcomes the board wants.

The team from Ray and Associates will present its findings based on the community forums, an online survey and interviews with board members at the board’s April 3 meeting. The board will then develop an official job description and identify characteristics and skills they want to see in candidates. Ray and Associates will then screen potential candidates and provide the board with a short list of about a dozen candidates. The board, through a rating system developed by the search firm, will identify two or three top candidates and interview them. At that point, Newman said, the final steps and decision is up to the board.

Ray and Associates has a two year guarantee for every search they conduct.

Categories: Urban School News

The power of teaching (and speaking) in the present tense: my testimony in favor of Common Core

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 15:00

Last week, I was able to testify on behalf of the Common Core State Standards to the Colorado state senate committee on education, who convened to hear testimony for and against a bill written to pause implementation.

I found out late last Thursday that my voice, along with other voices from CTQ Colorado teachers, parents, union leadership and concerned stakeholders, influenced the committee so much that the proposed bill was voted down by a four to three vote.

As a topic of much debate across the country, here are my remarks on how the Common Core (embedded into our state’s Colorado Academic Standards) have become a positive force for learning and growth in my classroom.

I am here today to share some of my experiences with the Colorado Academic Standards, past and present, and to help you see how critical these standards are to the growth and success of all Colorado students.

I am here today to share some of my experiences with the Colorado Academic Standards, past and present, and to help you see how critical these standards are to the growth and success of all Colorado students.

I have been teaching for eleven years. I entered the profession around the same time that state standardized tests and the concept of standards driven instruction started to look similar to what it does today. When I started my first job, I was handed the old Colorado standards for English Language Arts, which comprised six focus areas and a laundry list of terms and ideas students were expected to recognize.

Very rarely in my early years of teaching did I feel like the old standards asked students to be critical thinkers or consumers of the world. This lack of student-centric instruction led to passive learning experiences for most of my kids. They only learned what I said was important and only learned it long enough to do well on their final assessments for that unit.

When I hear the argument that we need to return to the more simplistic and “better” instructional practices that existed prior to the implementation of the revised Colorado Academic Standards in 2010, I truly wonder how going back to passive learning will help our 21st century students be successful in the world that awaits them?

I own that my instructional practice as a teacher needed improvement in those early years. But my students and I also needed a higher bar to motivate us towards authentic thinking and learning.

Last year was the first official year of implementation for the new standards in my school. It took a lot of time, thinking and energy to realign our classes to these new standards, which on the whole are much more geared towards the teaching of practical skills and assessment of authentic learning targets.

At first I was trepidatious about the changes, but as my colleagues and I worked, we engaged in incredible collaboration about the best ways to teach and assess students.

The new standards have allowed us the opportunity to move away from lists of ideas and passive learning. Teachers and students now engage in much more authentic learning—learning that is geared towards real-world outcomes rather than rote tasks and memorization.

The new standards have allowed us the opportunity to move away from lists of ideas and passive learning. Teachers and students now engage in much more authentic learning—learning that is geared towards real-world outcomes rather than rote tasks and memorization.

My 10th grade students both this year and last are still reading, writing, researching and speaking.

Now, though, they are reading literature and non-fiction with the intention of building comprehension skills that can transfer to any literature or non-fiction text that they might come across in their future learning.

They are writing daily and are learning how to review their writing with a critical lens so that it can better achieve their rhetorical purpose and address their intended audiences.

They are speaking and listening every day not to earn points, but to grapple with complex ideas and to learn how to negotiate collaborative situations with purpose and grace.

They are researching and learning about things that interest them, learning how to create their own inquiry questions and how to review sources for accuracy and reliability.

In short, they are learning how to think for themselves and are being exposed to multiple opportunities to experiment with their thinking and skills so that they can be independent learners, workers and humans once they leave the K-12 system.

They are learning how to think for themselves and are being exposed to multiple opportunities to experiment with their thinking and skills so that they can be independent learners, workers and humans once they leave the K-12 system.

Just this week, for example, my students read an analyzed a series of primary source documents to build support for an in-class discussion about the costs and benefits of rapid societal change—something they will all experience within their lifetime.

A great deal of hard and valuable work has already gone into the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards. More importantly, though students have a high academic bar placed before them and it is exciting to see them rise to the challenges we are putting forth.

I believe very strongly that it is our responsibility as stakeholders in the Colorado educational system to ensure that all students have a high quality education that is comparable to what students from across the country receive. We owe it to my students and all students in Colorado to make sure that each child is given ample opportunity to learn and apply skills necessary for whatever the 21st century has in store.

We owe it to my students and all students in Colorado to make sure that each child is given ample opportunity to learn and apply skills necessary for whatever the 21st century has in store.

This post originally appeared on Teaching in the Present Tense, a Center for Teaching Quality blog.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boards wrestle with public comment

Thu, 03/20/2014 - 10:15

Which job counts?

Superintendents juggle lots of jobs in small districts, creating some tricky problems for evaluating their performance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Paying for schools

The House Education has amended and passed two of the session's biggest finance bills but left some controversial issues for the Senate to solve. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The data gap

The Senate Wednesday voted 19-14 for final passage of the measure that modifies the district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Let them talk

The Thompson school board has ended the debate over public comment at meetings by deciding to allow unlimited input from audience members at certain meetings. ( Reporter-Herald )

Meanwhile in Dougco

The Douglas County school board also is wrestling with the issue of public comment at its meetings. ( News-Press )

Marijuana and teens

A young woman tells her story of marijuana addiction in the latest installment of a series on the impact of legalized marijuana on teenagers. ( CPR )

Lawsuit time

A former top Poudre district administrator is suing the district for what claims was wrongful termination. ( Coloradoan )

Wyoming schools

A new accountability system to grade Wyoming schools, teachers and principals is still on track despite two failed bills on the topic this legislative session, state education officials say. ( )

Categories: Urban School News

Some key school finance decisions left for Senate

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 21:25

Two important school finance bills moved smoothly out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday, with some touchy major issues left for the Senate.

After saying how pleased she was with how work on the bills had gone, prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner said, “I will also acknowledge we have more work to do. … We have agreed to let the Senate take on the challenges that remain.”

Those issues include reform of enrollment counting and use of school construction funds, among others.

House Bills 14-1292 and 14-1298 still face two House floor votes before they move to the other chamber, but no major changes are expected on the floor.

Known as the Student Success Act, HB 14-1292 would reduce the current $1 billion school funding shortfall by $100 million and also proposes spending a total of more than $200 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learner programs, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems.

The accompanying School Finance Act, House Bill 14-1298, is partly a technical bill needed to provide annual school spending, but it also would provide an additional $17 million that districts could use for either preschool or full-day kindergarten slots for at-risk children. The money would support slots for 5,000 additional students.

The committee approved both major and minor amendments proposed by its sponsors after extensive negotiations with school districts and other interest groups about HB 14-1292.

But the most important amendment, which would have stripped a controversial new enrollment counting system from the bill, wasn’t offered because of lack of agreement on the issue.

The original version of the bill proposed a phased switch to the average daily membership system of counting enrollment, replacing the state’s current Oct. 1 single count. That’s a change sought by Republicans and education reform groups, but districts have pushed back on the idea because of concerns about cost and administrative burdens.

Hamner prepared an amendment that would have replaced the ADM section of the bill with a two-count system, Oct. 1 and Feb. 1. She indicated she hadn’t reached agreement on the issue with Rep. Kevin Priola of Brighton, the primary Republican proponent of ADM.

“This conversation will continue in the Senate,” said Hamner, a Dillon Democrat who’s also chair of the committee. With a nod to people “who aren’t quite as pleased or satisfied” with the bill as she is, Hamner added, “Clearly there’s more work to be done on the ADM language” and on parts of the bill that propose spending on kindergarten and charter school facilities. Critics of those provisions fear they would divert money from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction grant program.

Another amendment, which would change the bill’s proposed spending on English language learner programs, was proposed and adopted. The amendment reduces the proposed funding from $35 million to $30.5 million, would provide the money through an existing distribution mechanism rather than a separate one originally proposed and would reduce the levels of data reporting requirements and Department of Education oversight originally suggested.

The amendment “takes out some of the requirements that the school districts found onerous and complicated,” Hamner said.

Two other amendments expand the potential uses of funds district would receive from a $40 million “implementation fund” intended to help them pay the costs of implementing new content standards, tests and education evaluation systems.

The committee made no changes in HB 14-1292’s proposal to reduce the K-12 spending shortfall (known as the negative factor) by $100 million. Districts have pushing for reductions as high as $275 million.

Hamner obliquely referred to that dispute by noting that new state revenue forecasts weren’t “quite as optimistic as we’ve hoped for,” hinting that a larger reduction would be difficult.

(In a related development, the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 5-1 for an amendment to the yet-to-be-introduced state budget bill that would devote an additional $52 million to K-12 funding next year. The money would be raised by shaving planned increases in payments to medical providers and in state employee salary increases. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the transfer would make a $100 million reduction in the negative factor more financially sustainable. He declined to say whether he’d support or oppose a negative factor reduction of more than $100 million.)

House Education passed HB 14-1292 on an 11-1 vote. Only Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voted no, noting his district (Douglas County) opposes the bill and saying, “This is not the answer.”

The panel’s vote on HB 14-1298 was split, and it passed on a 7-5 party-line vote. Committee Republicans opposed the additional spending on at-risk preschool and full-day kindergarten students, saying it would only benefit some districts.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, proposed an amendment to remove the bill’s earmark for early education and let districts spend the extra $17 million as they choose. Wilson said his preference is that districts use it for full-day kindergarten, which currently is only partly funded by the state. Committee Democrats killed the amendment.

HB 14-1298 also contains a provision that would divert 75 percent of any state surplus left at the end of 2014-15 into the State Education Fund, a dedicated account restricted to K-12 spending. What happens to that plan is anybody’s guess. Steadman told Chalkbeat Colorado he opposes that idea, and Steadman is expected to be a central figure in school finance decisions in the Senate.

A final financial note

The budget committee, working to finalize the main budget bill before it’s introduced next week, also took a significant action relative to new spending.

The panel voted 6-0 to set aside $50 million for spending on new state programs proposed by bills pending in the House and Senate appropriations committees. Several bills want new spending on various education programs. (See this story for details on those bills.)

The $50 million is considerably higher than the amounts of money available for new programs in recent legislative sessions.

Categories: Urban School News

For educators who wear many hats, which hat to evaluate?

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 18:13

When Kendra Ewing, superintendent of Agate School District, had to submit a list of her official titles to her local school board, the tally ran to 18 items.

“Principal. Special education teacher,” the list reads. “Pitch-in janitor.”

Ewing is one of 35 superintendents in the state who also serve as their district’s principal, often along with many other roles. (For a full list of her responsibilities, see here).

But under the state’s evaluation system, which rolled out this year, Ewing is only required to receive feedback on one: superintendent. For the rest of her jobs, she has to seek feedback through back channels, often without any additional funds.

The struggles of district leaders like Ewing with the state’s new educator evaluation system have highlighted the heavy burden the system puts on small rural districts. But they have also proved the flexibility of a system that may not have been designed with such districts in mind and have raised the profile of leaders in multiple roles, who received little attention in the past.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity”

The struggle for superintendents who serve in multiple roles is to balance both what measures they must be evaluated on under state statute with what they can be evaluated on, given limited resources in their district.

Because they are the highest-ranking administrators (and often the only administrators), there is no one in the school with the authority to evaluate them, leaving only the local school board. But few school boards have the educational expertise to provide feedback on their work as a principal.

“There are specific responsibilities that a superintendent has to a school board,” said Toby King, who directs the Colorado Department of Education’s Educator Effectiveness unit. King works with the nearly 20 percent of the state’s superintendents who serve in more than one administrative role, so-called “superintencipals.” “Those are the things that make sense [to be evaluated on].”

In response to confusion from districts, King’s department released guidance earlier this year for any educator serving in multiple roles to help districts stay within the law. The document, which is available here, states that all educators should be evaluated on their highest role, no matter what other roles they play.

“If I’m supermarket general manager, you are sometimes going to work in produce,” said King. “But you are always going to be evaluated as a general manager.”

The department’s guidance is an attempt to clarify a system many rural districts have criticized for the time requirements and confusion it has placed on already overloaded rural administrators.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity,” said King.

Despite the confusion over how to evaluate “superintencipals,” state officials and rural advocates say the system has proved more flexible for superintendent-principals than many imagined.

“There are things in the law that don’t even pertain to how rurals work,” said Tina Goar, the Colorado Department of Education’s rural advisor. “[But] there’s a lot of flexibility on how you set things up in your district while staying within the law.”

No correct answer

While that flexibility has streamlined the process somewhat for “superintencipals,” it has also left them to their own devices when they want feedback on the rest of what they do. And the solutions they have come to vary widely, from having no formal system to hiring outside evaluators.

Some have sought feedback from teachers and other district staff. In Crowley County School District in southeastern Colorado, the superintendent gave the state’s principal evaluation rubric to his staff and asked them to fill it out.

Ewing said her board gives her feedback based on all of her roles but she has also hired a consultant to spend one day a month in her district, giving her feedback on her performance.

Superintendent Kendra Ewing puts kindergartner Peyton Golliher down for a nap in her office.

“What she’s paid to do is be honest with me,” said Ewing. “That’s my way to say in my own conscience I’m doing a good job.”

According to King, that variation may not be a bad thing, but instead a sign that the system is working.

“Comparability has to be from one classroom to the next before we can have it from one school to the next, one district to the next,” said King. “Plus every district has its own context.”

But does that mean no good answer?

But for some, that flexibility just means there is no clear solution. Bruce Hankins, the superintendent in Dolores County School District Re-2J in southwestern Colorado, said that so far he has not found a solution that satisfies him.

Of getting evaluated by his teachers or his assistant principal, Hankins said, “it would be like you evaluating your boss,” an uncomfortable situation that doesn’t lend itself to honest feedback.

And the time requirements have proved a challenge.

“In the dual role, there is just so much,” he said. “I can’t spend two weeks doing this evaluation,” in addition to evaluating his teachers.

It’s a complaint many in the rural community have raised and King acknowledges that it’s an issue for many small rural districts. He and others anticipate that the time demands will lessen as people adjust to the new system, but the burden remains heavy for districts where there are few administrators.

In fact, the rollout of the evaluation system has prompted some districts to rethink their school structure.

In La Veta School District, Bree Lessar, the superintendent, asked her school board to hire an assistant principal to take over some of the teacher evaluations.

“With full implementation of [the new teacher evaluation law], I told my board I was unable to numerically do all the evaluations with fidelity,” said Lessar. The assistant principal now does the evaluations for 10 of the district’s 21 teachers.

Others have simply dodged the state-mandated evaluation system entirely. Kit Carson School District, on the eastern plains, applied for and received exemption from the state system, under Colorado’s 2008 innovation law, which grants schools and districts autonomy from some mandates.

“The previous superintendent foresaw the time it was going to take to do evaluations,” said Brenda Smith, Kit Carson’s superintendent. Kit Carson teachers are evaluated less frequently that teachers state-wide, although Smith uses the state rubric.

Smith says she would not be able to fulfill all of her duties if her district did not have innovation status.

“I feel bad for my colleagues who have to evaluate everybody everywhere,” she said.

Long term solutions

Still, even with Kit Carson’s unique flexibility, the system hasn’t been popular with teachers or administrators, who feel the state hasn’t provided enough resources to put the system into practice.

“The reason it’s been a sour note for the district is it goes back to unfunded mandate,” said Smith.

It’s an argument many in the Colorado Department of Education are sympathetic to. And the evaluations for the state’s 35 “superintencipals” have been a proving ground for how state officials can support districts overwhelmed by the pace of reform.

Goar, who is a former superintendent-principal herself, meets with all 35 dual-role administrators on a regular basis to identify the unique issues and find solutions. The responses of that group have helped inform the state’s guidance for rural evaluators.

“In some ways, Katy [Anthes, executive director of the Educator Effectiveness department] and Toby [King] have a real good handle on how do we differentiate things for our rurals,” said Goar. “It’s a unit that’s really thought about that.”

In fact, she said, dual role administrators are getting more attention that they have in the past.

“No one has ever thought about what to with these guys who are in a dual role,” said Goar. She hopes having more rural input will mean more focus on issues unique to rural areas, like the “superintencipals.”

“Right now support is just at the beginning and I hope there’s more,” said Goar.

Categories: Urban School News

Updated: “Data gap” accountability tweak on way to governor

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 16:38

Updated March 20 - The House Thursday accepted minor Senate amendments and voted 61-4 to repass House Bill 14-1182, the measure that modifies the state’s district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new achievement tests next year.

The bill originally passed the House 59-0, but 14 Republican senators voted no on Wednesday. There has been concern among some GOP members about the flexibility the bill gives to the State Board of Education.

The state Department of Education believes the bill is needed because of timing and data issues that will be created by launch of the new CMAS tests in the spring of 2015.

First, results won’t be available until late in the year or early 2016, meaning the data won’t be on hand when district and school ratings are calculated in the autumn of 2015.

Second, there probably won’t be academic growth data available, because that requires two years of comparable test results. Districts and schools are rated both on test scores and on student growth, along with other factors.

So the bill proposes to do three things:

  • Ratings issued next fall (based on this spring’s tests) will apply to both the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 school years.
  • Districts that later feel they or their schools should have different ratings in 2015-16 can appeal to CDE and provide additional data.
  • The State Board will be given more flexibility on choosing intervention measures for schools that reach the end of the five-year accountability clock. (Existing law already gives the board flexibility for handling districts that reach the end of the clock.

Without HB 14-1182, CDE believes the clock would be “timed out,” giving struggling districts and schools more than five years before state-ordered interventions are required.

A relatively small number of schools and districts would be affected by the bill. Only two districts, the Aurora Public Schools and Weld Re-8, would go into the fifth year in 2015-16, unless they improve their performance before then. Some 31 individual schools in multiple districts are in the same situation.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DA won’t file charges against Poudre officials in records-tampering case

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 09:45

where's the money

Newly issued state revenue forecasts don't substantially alter the debate over school finance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Those school funding fights may come to a head on Wednesday when two finance proposals come up for a vote. ( AP via the Gazette )

transparency and accountability

The Larimer County district attorney said no criminal charges would be filed against school administrators who ordered employees to destroy a student's files. ( Coloradoan )

High Times

A pilot program at Commerce City's Adams High School aims to help students who are addicted to marijuana. ( Colorado Public Radio )

rumbles in jefferson county

Two Jeffco alum and current parents argue that the current school board's actions will harm the district's ability to advance student achievement. ( Denver Post )

school supplies

Boulder Valley is ending a program that sold unused PCs to students and teachers cheaply because the district has run out of the old computers to sell. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

Two Boulder high school students were arrested in connection to a threat made to the school. ( Daily Camera )

matters of conduct

The Pueblo City School Board approved a policy that addresses how to maintain professional staff and student relationships. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

cooperative questions

The Steamboat Today editorial board criticizes the school board for trying to withdraw from its BOCES. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts don’t change much for school finance debate

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 18:13

The newly issued state revenue forecasts aren’t substantially different from projections made before the 2014 legislative session opened, which means about the same amount of money remains in play for this year’s K-12 funding debate.

Improved state revenues have focused attention on school finance this year, with districts and other education groups pushing hard for a significant reduction of the funding shortfall that built up during recent years of budget cuts. But key legislators are resisting that push, fearing that too large a buildup of K-12 funding now will lead to budget squeezes in future years. (See this story for background.)

Boiled down to its simplest terms, the fight is about spending more money now or spending less and saving more for the future.

The public debate has been on hold for two weeks while everyone waited for Tuesday’s forecasts. Projections significantly better than those made in December would have provided ammunition for interests seeking a big reduction in the school funding shortfall. Significantly worse predictions would have provided support for those with more cautious views.

In its new forecast, the executive branch Office of State Planning and Budgeting estimated that general fund revenues will be about 1 percent higher than was projected in December for both the current 2013-14 budget year and for 2014-15.

The Hickenlooper administration is proposing about $10.1 billion in spending next year from the general fund and the State Education Fund, a dedicated account that can used only for K-12 spending. (Total state spending is about double that, including federal and cash revenues.)

Both the OSPB forecast and one from Legislative Council economists took positive views of the overall economy and future growth, albeit with the usual warnings about possible bumps down the road.

Do your homework

Chief legislative economist Natalie Mullis said, “2015 is our year. We’re going to have a full, mature economic expansion.” But, she added with a smile, “I can’t be sure.”

School district lobbyists said they took heart from the Tuesday forecasts, saying they show the legislative and governor have plenty of money and flexibility to take a bite of $200 million out of the estimated $1 billion school funding shortfall. Districts believe money the administration wants to use for reserves, to pay back cash funds and to maintain a healthy balance in the education fund should be used for the shortfall.

Focus turns to House Education

The public school funding debate resumes in earnest Wednesday morning when the House Education Committee is scheduled to again take up two key bills.

House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, proposes spending $100 million to buy down part of the shortfall (called the negative factor) and spending a total of more than $250 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learners, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems statewide. (See this chart for more details on those elements.)

The committee took extensive – and often critical – testimony on March 3. Since then sponsors Rep. Millie Hamner and Carole Murray have met with scores of interest group representatives in an effort to reach some compromises.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and others on Monday.

The most important concession is a proposal to scrap the bill’s plan to move to the average daily membership method of counting students. Districts had complained that would be expensive and cumbersome. Instead, a proposed amendment would merely add a second enrollment count, on Feb. 1, to the current system, which counts students on Oct. 1. Districts that gained more students midyear would get more funding, but districts that declined wouldn’t be financially penalized.

Districts also opposed a requirement for public reporting of school-level spending. A proposed amendment would specify that districts could use currently available data for that and not have to compile additional information.

And another suggested amendment by the sponsors would allocate an additional $30 million for English language learners through an existing funding mechanism. Bill critics complained the separate funding mechanism proposed in the bill would unfairly advantage some districts while disadvantaging others. The proposed amendment also eases some of the regulatory requirements proposed originally.

Another amendment would give districts additional flexibility in how they could spend money from the Implementation Fund, which the bill proposes as a way to help districts implement new standards, tests and evaluation systems.

Discussions over the last two weeks reportedly haven’t produced movement on the amount of the negative factor reduction. The bill proposes $100 million (a concession on the sponsors’ part), while some interest groups have proposed $200 million, and a group of superintendents is pushing for $275 million.

As sponsors and lobbyists have negotiated, advocacy groups have been lobbying legislators on the negative factor. The group Great Education Colorado has been urging lawmakers to sign a negative factor reduction pledge, and it touted its success in a letter to the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.

Categories: Urban School News

Students at Manual want to be heard — and they have a lot to say

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 14:00

Last month, Chalkbeat staff began to seek out the voices of Manual High School students: What are their experiences at school? What does Manual do well or not well for them as students? Ultimately, what about students’ experiences did we miss in our reporting? This effort follows Chalkbeat’s special report, A Promise Unfulfilled, in which reporters Nic Garcia and Kate Schimel explored the factors that led Manual to go from a nationally watched model for transformation to, by some measures, Denver’s lowest-performing high school. We visited two leadership classes facilitated by Project VOYCE staff and joined a student-led forum addressing next steps for Manual students.  More details and a taste of what we heard, below.

Student-led forum

On a February afternoon, Chalkbeat staff joined a group of student-leaders who were eager to tackle tough conversations and have students’ ideas be a part of improving Manual High School. Students led conversations ranging from how they as students can help improve attendance, to how the school should expand its academic offerings, to the systemic social justice issues that play a role in Manual’s performance. These video clips provide a taste of what this student forum looked like.


Limited Resources


Contrast to Other Schools




Stop the Trial-and-Error


Get to Know us


A special thank you to videographer, Alicia Garcia for donating her time and energy and making it possible for us to share these clips with you.

Categories: Urban School News



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