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Updated: 10 min 11 sec ago

Federal education department: No reprieve for opt-outs

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 20:28

Colorado districts with large numbers of students refusing to take state standardized tests could face federal sanctions, after the U.S. Education Department Friday rejected a request from Colorado education officials to hold school districts harmless for high rates of opt-outs.

Federal officials said in a letter to Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond that not holding districts accountable for students who have opted out of tests will hinder efforts to improve schools and reduce inequities.

Districts are required by law to test all students in grades three to eight each year and all students in high school at least once. Federal officials have said districts could face sanctions, including the potential loss of federal funds, if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.

But in some Colorado districts, far fewer than 95 percent of students have taken standardized tests so far this year. In Boulder, for instance, district officials estimate that 47 percent of high schoolers, 14 percent of middle schoolers, 9 percent of students in K-8 schools, and 6 percent of elementary schoolers did not participate in the first round of spring tests.

As opposition to testing reached a boiling point, the State Board of Education voted in February to exempt districts from penalties for having low student participation in standardized tests.

The Colorado Department of Education subsequently requested a waiver from the federal education department that would effectively allow districts to not count students who had been opted out of tests toward that required 95 percent minimum.

In the letter to Hammond, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote that the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not permit certain students or percentages of students to be excluded from testing and does not permit state education agencies to exempt certain districts from accountability requirements.

“High-quality, annual, statewide assessments provide information on all students so that educators can improve educational outcomes, close achievement gaps between subgroups of historically underserved students and their more advantaged peers, increase equity, and improve instruction,” Delisle wrote.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said earlier this week that the federal government might have to intervene if states did not address rising numbers of students and parents refusing standardized tests.

When the state board voted to give districts a pass in February, Hammond advised that “districts still need to engage in good faith efforts to test all students in accordance with state and federal law and maintain documentation of parent refusals.”

Hammond announced his retirement earlier today.

The federal education department did agree Friday to grant the state flexibility on certain testing requirements that would reduce the number of students who are “double tested.”

The letter said that the federal department is still considering whether to grant the state flexibility from a requirement that teacher and principal evaluation requirements be tied to measures of student growth as determined by test scores. The state decided last year that districts could determine, for the 2014-15 school year, how much weight to give growth. Many districts have already acted on that flexibility.

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Categories: Urban School News

House weighs in with its own testing bill

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 20:12

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to its version of what should happen to the state testing system, less than 18 hours after the Senate passed its competing testing bill.

The House measure, House Bill 15-1323, is somewhat more modest than the Senate’s, with the major difference being 9th grade testing. The state’s 9th graders currently are tested in language arts and math. The House bill would continue that, while Senate Bill 15-257 would end those tests.

Here’s an illustration of how divided lawmakers are on the 9th grade issue: A proposed amendment to strip the testing out of the House bill died on a 29-33 vote, with three members excused.

The Senate bill also contains provisions on district testing flexibility that critics fear would lead to a breakdown in testing uniformity across the state and actually increase testing time and costs. The House measure includes a much more limited pilot program for exploration of new tests.

Both bills would reduce current high school tests and some school readiness and early literacy assessments. (See the chart at the bottom of this article for a detailed comparison of the two bills.)

For now both bills remain in their respective chambers. The House can’t take a final roll-call vote on HB 15-1323 until Monday at the earliest. The Senate could have taken a last vote on SB 15-257 Friday but moved it to Monday’s calendar.

It’s expected the bills will move out of their original houses simultaneously next week.

It’s also widely expected – and hoped – that both bills will move through both houses and then end up in the same House-Senate conference committee. (An alternative, perhaps unlikely scenario suggested by one lawmaker sees both bills going to Gov. John Hickenlooper and letting him decide.)

Key bill sponsors Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said they hope both bills will end up in a conference panel, which would try to reach a compromise plan.

“I hope we go to conference committee,” Hill said. “I hope that next week we have a solution,” Pettersen said, while acknowledging the situation remains fluid.

Both agreed that 9th grade testing and testing flexibility are the major sticking points.

There’s a third party to the discussion. Pettersen noted that Hickenlooper has signaled to lawmakers that a bill needs to include 9th grade tests if he’s going to sign it.

Supporters of 9th grade testing believe it is necessary to provide achievement data as students are entering high school. Opponents disagree with that, believe that students need more testing relief and argue that individual districts should have the option of using or skipping the 9th grade tests.

In addition to that issue, the House spent a lot of time on a proposed amendment by Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument and former chair of the State Board of Education. Lundeen’s idea was for the State Board to review five national sets of tests and then certify three that districts could choose from. Currently all students have to take the CMAS tests, which include the PARCC language arts and math exams.

That amendment provided Republican critics of the Common Core State Standards and of PARCC to take their last shots on the issue. (Neither HB 15-1323 nor SB 15-257 would withdraw Colorado from those.) Lundeen’s amendment died on a 27-37 vote.

Democrats and Republicans were on both sides of the debate, with GOP Reps. Jim Wilson of Salida and Kevin Priola of Henderson teaming with Pettersen to urge passage of the bill and resist amendments. The Democratic prime sponsor, Rep. John Buckner of Aurora, has been ill all week and was excused Friday.

Testing footnote: The last of the pullout of PARCC and Common Core votes, Senate Bill 15-233, died on a 9-9 tie vote in the Legislative Council. That joint leadership body mostly deals with legislative administrative matters, but it hears a few bills. Since the legislature has split partisan control, the panel’s membership is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. That gave council Republicans the political cover of being able to vote for the bill and still know it wouldn’t advance.

School finance bill passes Senate with last bits of rhetoric

The Senate Friday voted 21-14 to pass Senate Bill 15-267, the 2015-16 school finance bill.

A trio of Democratic senators, Mike Johnston of Denver, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Andy Kerr of Lakewood, repeated unsuccessful pleas made on preliminary debate Thursday to funnel more money into the bill from the State Education Fund.

They argued that the state’s schools face a “rainy day” that justifies tapping the education fund more deeply this year, whatever the financial consequences for the state in the future. (Spending from the education fund becomes a future obligation of the state’s general fund, and many legislative budget experts fear the general fund can’t sustain higher levels of school funding.)

Bill sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, defended the bill as is. “This to me is not the end,” he said, inviting his colleagues to think creatively about school finance and other education issues in future sessions. Hill’s speech went on so long that at one point he said he wasn’t doing a “filibuster.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond stepping down July 1

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 17:25

Colorado education commissioner Robert Hammond will retire July 1, he told the State Board of Education Friday.

Hammond has been the department’s commissioner since 2011. Prior to that he was deputy commissioner.

Hammond announced his retirement at a meeting of the State Board of Education today. He talk Chalkbeat Colorado that he decided to inform the board now, rather than wait until the regular May meeting, so that it would have ample time to consider transition plans.

According to a news release from the education department, Hammond told the state board that he is hoping to enjoy his retirement. “This is the right time for me as I want to make sure I make the most of my retirement while I’m able.” Hammond will turn 65 this year.

The announcement means the two top spots at CDE will be vacant as of this summer. Earlier this spring Hammond’s deputy commissioner, Keith Owen, announced that he was leaving state service to become superintendent of the Fountain-Fort Carson schools. The director of State Board relations Carey Markel is also leaving CDE to become Boulder’s senior assistant city attorney.

State board chairwoman Marcia Neal said the state has been fortunate to have Hammond as commissioner. “While not an ‘educator’ per se, there are few who could match his passion for education. This was exemplified by his constant efforts to provide a high level of support for school districts and their students.”

Hammond became commissioner during a time of major change for Colorado schools. Districts were still wrestling with budget cuts caused by the recession. Initiatives passed earlier by the legislature were starting to be implemented, including new academic content standards, a tougher rating system for districts and schools, and a new evaluation system for teachers and principals.

Public and educator anxiety about educational change has increased in the last two years as those programs have rolled out, with parents calling for reduction of testing and teachers raising concerns about use of test-derived student growth data for evaluations. Those concerns have taken a higher profile both at the State Board and in the legislature.

Given the increasing demands placed on districts by state education reform initiatives, Hammond has tried to focus the department on advising and helping districts roll out new content standards and implement the evaluation systems. A model evaluation system developed by the department is used by the majority of the state’s school districts. Providing such support has required something of a juggling act from CDE, as some of that work has been funded by federal money and private grants that are approaching their ends.

Hammond’s announcement comes less than four months after the seating of two new State Board of Education members shifted the tone of the board.

The new members, Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Democrat Val Flores of Denver, have been vocal proponents of parent rights and local control of schools. They have intensified board skepticism about standardized testing and the Common Core State Standards.

Since January the board has passed resolutions allowing districts to seek waivers from some testing and eliminating accreditation penalties for districts with lower-than-required test participation rates.

Hammond and his staff are bound by law to implement and administer those initiatives and others, and there’s been some tension with the board because of that. The federal government has since rejected some of the board’s proposals.

Hammond told Chalkbeat that the new board wasn’t a big factor in his decision. “I’ve worked with a split board ever since I started this job, and I’ve been able to work with them. … I get along with every one of the board members. I do respect the right of the board to do what they want.”

The commissioner of education is the only head of a major state department who isn’t appointed by the governor. Education commissioners are chosen by the elected, seven-member State Board. Board members are elected on a partisan basis from congressional districts, and members’ educational philosophies range along a wide spectrum.

On the current board, Durham and Flores often ally with Republicans Pam Mazanec and Debra Scheffel of Douglas County. Democrats Jane Goff of Arvada and Angelika Schroeder of Boulder often are more supportive of current state education policy initiatives. Republican chair Marcia Neal of Grant Junction sometimes allies with Goff and Schroeder.

The two previous board chairs, Republicans Paul Lundeen and Bob Schaffer, were critical of many of the reforms passed by the legislature since 2008.

Board members of both parties are perennially frustrated by their lack of policy influence. Although the state constitution gives the board “general supervision” of the public schools, in reality the body can only do what the legislature assigns it to do in law. Many of the board’s duties are regulatory or quasi-judicial, including such things as teacher license revocations, deciding disputes between districts and charter schools and review of district applications for waivers from certain state eduction laws.

The announcement also comes at a time when a handful of districts and several schools may soon face state intervention because of persistent low academic performance. The department has been involved in helping some of those districts improve their programs.

As news of the announcement spread, reaction from various quarters trickled in. In a written statement, Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, called Hammond “one of the most accessible and collaborative people to ever hold this office.”

Dallman also said that Hammond “believes everyone in the education system has a valuable voice and made extraordinary efforts to travel the state and show his unwavering support for our teachers and education support professionals in delivering a quality education for every child.”

Former state board member Elaine Gantz Berman, a Denver Democrat, said Hammond’s retirement, while “too bad,” comes as no surprise because he has been discussing it for several months. She also said that, given the state board’s lack of authority, Hammond’s stepping down was unlikely to cause any significant shift in state education policy.

Here’s a sampling of other reactions:

“Colorado is a better place because of Robert. I can only hope we can find someone with his tenacity, his intelligence and his commitment to excellence in education to pick up the torch and carry it forward for the next generation of Colorado’s children.” – Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs and chair of the Senate Education Committee

“Robert Hammond has been called upon to do more than any commissioner in Colorado history. In the midst of treacherous political waters he has fundamentally reshaped the department’s relationship with educators in the field, charted an ambitious course for transformation and built a world-class team of entrepreneurs, innovators and experts who have made Colorado the nation’s most exciting laboratory for educational improvement. Hammond’s retirement is a staggering loss for Colorado, but he will leave a legacy of a department deeply driven to serve all educators and a state relentlessly committed to serving all children.” – Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a central figure in education reform legislation of recent years

“Commissioner Hammond has been a strong leader and partner during the seven years he has been at the Colorado Department of Education. … There is so much at stake as we move forward with this work, and the new commissioner will have big shoes to fill. We encourage the State Board of Education to be thoughtful in their search and hope they will create a transparent and credible process as they search for Commissioner Hammond’s successor.” – Interim Executive Director Krista Spurgin of Stand for Children Colorado

“Robert Hammond has been an extraordinary commissioner and will be greatly missed. Under his leadership, the Colorado Department of Education has distinguished itself as one of the most progressive and effective in the country.” – Bruce Hoyt, co-Chair of the Colorado Succeeds board of directors

“Colorado will miss the passion and dedication that Robert Hammond brought to this position. He has been a transformative leader right we needed him most.” – Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, senior Democrat on Senate Education

Categories: Urban School News

Adams 50 gets grant to explore Pay For Success financing

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 13:09

Adams County School District 50 won a $120,000 grant this month to explore the use of the Pay For Success financing model to expand early childhood programming.

Part of the grant, awarded by the University of Utah’s Policy Innovation Lab, will pay for a new in-house employee to help determine the feasibility of a Pay For Success project in the district. Possible projects, all with the goal of improving kindergarten readiness, include the addition of full-day preschool spots, parent education programs, and home visiting programs.

The idea behind Pay For Success, or PFS, is that private investors or philanthropists pay upfront for social programs with proven results. If those programs save public money by preventing costly interventions such as emergency room visits or special education services, the investors are repaid with interest.

Early childhood PFS projects have gained traction in recent years because early childhood programs are frequently underfunded and also represent the front-end interventions that tend to produce significant savings down the road. A bill that would allow the state to participate in Pay For Success deals is currently under consideration in the legislature.

In Colorado, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County is also considering an early childhood PFS project—the expansion of a home visiting program for at-risk families with babies.

Adams 50 was among two Colorado groups and six groups nationwide to receive the University of Utah grants. The other Colorado entity funded was the State of Colorado for a program to address chronic homelessness.

Aurora Public Schools, which had applied for a grant for a college and career readiness PFS project, did not receive an award.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS, union extend ProComp

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 09:40

DPS Changes

The Denver school board has approved a long list of charter renewals and innovation plans for district schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Into the night

The Senate and House worked late Thursday, advancing bills on testing, school finance, student data privacy and aid for rural districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Warning shot

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

An extension

Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have announced an agreement on how ProComp, the district’s $25 million taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay program, will work, at least until next September. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

reflections

Retiring Littleton Superintendent looks back on a long career in education. ( Colorado Community Media )

Contract talks

Negotiators for the Thompson schools and the teachers union have reached a contract deal, but the school board is being mum about its views on the issue. ( Reporter-Herald )

Student service

Roaring Fork High School’s entire student body took a break from school Thursday to serve their community as part of the annual Rams Day. ( Post-Independent )

Editorial

The House testing bill offers the best path forward on the issue. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

DPS approves and renews slate of charters, innovation plans

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 23:39

The Denver school board approved innovation plan and charter renewals for 20 schools and new innovation plans for two schools during its April meeting Thursday evening.

At one of its most well-attended meetings this year, held at Manual High School, the board also heard a series of public comments on issues ranging from Denver Public Schools’ pension decisions to standardized tests to ProComp to the district’s embrace of innovation and charter schools.

Check out our board tracker for a full list of all DPS board votes.

Plans for innovation, charter schools

The board approved new innovation plans for Place Bridge Academy in southeast Denver and Kepner Beacon, which is slated to open in 2016. (See the district’s recommendations for schools here.)

As innovation schools, Place Bridge and Kepner Beacon will be given waivers from certain district requirements and policies. Teachers must vote to approve innovation plans, and schools must show they have garnered community support for the changes. DPS already has 35 innovation schools, far more than any district in the state.

Place Bridge is an ECE-8 school in southeast Denver that serves many English language learners and students who are new to the United States. The school requested waivers from standard district curriculum requirements, professional development, budget, and hiring/ human resources practices. The school’s staff voted 53-26 to approve the plan.

The board unanimously approved the innovation plan.

Kepner Beacon will be an expansion of an already-existing innovation school, Grant Beacon Middle School. Teachers at Grant Beacon voted to approve Kepner Beacon’s innovation plan.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole board vote against the Kepner plan.

Jimenez raised concerns that new teachers at Kepner Beacon, who were not part of that vote, would be required to opt in the innovation plan, which includes a waivers of some aspects of the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

Colorado teachers unions have raised legal concerns about DPS’s previous creation of new innovation schools that had no staff to approve the plans. A court has upheld the district’s actions, but Jimenez said he thought the Kepner expansion might be a different legal situation.

“We’re all pulling for (principal Alex) Magaña and his plan,” he said. “But I think the innovation proposal is lacking in that particular point.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that the teachers at Kepner Beacon will have a secret ballot after they’re hired to determine whether they want to opt into the innovation plan.

The board also approved a set of extensions of innovation and charter contracts (see board tracker for full list). The state requires that innovation renewals be considered every three years and that charters be considered every five years, but several schools were only given renewals for a year or two based on an evaluation by DPS central office. West Generations, for instance, was given a one-year extension due to its low academic performance and inconsistent leadership.

Critical eyes

The night’s meeting also attracted dozens of teachers, parents and students, some to support schools with renewals on the table but more with a laundry list of concerns to share.

A teacher grades while waiting to comment to the board.

About 20 Park Hill residents showed up to complain that they do not have a neighborhood school anymore because of the district’s shared enrollment zones. One mother said her child had not been placed at any of the schools they had listed on their choice form.

The crowd let out loud rounds of applause for student Josie Karet, who said she opted out of standardized tests, and for parent Lynn Roberts, who described tests as “a violation of learning opportunities.”

Categories: Urban School News

Modest testing reduction bill advances in Senate

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 23:02

A bipartisan bill that would reduce state testing in high school and early grades won preliminary Senate approval Thursday evening.

The Senate also gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-267, the 2015-16 school finance measure.

Final roll-call votes could come as soon as Friday, sending the bills to the House, which seems headed down a somewhat different path on testing.

Key features of the testing measure, Senate Bill 15-257, include the reduction of state testing to one set of language arts and math tests in high school plus the ACT test. Other provisions call for flexibility for districts to use their own tests, creation of district pilot programs to develop new accountability and assessment systems, and the streamlining of early literacy and school readiness assessments.

An amendment added on the floor creates a one-year timeout for district accreditation and ratings and also a one-year extension of flexibility in using student growth data for teacher evaluations.

Senators debated the issue for 90 minutes. Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said, “This is a great milestone in our session. … This is a bill that you can wrap your arms around.”

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, urged his colleague to “cut back on the overload, the overwhelming flood of testing that is killing the joy of education. … We can do something about it right now.”

The main dissenter at the microphone was Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. Johnston, the leading advocate of education reform measures in past sessions, is something of an odd man out this year.

Johnston proposed amendments to maintain 9th grade language arts and math tests, which would be eliminated by the bill, and to eliminate the testing pilot programs, which he said would actually increase testing time and costs.

Referring to the bill, he said, “In its current form I think it’s pretty bad policy for the state.”

All his amendments were rejected. Johnston said, “Having fought the good fight, I’ll go eat dinner.” (As usually happens during evening sessions, dinner was brought in for the senators.)

Despite widespread debate and concern about statewide standardized testing, the 2015 legislature has been slow to deal with the issue. Thursday’s debate was the first floor consideration of a major testing bill, and it came on the 107th day of the 120-day session.

The House on Thursday again delayed preliminary consideration of its major testing measure, House Bill 15-1323. The prime Democratic sponsor, Rep. John Buckner of Aurora, has been ill this week.

A key difference between the two bills is 9th grade testing. The House bill currently would continue it, while the Senate bill would eliminate it.

Six of the 11 testing-related bills introduced this session remain alive, but SB 15-257 and HB 15-1323 are considered the major measures. Five bills have been killed in committee (see story on dead House bills). Senate Bill 15-233, which would pull Colorado out of the Common Core Standards and the PARCC tests, Thursday was sent from the Senate floor back to committee. It likely won’t survive there.

Also part of the testing debate is Senate Bill 15-223, which wouldn’t change the assessment schedule but which codifies parent rights to opt their children out of testing. The measure has wide bipartisan support. It has passed the Senate but isn’t scheduled for House Education Committee consideration until Monday.

There’s concern among supporters that even if that bill passes both houses, Gov. John Hickenlooper will veto it, but the legislative session will have ended by then, and lawmakers won’t have the opportunity to override a veto.

See the chart at the bottom of this article for a comparison of HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 and for a spreadsheet of all this year’s testing bills.

School finance debate airs anxieties about tight budgets

SB 15-267 would increase K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year. Most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

The only discretionary increase in the bill is $25 million that would be applied to the state’s K-12 funding shortfall, the so-called negative factor. That figure currently is about $880 million, and in the past it’s been as high at $1 billion.

Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026.

Johnston and Merrifield teamed up on this bill, offering a variety of amendments to both increase overall funding and to earmark some new funding for at-risk students. All those amendments were defeated. (See this story for more background on the finance bill.)

In other action

A lot of education-related bills were moving at the legislature Thursday. Here are the highlights of the day’s action:

Senate Bill 15-173 – This measure, intended to set new requirements for privacy and security on education technology vendors, got preliminary House approval after a surprisingly short discussion. Along with testing reductions, this bill has been a priority for some parent activists, but they’re unhappy with amendments added in the House Education Committee and approved by the full House Thursday evening.

Senate Bill 15-214 – The Senate voted 35-0 for this measure, which would create a legislative study committee on school violence and youth mental health. It’s the companion to Senate Bill 15-213, a more controversial measure that would open school districts to liability for violent incidents (see story).

Senate Bill 15-072 – A pet proposal of Joint Budget Committee Chair Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, this bill would have raised admissions standards at Metropolitan State University. Lambert argues MSU’s graduation rate isn’t high enough because it admits too many unprepared students. Metro leaders strongly opposed the bill, arguing it would hamper the university’s mission of serving non-traditional students. The Senate Education Committee killed the bill on a 7-2 bipartisan vote.

The House also gave preliminary approval to two bills of interest to small rural districts. House Bill 15-1321 would provide some regulatory flexibility to such districts and also provide $10 million in per-student aid to isolated districts with fewer than 1,000 students. (See this story for background.)

House Bill 15-1201 also carries a $10 million price tag. That money would be spread over two years in grants to boards of cooperative educational services to help small districts save money by sharing administrative services.

Check our special mini Bill Tracker for updates on all the key education bills still in play as the session nears its end.

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Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver district and union extend ProComp agreement

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 16:33

Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced today that officials have reached an agreement on how ProComp, the district’s $25 million taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay program, will work, at least until next September.

The agreement includes changes for the 2014-15 school year that reflect new teacher evaluation systems and the state’s transition to a new standardized testing program.

It does not include a district proposal for the 2015-16 school year that would have shifted more funds to teachers in high-needs schools, a plan that union officials raised numerous questions about.

Because teachers are now evaluated annually instead of every three years, they will be eligible for a smaller evaluation-based incentive each year rather than a larger incentive every three years.

For the 2014-15 school year only, the district will double, to about $5,000, the amount teachers can receive for working in a school with high growth scores on state tests, and temporarily get rid of an incentive for schools that received a high overall ranking. The district is not issuing a single overall ranking for schools on its School Performance Framework this year due to the new assessments.

Teachers will likely receive those incentives in March 2016, when the state is anticipated to release student growth scores based on this spring’s standardized tests. If the state is unable to calculate growth scores because of the new tests, union and district officials will negotiate again about how to calculate those incentives.

A report released by district and union representatives last year recommended that the district significantly change ProComp to make it easier to understand and to give stronger incentives to teachers in high-needs schools. The report raises concerns that the ProComp system may not be helping the district recruit or retain teachers.

District and union officials plan to continue negotiations about changes to ProComp for 2015-16, a broader redesign of the program for upcoming years, and changes to a program focused on struggling teachers.

The district is planning to host a series of conversations with teachers to get their feedback on additional changes.

Categories: Urban School News

As opt-out numbers grow, Arne Duncan says feds may have to step in

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:01

[A version of this story was originally published in Chalkbeat New York.]

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week that the federal government is obligated to intervene if states fail to address the rising number of students who are boycotting mandated annual exams.

Duncan’s comments came a day before Gov. John Hickenlooper and two former Colorado governors publicly defended the state’s testing and accountability system and spoke against opting out of tests.

Testing has been a hot-button issue this year, as many Colorado districts are reporting higher-than-usual rates of students opting out of state standardized tests. This fall, approximately 83 percent of eligible Colorado students took 12th grade exams. Official figures for spring tests have not yet been released.

States across the country are also seeing more students and parents refuse to take standardized tests: In New York, an advocacy group reported that more than 15 percent of eligible test takers refused to take standardized English exams last week.

The trend has raised questions about the consequences for districts. Federal law requires all students in grades three to eight to take annual tests, and officials have said districts could face sanctions if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.

On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students take the tests.

“We think most states will do that,” Duncan said during a discussion at a conference of the Education Writers Association in Chicago. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in.”

Duncan said that students in some states are tested too much, and acknowledged that the exams are challenging for many students. But he argued that annual standardized exams are essential for tracking student progress and monitoring the score gap between different student groups.

He also said the tests are “just not a traumatic event” for his children, who attend public school in Virginia.

“It’s just part of most kids’ education growing up,” he said. “Sometimes the adults make a big deal and that creates some trauma for the kids.”

Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, said on Wednesday that while the state might currently have “too much of a good thing” (too many tests), he believes opting out is harmful to a system that is ultimately beneficial for students.

But Colorado’s state board of education passed a resolution in February saying that the state’s education department cannot penalize districts with low rates of student participation in standardized tests due to parent opt outs. And a bill that would protect parents’ right to opt students out of tests passed in the state Senate earlier this month.

A federal education department spokeswoman said last week that the agency could withhold funding from states if some of their districts have too few students take the exams, but that it has not yet done so because states have addressed the issue on their own.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Opt-out supporters claim calendar manipulation

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 08:50

gung-ho grizzled govs

As the legislature prepares for floor debate on key testing bills, two former governors urged lawmakers not to tinker too much with standards and assessments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Timing is everything

Sponsors of a student assessment opt-out bill are worried not only about a veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper, they fret that lawmakers won't have an opportunity to override the possible action. ( Colorado Statesman )

Mountain homeless

The number of students in Routt County qualifying for services under a national homeless education act surged during the 2013-14 school year, according to state data. ( Steamboat Today )

outdoor classroom

Three-and-a-half years ago, it appeared that Jefferson County Schools' Outdoor Lab program had no future as budget cuts had forced it onto the chopping block. But now its future looks bright. ( Denver Post Your Hub )

aural reading

Denver Public Schools has given 80,000 audiobooks to students struggling with dyslexia. ( 9News )

boulder bikes

The Boulder Valley School District held its seventh annual Bike to School Day on Wednesday, Earth Day, as students around the district rode their bicycles to school on a sunny spring morning. ( Daily Camera )

more masters'

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will add a master's degree in accounting and a bachelor's degree in engineering education in the fall to comply with increased state licensing requirements and to help increase the supply of high school math and science teachers. ( Gazette )

best bucks

Roaring Fork School District is looking to the state to help pay for a $26.6 million, 79,800-square-foot overhaul of Glenwood Springs Elementary School. ( Post Independent )

Two cents

A parent and marketing executive says she "recognize(s) the value of the data PARCC gathers." ( Denver post )

Categories: Urban School News

Ex-governors have Hick’s back, defend standards and testing

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 16:04

As the legislature prepares for floor debate on key testing bills, two former governors urged lawmakers not to tinker too much with standards and assessments.

Former Govs. Roy Romer and Bill Owens joined current chief executive John Hickenlooper to defend 30 years of Colorado education reform, including standards and testing begun on Romer’s watch and expanded under Owens.

Romer and Owens didn’t mince words on touchy issues that included opting out and continuation of 9th grade testing; they oppose the former and support the latter. Hickenlooper, who will have to decide on whatever testing bill the 2015 session sends him, was non-committal on specific issues.

All three said the testing system can be streamlined and some tests eliminated but didn’t offer specific suggestions.

“We probably have too much of a good thing,” said Owens.

Hickenlooper didn’t commit himself when asked about specific issues like 9th grade testing (an issue the House and Senate currently are at odds about) and possible elimination of social studies tests.

“I want to see what the bills look like. We’re open to looking at each of these issues.”

The governor also said he sees ninth grade testing as an important component, and added that he and the legislature “should be able to work through that.” He said he’s discussed testing repeatedly at his regular meetings with legislative leadership and is hopeful a good bill will be produced.

Republican Owens said he initiated the idea of the news conference and enlisted Democrat Romer. Owens said Democratic former Gov. Bill Ritter had a schedule conflict and couldn’t attend.

Owens said the two “want to make sure we don’t throw away those 30 years” of education reform.

The two ex-governors were unequivocal on two issues.

“I’m opposed to opting out of tests,” Owens said, and Romer said, “Why would anybody opt out? … To opt out is harmful to the system.”

On 9th grade testing, Owens said he supports it, and Romer said, “You need a test in the 9th grade.” Arguing you don’t “is nonsensical and illogical.”

Owens was asked why so many Republicans now are critical of standards and testing when he and past GOP legislators were among the architects of Colorado’s current education system.

“That system is under attack … this is stunning to me,” Owen said.  He said some people have forgotten all the work done in the past. “I’m concerned we’ve gotten away from it.”

Three testing bills are pending on this week’s calendars, two in the Senate and one in the House, but all three of those were laid over Wednesday and may or may not be heard Thursday.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco school leader is proud of his schools — even after separation

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 09:03

safe schools

The Colorado Senate gave the first OK to a bill that would hold school districts liable for some violent crimes. The bill was renamed the Claire Davis School Safety Act. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

During debate, some Democrats unsuccessfully tried to higher the threshold of what districts could be liable for. ( Denver Post )

Human Resources

A Douglas County charter school principal is proud of the schools he opened — even if he's been fired from them. ( Douglas County News-Press )

A Jeffco fifth grader, who battles epilepsy and autism, won a visit from the daughter of Jackie Robinson for an essay he wrote about breaking barriers. ( 9News )

The nation's best school janitor could be in the Cherry Creek School District. ( 9News )

On the Move

A special education class at Peck Elementary School in Jeffco promotes social and educational skills through activities like dance. ( Arvada Press )

won't you dance?

After prom activities are meant to be fun and keep students safe. ( Daily Camera )

update

Authorities have charged a man who has Parkinson's disease with vehicular homicide and reckless driving after his truck slammed into another vehicle and killed a Colorado school district's chief financial officer. ( AP via Times-Call )

yes you can

Schools across the country, including those in Colorado, are beginning to offer "seals of biliteracy" on diplomas. Here's why. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate passes district liability bill

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 17:54

Updated April 22, 9:30 a.m. – The Senate Wednesday morning voted 25-9 to pass the bill that would make school districts legally liable for certain kinds of violent incidents.

Several amendments were added to soften Senate Bill 15-213 during preliminary debate on Tuesday, but those didn’t go far enough for some Democratic senators, who proposed other amendments to further limit districts’ liability. Those were defeated.

School districts have raised concerns that the bill sets an ambiguous standard for lawsuits and that it might cause schools to overreact and take such steps as expelling students seen as potentially dangerous.

The bill was prompted by the December 2013 death of Arapahoe High School student Claire Davis, who was shot by fellow student Karl Pierson. Her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, have long complained that the Littleton Public Schools have been uncooperative in providing information about the tragedy and what led up to it. (Earlier this month the Littleton school board agreed to arbitration with the family on the issue of information sharing.)

One floor amendment approved Tuesday formally names the bill the Claire Davis School Safety Act.

Pushing for changes in the bill presents a delicate political challenge for districts. The measure is sponsored by the Senate’s two top Republicans, President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs and Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker. And their House sponsors are that chamber’s top Democrats, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder and Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Denver.

The main elements of the bill would allow districts and charter schools to be held liable if they don’t use “reasonable care” in protecting students, faculty or staff from “reasonably foreseeable” acts of violence that lead to serious bodily injury or death.

Damage caps would be set at $350,000 for individuals and $900,000 in cases of multiple victims. A provision to allow another $350,000 for lawyers’ fees was removed in committee earlier. The bill also would make it easier for families to get information from districts.

The Senate approved these amendments that were proposed by Scheffel:

    • Districts could not be found negligent solely on the basis of failing to expel a student.
    • Individual schools employees couldn’t be held liable unless their actions were “willful and wanton.”
    • Districts would have two years to implement new safety policies before they could be held liable for incidents.

The bill uses the legal standard of simple negligence. Democratic amendments to raise that to the harder-to-prove standards of gross negligence or deliberate indifference were defeated.

The Senate’s nearly 90 minutes of debate Tuesday were sober and serious.

“The goal is to affect change, to motivate behavior” in order to make schools safer, Scheffel said.

But Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, said, “Do we solve the problem with legalese? I don’t think so.”

“This is a dramatic shift in state policy,” warned Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. He said he fears the bill would discourage teachers from trying to help troubled students. “Reaching out one more time should never be considered negligence.”

But Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, supported the bill. After reciting a long list of school tragedies, she said, “Senate Bill 213 is challenging our school districts to move to a new normal. … We all know that laws can be changed, but dead students, dead teachers cannot be brought back to the classroom. So I choose to take the risk” of passing the bill.

A companion measure, Senate Bill 15-214, would create a legislative study committee on school safety and youth mental health.

School districts, like other government agencies, are immune from a wide variety of lawsuits. But there are specific exceptions in state law, and districts can be sued in contractual disputes, for discrimination and civil rights issues, for unsafe building conditions and for injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Lawmaker wants medical marijuana patients to have access in school

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 09:54

Defining medicine

A Colorado lawmaker wants students with medical marijuana prescriptions to have access to their medicine in school. ( The Denver Channel )

Two cents

A charter school founder writes that it takes a village to raise a charter school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history lessons

On the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, two Colorado schools got threatening messages. ( KPTV )

Government Substitute

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was a substitute teacher for a government class at Northglenn High last week. ( Denver Post )

Building lessons

The Garfield RE-2 district is creating academic units based on the new Colorado standards. ( Post Independent )

School Finance

The Fort Morgan Times gives a rundown of the school finance bill that moved forward in the General Assembly last week. ( Fort Morgan Times )

Immunization

In Steamboat Springs, immunization rates range from 1.2 percent to 10 percent. ( Steamboat Today )

Two cents

State Representatives Terri Carver and Rep Paul Lundeen write in the Gazette that there needs to be more balance in school testing. ( Gazette )

The more things change...

Online resources don't mean physical textbooks are going away. ( Education Week )

Capitol Roundup

The House is working on a data privacy bill. Four proposals to cut testing are no longer on the table. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Books heard round the world

A group of Castle Rock middle schoolers wrote books in Spanish that will be sent around the world. ( 9News )

Enrollment

Boulder Valley is considering changing Louisville Elementary's attendance boundary. ( Daily Camera )

Columbine

Columbine High School hosted an annual moment of silence and canceled classes yesterday to mark the anniversary of the shooting. ( Gazette )

Thinking it Through

Free breakfast for kids is drawing fire from some families and teachers who say it wastes learning time and is based on false assumptions. ( Associated Press via Aurora Sentinel )

Life Skills

At Peck Elementary, a class focuses on social and life skills for special needs students. ( Arvada Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Ranks of testing bills culled as session’s days dwindle

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 23:11

Four testing bills were killed by the House Education Committee Monday, including measures that would have repealed the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests.

The committee did approve a measure that would impose new data privacy requirements on vendors who provide services to schools.

All four testing measures had Republican sponsorship and had been expected to die in the Democratic-majority House, although the committee didn’t split along party lines on two of the four bills. The measures have been hanging around on the calendar while lawmakers have been trying to reach agreement on the issue.

The bills died after a hearing of more than six hours that featured now-familiar testimony from testing critics and from interest-group representatives who want only minor changes in the system.

The committee’s action leaves six testing-related bills alive in the legislature, which has only 16 days before adjournment. The two major assessment measures, House Bill 15-1323 and Senate Bill 15-257, are on the  House and Senate floor calendars Tuesday, but they may or may not be heard then.

These are the bills that were killed Monday:

House Bill 15-1105 – The main elements of the bill would have ended Colorado’s participation in the Common Core and PARCC and required creation of new state standards. 9-2 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1123 – The key feature of the bill would have given districts flexibility is choosing their own tests rather than having to give the statewide assessments. 8-3 bipartisan vote.

House Bill 15-1208 – The measure originally would have taken Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards, required adoption of new state standards and new tests and given districts some flexibility in choice of tests. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, offered a successful amendment to trim the bill down to just pulling out of PARCC. Then the committee killed the bill. 6-5 party-line vote.

House Bill 15-1125 – Its provisions were similar in many ways to HB 15-1105, but it also provided district and State Board of Education flexibility and created a schedule for periodic updating of academic content standards. Sponsor Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, made a last-minute plea to have the bill laid over, but chair Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, declined to do that. 6-5 party-line vote.

Republican Reps. Kevin Priola of Henderson, Jim Wilson of Salida, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton voted with committee Democrats on some of the four bills. Only GOP Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Lundeen supported all four of the bills.

A 9-2 majority of House Education members passed HB 15-1323 on April 13 (see story).

The two bills pending on the House and Senate floors don’t touch the Common Core or PARCC but would reduce high school testing and streamline early literacy and school readiness assessments. The major difference is ninth grade testing, which the House bill would continue but the Senate bill would eliminate. The Senate bill also proposes some district flexibility in testing.

One testing-related measure, Senate Bill 15-233, doesn’t propose changes in the assessment system itself but codifies parent rights to opt students out of tests and clarifies what happens to schools and districts when test participation levels fall below required levels. That bill currently is scheduled in House Education on April 27.

(Get more details on the measures decided Monday and all other assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article. Learn more about HB 15-1323 and SB 15-257 in the chart below the Tracker.)

Privacy bill still in play

The data privacy measure, Senate Bill 15-173, has been the subject of intense negotiations since it passed the Senate more than a month ago.

Technology industry lobbyists have been promoting amendments to soften some of the bill’s requirements, particularly the amount of disclosure companies would have to make about contracts with school districts. Parent activists have been fighting to keep the bill in the form it left the Senate.

House Education Monday approved two amendments, one intended to meet some of the industry concerns and a second that adds further limits on the types of student data that vendors can’t use for commercial purposes.

The main thrust of the bill prohibits educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data.

The committee sent the bill to the House on a 10-1 vote.

For the record

The House gave final approval Monday to these education bills:

House Bill 15-1317 – The bill would authorize the state to set up “pay for success contracts” under which private investors and philanthropists could fund social services such as early childhood programs and recover their investments from savings in other programs such as special education. 52-11

House Bill 15-1326 – The measure would prohibit state colleges from discriminating in admissions and financial aid against graduates of high schools in unaccredited school districts. 35-28

The House also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1334, which would create a legislative study committee plus a technical advisory group with powers to review the state’s school finance system and makes recommendations for changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

Prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told her colleagues, “This is a really important bill. You’ve probably been under a rock if you haven’t heard we have some issues in our state regarding school finance.”

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

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Categories: Urban School News

It takes a village to raise a charter school

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 15:31

My journey to create a school for pregnant and parenting teens began in early 2012 with two questions.

First, was there a need in northwest Aurora for a school tailored to the unique needs of young parents as anecdotal evidence suggested?

Second, could a small alternative charter school for students with complex needs be financially viable?

The first question was easily answered with a resounding yes. The enthusiasm and encouragement I received from people working with teen parents in the community and others in the field propelled me down the path I’ve been on for the past three years. The data backed up what I heard and learned anecdotally. Despite the overall drop in teen birth rates over the past 20 years, the teen birth rate in Denver and Adams Counties was still 50 percent higher than the state and national average. Hundreds of teens in the Aurora community are dropping out of school each year due to parenting obligations.

The second question was more difficult to answer. Having started another charter school, I knew the challenges of the charter financial model for small alternative high schools. We knew from our research that the charter schools that served this population best were small and that they provided a variety of academic and non-academic supports. The resources needed to effectively serve the students and their families exceeds per pupil revenue (PPR) and fundraising would always be a necessity.

While it still felt like a leap of faith, I came to believe that the school could be viable — through partnerships.

New Legacy Charter High School would not be opening this fall were it not for a number of key community partners and supporters.

Finding a suitable facility proved to be perhaps the greatest challenge. After looking at a number of buildings in original Aurora that needed significant work and wringing our hands and hearts trying to figure out how we as a brand new school might finance the needed improvements, we were fortunate to connect with the Urban Land Conservancy (ULC).

ULC is a Colorado non-profit committed to preserving urban land for community benefit. ULC has done a ton of great work in Denver and had been looking for an opportunity to work in Aurora. With any partnership, there must be alignment of mission, purpose, and a value proposition for both parties. We found both with the ULC.

Although building schools is not something ULC had done before (and it typically does construction through development partners instead of directly as it has done with New Legacy), this partnership seemed to be a special circumstance and all the pieces fell together. The school’s building – designed to house a high school and early learning center – is currently under construction at 2091 North Dayton Street in northwest Aurora and is scheduled for completion in early August 2015, just in time for the start of the school year.

Our partnership with ULC will continue for many years as ULC will be the school’s landlord through a long-term lease.

I would never have imagined a small alternative school like ours could open in a new building, but the reality is that we could not otherwise find a suitable space in northwest Aurora that could be retrofitted. The ULC has positioned us to serve our students well and to be a part of the northwest Aurora community – we are beyond grateful for their support. The building is being designed with a community room that will be available for use by community groups in the evenings and on the weekends.

Our work with ULC is one example of a partnership that helped answer Question #2, but there are many other partnerships at play.

During this journey, I have been continually honored by the community of people who share my belief in the potential of teen parents and support the school’s vision by volunteering their time, connecting us with potential students, offering financial support, and sharing their skills on our board, advisory council, and committees. I have found that when there is an identified need and a clearly articulated plan to address that need, people come alongside you to support it.

The highs and lows of the last three years have been many, but what makes this work possible and energizing for me is the students. They first inspired me when I visited a small school in Montrose called Passage Charter School in the early 2000s. And now as I get to know the students who have applied to attend New Legacy and who have been participating in our Youth Leadership Council, I continue to be inspired.

They are resilient, they respond well to feedback and support, and they are motivated to create a great legacy for their child. They remind me that I need to continue digging into my own “grittiness” to overcome challenges. On those days when the journey is difficult and anxiety-ridden (and there are many), I think of our future students – their strength and potential keeps me going.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora, Pueblo mulling turnaround plans

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 09:43

Jeffco Interrupted

School board member Julie Williams apologizes for sharing a link to a "hate group" on Facebook. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Under Construction

A rare Friday session of the House Education Committee aired parent concerns about the privacy of student educational data, but committee decisions on a key data bill won't come until this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Readers respond

We asked readers last week what they thought of the sample report Colorado parents will receive on this spring's PARCC tests. Respondents were split, but a plurality said either "yes" or "sort of" when asked if the information was useful. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Clock is ticking

Aurora Public Schools officials say a tight state deadline for restructuring long-struggling Aurora Central High School could lead to "chaos" next year and they are asking the state to start the process sooner. ( Aurora Sentinel )

As the state accountability clock continues to run for Pueblo City Schools, each tick brings the district one step closer to losing state accreditation. ( Chieftain )

student voices

A Denver teacher's lesson plan has gone viral after it revealed the inner workings of her students' minds. ( Denver Post )

Looking ahead

An online high school in Academy School District 20 will shift its focus to what the program creator believes is the next generation of online learning. ( Gazette )

Expanding access

Boulder Valley schools have added about 8,500 Chromebooks in the last 30 months, between Chromebooks carts used in classrooms and a pilot at Lafayette's Centaurus High that gave every freshman a device. The district's goal is providing "one-to-web" access. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy meals

While reforms aimed at creating healthier school lunches for the more than 9,100 students served daily have good intentions, the desired results have been slow to follow, at least in Mesa District 51. ( Daily Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How often schools send students to police in all 50 states

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 23:36
  • In most states, black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities are disproportionately referred to the criminal justice system. Virginia, where an 11-year-old autistic boy who struggled with a police officer was found guilty of felony assault this month, has the highest referral rate. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Parents of students at Success Academy charter schools in New York City share their experiences following the Times’ feature on the network last week. (New York Times)
  • At one of New Orleans’ “second-chance schools,” teachers fight to reach the students who have been nudged out of or expelled from other charter schools. (NPR)
  • “Opting out students stands as a powerful rebuke of the idea that standardized tests should be the primary determinant as to whether a school stays open or not.” (Jose Vilson)
  • The head of Chicago’s schools is taking a leave of absence as federal officials investigate a no-bid contract awarded to a company the schools chief once worked for. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Undocumented students offer a different perspective and bring a strong work ethic to their classrooms and school communities, a teacher explains. (The Atlantic)
  • A teacher-mentor has five ideas for teachers ready to throw in the towel. (Edutopia)
  • How computer science could and should be woven into all sorts of classes, according to some educators. (Hechinger)
  • A comprehensive look at the research on blended learning shows little definitive evidence that it works (or that it doesn’t). (Ed Week)
Categories: Urban School News

House Education still has a ways to go on data privacy bill

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:20

A rare Friday session of the House Education Committee aired parent concerns about the privacy of student educational data, but committee decisions on a key data bill won’t come until next week.

Senate Bill 15-173 passed the Senate unanimously more than a month ago, and since then a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying has been going on in the House.

For now, the bill’s major provisions prohibit educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data. (See this story for details.)

But technology industry lobbyists are concerned that the bill doesn’t properly differentiate among different kinds of data companies, and don’t like a provision requiring companies to post detailed information about school district contracts on their websites.

Parent activists told committee members Friday that they like the bill as is.

“Support this bill as it came over from the Senate,” said Rachel Stickland of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “I urge you to please listen to the parents and not those who are paid to gut this bill.”

“This bill was purposely written to not put the burden on school districts,” said Fort Collins parent Cheri Kiesecker in reference to the proposal that would shift transparency requirements away from vendors and on to districts.

No proposed amendments have yet been offered in the committee, which was scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday but ran out of time after hearing only a few witnesses.

The data bill is on the committee’s Monday afternoon calendar, but chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, indicated the panel might or might not get to it. The committee also has four Republican-sponsored testing bills scheduled for that meeting. All are expected to be killed.

Other bills do move on

House Education did take action on two bills, sending both to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 15-1339 would streamline some district financial reporting requirements approved by the 2014 legislature. That law mandated that detailed information, broken down to the individual school level, be both reported to the state for use on a central website and posted on individual district sites.

School districts have seen the 2014 law as onerous (see story), and this year’s bill would remove the requirement for posting on individual district sites.

The statewide financial transparency site isn’t supposed to go live until 2017.

House Bill 15-1273 would update – and provide some funding for – the system by which school incidents are reported to the state and, ultimately, to the public. Among other things, the bill would require separate reporting of marijuana-related incidents and of sexual assaults, two things that now are included in catchall categories.

The bill also would create a new, more streamlined way for police and sheriffs’ departments and district attorneys’ offices to report school-related incidents to the state.

The committee heard testimony on the bill a month ago, but the measure has been in the shop while sponsor Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, worked out some issues with school districts, police and other interest groups.

For the record

During a floor session that listed into early afternoon, the House voted preliminary approval of these education bills:

  • House Bill 15-1317 – The “pay for success” measure that would allow private investors and philanthropists to fund social services such as early childhood programs drew support at the microphone from both Democrats and Republicans (background here).
  • House Bill 15-1326 – There was no debate on the proposal intended to protect the college admissions prospects of students who hold diplomas from high schools in unaccredited districts (background here).

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4-3 to kill House Bill 15-1104, the proposal that would have offered a very modest tax deduction to teachers who paid for school supplies out of their own pockets.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board member apologizes for sharing link to “hate group” on Facebook

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:10

Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams said late Friday that she was “sincerely sorry” and that she would remove a link on her personal Facebook page that she shared that encouraged families to keep their students home Friday and “away from perverse indoctrination” of the“homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”

“To be honest with you, I didn’t read the article,” Williams said.  “I just saw it and thought I was sharing information with parents.”

The link, like most on Williams’ wall, was posted without comment. It directs Facebook users to a newsletter published by SaveCalifornia.com, but neither overtly endorses nor condemns the group and its message.

Friday is the national “Day of Silence.” It is organized by GLSEN, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and teachers in schools. The aim of the protest is to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Students who participate in the protest attend school but remain silent. Some put tape over their mouths.

SaveCalifornia.com describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.

Williams said she was not familiar with the group and that she was “rattled” after learning it was recognized as a hate group.

The newsletter reads, in part, “The Day of Silence postures every person who identifies as a homosexual or cross-dresser as a victim of ongoing, unrelenting harassment and discrimination (being ‘silenced’). While some incidents like this do occur, this event is an overwhelming exaggeration in an effort to manipulate our kids’ natural sympathies. The result ironically is that youth develop favorable views about a controversial, high risk behavior.”

Williams said she does not support the statements in the newsletter read to her by a Chalkbeat reporter.

“I believe in choice — who you are and want to be and what you want to do,” Williams said, distancing herself from the newsletter that paints LGBT students as “unnatural.”

A screen shot of Williams’ Facebook post.

Last fall, Williams gained national notice for suggesting the school district review an advanced high school history course. She wanted to make sure the course was “patriotic.” Her proposal incited weeks worth of student protests.

The board ultimately dropped plans to review the course, but did make changes to how curriculum would be reviewed.

Williams is part of the conservative three-member majority on the Board of Education. The majority has been criticized for many decisions — a new teacher compensation program, giving more money to charter schools, and hiring a new superintendent — by a vocal group of parents, students, teachers and community members.

The board’s critics also claim the majority does not value diversity.

Williams’ post, first revealed Friday afternoon by the political blog ColoradoPols.com, will likely provide grist for her critics.

“Julie Williams and the rest of the board are not LGBT, and they will never know what it is like to feel adversity based on who they love and how they identify their gender,” said Arvada High School student Leighanne Grey. “Because she doesn’t understand our experiences, she has no right to tell us that not speaking is a “perverse” act of the gay agenda.”

Grey is the president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She led her group in protests over Williams’ proposal to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history class.

The post on Williams’ Facebook page does not represent the opinion or policy of Jeffco Public Schools, said Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

“As Jeffco Schools always strives to foster an environment that encourages students to feel safe, to learn, and to thrive, we respect students’ rights to participate in Day of Silence, a student-led effort, and to express themselves as they prefer.” McMinimee said in a statement to Chalkbeat. “We celebrate freedom from bullying.”

Earlier in the week, Jeffco officials provided schools with guidance on how to respect students who were participating in the Day of Silence. The guidance was approved by the Jefferson County Education Association.

Schools were encouraged to provide “reasonable accommodations” for students who choose to participate. But “staff should not solicit, proselytize, advocate for or against of a non-school sponsored event.”

Colorado is considered by many to have some of the most robust protections for LGBT people among the states — including an anti-bullying law. But that doesn’t mean bullying has been eradicated.

One reason may be because several school districts have failed to align their anti-bullying policies with state law.

According to a review of bullying policies from 166 school district in the state, 107 school districts, or about 64 percent, include sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies and are in compliance. Only four school districts include gender identity in their anti-bullying policy. The scan was done by One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization. 

Jeffco includes sexual orientation protections but not gender identity protections in its policy, One Colorado found. 

“I think it would be helpful for Ms. Williams to know the challenges LGBT students face every day in school, which are pretty appalling,” said Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado.

Seven in 10 Colorado students said they were verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation, according to a 2013 survey conducted by GLSEN. Eight in 10 student regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender.

Students here also reported hearing anti-LGBT language from school staff, according to the survey. Nearly 20 percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression, and 8 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks.

“The numbers have to change. And that’s part of what the Day of Silence is all about,” Montez said.

Montez said as more students come out bullying will decrease and that will create a climate and cycle that will lead to more students feeling comfortable about coming out.

While Grey, the Arvada High student, said she’s aware many of her peers experience harassment, she considers her school to be an anomaly.

“It’s a pretty supportive school,” she said. “No one ever walks out or boos us when we participate in assemblies. A few teenagers might say some stupid things like ‘no-homo.’ But they’re cool with us being happy.”

Colorado LGBT climate survey DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1965872-glsen-2013-colorado-state-snapshot.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1965872-glsen-2013-colorado-state-snapshot' });
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