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Updated: 13 min 25 sec ago

Big stack of education bills still awaits action

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 20:06

The 2015 legislative session enters its second half Monday with lots of work remaining, including on key education issues.

As of Friday 80 education-related bills had been introduced out of the total 479 measures floated in the House and Senate.

A number of education bills have been disposed of – 19 have been killed in committee and six non-controversial housekeeper measures already have been sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But 27 bills haven’t even had their first committee hearings, and more measures are expected to surface, including on top issues like testing and school finance.

Some of the new measures introduced Friday relate to workforce development, which is emerging as the fashionable new education-related issue of 2015 for both Democrats and Republicans. Several of the workforce bills would affect schools and community colleges.

Those bills include:

House Bill 15-1270 – Allows creation of “p-tech” schools that would have a focus on STEM fields, combining high school and college-level classes with workplace experience. Bipartisan sponsorship.

House Bill 15-1274 – Proposes state creation of specific career pathways programs that students would use to train for employment in specific industries. Bipartisan sponsorship.

House Bill 15-1275 – Allows school districts to add apprenticeship and internship programs to the college classes now included in concurrent enrollment programs. Students use concurrent enrollment to take college classes while still in high school. Bipartisan sponsorship.

Previously introduced workforce/education bills involve career pathways (House Bill 15-1190) and career-tech scholarships (Senate Bill 15-082).

Also introduced Friday was House Bill 15-1273, which would add sexual assaults and unlawful use of marijuana on school grounds to the list of incidents that schools must report to the state. The bipartisan bill also sets requirements for law enforcement agencies and district attorneys to report school incidents to the state. And the measure requires the Division of Criminal Justice to compile periodic, detailed statewide report on school crimes and incidents.

The bill was prompted by legislator dissatisfaction with alleged gaps in school incident reporting highlighted by the 2013 fatal shooting at Littleton High School.

A bill proposing to change the way multidistrict online schools are regulated was introduced earlier in the week. Senate Bill 15-201 would change the current system, under which the Department of Education certifies such programs.

Instead, CDE would certify districts, BOCES and groups of districts that once certified would be allowed to authorize and oversee those online schools. This is a complicated and politically fraught issue. Some online schools and for-profit operators oppose regulation for such schools beyond what is provided by the state school accountability system. Other groups believe those schools need greater oversight because of low performance.

The bill doesn’t apply to online programs that districts run or authorize just for their own students.

The bill largely mirrors the recommendations made by the Online Task Force, which studied the issue over the summer and autumn. Read the panel’s report here, and see the bill text here.

The bill has been assigned not to the Senate Education Committee but to State Affairs, usually considered the chamber’s “kill committee.” But Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is one of the bill’s prime sponsors, and he’s also a member of State Affairs.

Categories: Urban School News

Two Colorado colleges move toward making PARCC results count

Sun, 03/08/2015 - 02:01

A pair of Colorado colleges have announced they will evaluate the use of scores on PARCC language arts and math exams as a way to determine whether students are ready to take college courses.

Adams State University in Alamosa, a part of the state system, will allow students to use PARCC scores to demonstrate readiness, with scores of 4 or 5 signifying eligibility to enroll in college course for credit. (Those are the top scores in the PARCC system.)

Aims Community College in Greeley, which is locally governed but receives some state funds, has committed to collecting PARCC scores for evaluation to see if they are valid in predicting student readiness for college classes. (Adams is reserving the right to use other tests to measure readiness.)

“We’re proud to be the first state with institutions making a bold step toward relying on PARCC assessments to determine college readiness,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia in a prepared statement. “This marks a significant shift toward streamlining the testing process for students and helping them identify earlier whether they are prepared for higher education success.”

Garcia also is executive director of the Department of Higher Education.

Up to now Colorado colleges typically have used scores on the ACT test, which all high school juniors have to take, or scores on shorter exams such as the Accuplacer to determine if students need to take remedial courses. Those cost extra and don’t carry credits. Some colleges are moving toward allowing students to sign up for credit courses but requiring them to also have tutoring or take refresher programs that are shorter than full remedial classes.

One of the criticisms of giving standardized tests in the last two years of high school is that students don’t see any relevance for their futures and are more focused on entrance exams like the ACT and SAT. A commission that advised the legislature on testing reform recommended rolling back state tests in 11th and 12th grade. Those tests started only last year.

It’s possible that ending tests after the 10th grade might make them less useful to evaluating students who are entering college two years later.

Guidelines being developed by the Department of Education and State Board of Education may include PARCC test results in the menu of choices school districts can use to set local graduation requirements.

The online PARCC tests, based on the Common Core State Standards, are being given to all Colorado students in grades 3-11 this winter and spring. Testing in several districts started Monday.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Preschool Program resumes summer tuition support

Sat, 03/07/2015 - 13:00

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced this morning the extension of financial help through the summer months to families of four-year-olds who participate in the Denver Preschool Program.

While the program, known as DPP, has been around since Denver voters approved a sales tax ballot initiative in 2006, it hasn’t always included funding for summer preschool classes. Such funding was available in 2008 and 2009, but sales tax revenues fell during the recession and summer tuition support was discontinued, said the program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum. That’s changing this year because voters approved an extension and expansion of the tax last November.

DPP provides preschool tuition credits to four-year-olds in Denver, with a tiered scale that means low-income families and those whose children attend highly-rated preschools get more assistance and higher-income families and those whose children attend lower-rated preschools get less.

The new summertime help from DPP will be available only at community-based preschool sites, not Denver Public Schools sites, which are closed during the summer. Families that get DPP tuition help during the school year for district-based preschool will have the option to receive summer tuition help if they enroll their child in a community-based program.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Where have all the teachers gone?

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 19:28
  • Why doesn’t anybody want to be a teacher anymore? (NPR)
  • Standardized tests aren’t great, but the fix is more data, not less. (Wired)
  • Study shows how education advocacy groups influence lawmaking in 3 Republican states. (Education Week)
  • One of America’s top testing tutors says no one should take the SAT in 2016. (Yahoo Finance)
  • A parent: Public school will teach my child things a private school couldn’t. (Salon)
  • On digital textbooks: “Technology should be a means, not an end. In this country, it’s becoming an end.” (The Atlantic)
  • Just what should be taught in sex education courses isn’t clear in a diverse and sometimes divided society. (The Atlantic)
  • An epic senior prank puts a bucket in the principal’s hands and leaves him in a puddle of tears. (Wichita Eagle)
  • One Chicago school is trying to remove barriers to college by making sure that all of its students fill out the FAFSA. (KUNC)
  • Researchers examine the affect of having an incarcerated parent on children. (Education Week)
  • A few takes on how to make sure students are getting high-quality educations. (New York Times)
  • Schools on military bases hope Common Core(ish) standards will help ease transitions for a very mobile group of students. (Hechinger Report)
  • Oklahoma was concerned the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum focuses too much on “what’s bad about America.” The New Yorker has a proposed replacement curriculum. (New Yorker)
  • The Peace Corps and Michelle Obama are partnering on an initiative to encourage education for girls around the world. (NPR)
Categories: Urban School News

Testing time shuffles schedules, impacts instruction

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 16:46

As close to half of the state’s school districts wrap up their first week of standardized testing and the rest prepare to start, school and district leaders have mixed feelings about how state standardized tests affect instructional time.

In some Colorado districts, concern over the amount of staff and student time dedicated to testing instead of instruction has risen to unprecedented levels. At least one district is conducting a survey to gauge how much staff time is tied up in testing, while across the state, some students and their parents are refusing to participate in the test.

In other districts, leaders say the new state tests are themselves a learning experience for students and that this round of tests will not have a dramatically bigger impact on instructional time than in previous years.

For all, the testing window is a time of unusual schedules and of juggling resources, staff, and schedules.

“Basically all work on improving instruction comes to a halt so that the buildings can manage the disruption of the testing windows,” said Jason Glass, the superintendent of the Eagle County Schools, which includes Vail.

“We all recognize that it’s taking instructional time to do it, but we also all recognize that it’s required by the state,” said Elizabeth Fagen, the superintendent of Douglas County schools. “So you have to figure out how to make it work.”

Logistics and technology

Colorado is using a new set of assessments this year. The language arts and math tests were developed by the testing company Pearson for PARCC, one of two multi-state testing groups, and are based on the Common Core State Standards. Science and social studies tests are Colorado-only exams. (Read more about this year’s assessment program here.)

Many districts have been preparing for the shift from the previous paper-and-pencil tests to the new assessments for several years by purchasing devices and training teachers and students on how to administer and take the test.

District leaders said that their spending on technology is an investment in classrooms and instruction, not just in online testing. But a school’s technological set-up is part of determining how much finagling is necessary to accommodate the tests. 

In the tiny Center district in the San Luis Valley, where all students have a laptop or device, Superintendent George Welsh said students can test in their classrooms.

In other districts, however, schools are repurposing rooms and constructing schedules that allow students to use available devices. That means that the technology or space isn’t available for regular class uses.

In Colorado Springs 11, some libraries will be testing centers for the remainder of the year, said chief financial officer officer Glenn Gustafson. Library technology staff at the school will be focused on supporting the online assessments between March and May.

And in the Montrose-Olathe district on the Western Slope, the district has converted art and music rooms in all elementary schools to testing centers. That means those teachers are roaming until end of school year, according to Mark MacHale, the district’s superintendent.

Staff resources

The staff time devoted to preparing for tests has come under fire.

In the Boulder Valley School District, Superintendent Bruce Messinger said, the district is conducting a survey in its schools of how much staff time is dedicated to test preparations.

“It’s literally countless hours,” said Rhonda Haniford, the principal of Centaurus High School. “One of my assistant principals is full-time working on this. I have a teacher who is partly dedicated to test coordination and another who’s focused on accommodations.”

Do your homework

Glass, the Eagle County superintendent, said that professional development for teachers and teacher-leaders comes to a halt during testing time. “We just can’t afford to have building leaders away in the event something goes wrong in terms of the testing technology.”

He said school district employees were spending time preparing for tests that could otherwise be spent on “the art and science of teaching.”

“The daily and hourly rate costs for hundreds of employees (or thousands in the case of larger districts) is a significant opportunity cost impact,” he said.

Teachers and administrators also had to be trained in how to proctor the online tests, which are being used in most schools, said Matt Reynolds, Douglas County’s chief assessment and systems performance officer.

High school challenge

Testing schedules look different in elementary, middle, and high schools. In Denver, most elementary school literacy tests are administered during the schools’ literacy block early in the day, which is already more than two hours long.

“It’s no more complicated than it was in the past,” said Rob Beam, the principal at Johnson Elementary School in Denver. “It’s actually less complicated in some ways, because the computer changes the accommodations.”

For instance, students who previously had the tests read out loud to them by an adult can now listen to the test with headphones, Beam said. Johnson school is also part of an extended learning time program, which Beam said might ease some concerns about lost instructional time.

But scheduling is more complicated in high schools, where classes are often shorter and where a single class might have students from multiple grades. A class with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, for instance, would be interrupted by each grade’s tests.

Districts have taken different approaches. In the Elizabeth district, Superintendent Douglas Bissonette said, “as for high school students in grades not being tested, they will not be required to attend school during testing. It proves nearly impossible to plan teacher and student schedules and classroom spaces to accommodate both testing and instruction at the same time for our comprehensive high school.”

The Cheyenne Mountain district took a similar approach, said Superintendent Walt Cooper. “We need to do this because of the numbers of staff necessary to proctor,” he said, noting that scheduling is his single biggest frustration with the tests.

But in Aurora, chief information officer Steven Clagg said that while scheduling in high schools is “a challenge” because testing times are longer than normal class periods, there will be no late starts or early releases for high schoolers.

Meanwhile, at Centaurus High School in Boulder, Haniford said, teachers in mixed-grade classes search for ways to create meaningful assignments for students who are not testing while not leaving the students who are testing behind.

An intrusion, or part of the program?

Opinions about the tests’ value vary. In Denver, Ivan Duran, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary education, said that while testing does put a pause in business as usual at a school, “assessment’s part of the instructional program. We build it into the schedule.”

Duran said that the technological investment and skills students need to take the tests are also useful to them in non-testing context.

DPS Chief Academic Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust said that district’s stance is that the senior tests are not “the most instructionally appropriate use” of students’ time. But, she said, the new tests mean there is “greater alignment between assessments, standards, and college- and career- readiness.” She said the new question formats are “nice resources for teachers to design their own classroom tests” and that the data tests provide is useful.

But in Boulder, concerns about how tests affect instructional time has been burgeoning since this fall, when a group of seniors protested against science and social studies tests for 12th graders. “Buy-in is very low,” said Centaurus principal Haniford.

The students’ concerns are mirrored by district and school officials. Superintendent Messinger said that while the district is not opposed to assessment in theory, “we think the current level is burdensome.” Centaurus principal Haniford said she is concerned that the tests do not give teachers useful feedback in a timely manner.

On the day testing began, Haniford said that her phone was ringing regularly with calls from parents wanting to pull their children out of tests. She said the major concern parents shared was that the tests take away students’ time to prepare for tests like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, which could earn them college credit or an advanced high school degree.

Haniford said those students who were not taking the test could spend the time in the school’s student center.

Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl contributed research to this story.

Categories: Urban School News

Parent time-off bill highlights partisan divide

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 16:07

A bill that would guarantee parents time off for some school activities sparked a lively House floor debate before passing on a preliminary voice vote Friday.

The discussion focused on how to balance the right of parents to be involved in their children’s education with the right of employers to run their businesses.

House Bill 15-1221 prime sponsor Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, said he values parents more highly than business flexibility. “You have to make a decision about which of those values you hold.”

But Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, cited the lack of any data that an existing parent time-off law has had any impact, calling it “an unproven program.”

Both the existing law, passed in 2009, and HB 15-1221 have significant limits and don’t provide parents free rein to take time off from work for any school activity. (The current law is set to expire later this year, so it will go out of effect unless HB 15-1221 is passed.)

The current law requires only businesses with 50 or more employees to give workers up to 18 hours a year in unpaid leave for parent-teacher conferences or meetings related to special education services, interventions, dropout prevention, attendance, truancy or disciplinary issues. The requirement didn’t apply to businesses with existing leave policies, employers can deny time off if it would disrupt business operations and the law contains no enforcement provisions or penalties for non-compliance.

In addition to extending the current law indefinitely, HB 15-1221 would add meetings with school counselors and “academic achievement ceremonies” to the list of activities for which parents can claim time off. It also would extend the law’s coverage to parents of preschool students and require school districts to inform parents about the time-off law.

Opponents of the bill argued that most businesses are flexible about giving parents time for school activities. But supporters say low-income and minority parents and low-wage workers need the law.

“This is really about families and children,” argued Rep. Rhonda Fields, another Aurora Democrat who also is a prime sponsor.

On the other side was Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

“This is just an overreach of government,” he said. “This should be between the employer and the employee.”

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business, two influential lobbying organizations, oppose the bill.

If HB 15-1221 gets final approval in the Democratic-majority House, it’s chances could be iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Teacher tax break gets important committee approval

A measure that would give teachers a $250 state tax break for the cost of school supplies they buy was passed 12-1 Friday by the House Appropriations Committee, clearing it for House floor debate. House Bill 15-1104 had to be considered by appropriations because it could cause an estimated $355,522 in budget year 2015-16 and $711,640 in 2016-17.

Get more details on the measure and the issues behind it in this prior Chalkbeat Colorado story.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: 40 percent of Boulder students aren’t taking the state’s tests

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 10:28

Privacy matters

The Senate Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved a key student data privacy bill, but not until adding an amendment that might complicate the delicate balance of interests backing the measure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

“We are not in the business of selling personally identifiable student data or permitting its use for targeted advertising,” Pearson, the multinational testing company at the center of the student privacy issue said in a statement to the Coloradoan. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Opt Out

Testing participation in Boulder Valley schools is at about 60 percent, well below the federal and state requirement of 95 percent. ( Daily Camera )


The Jeffco Public Schools board approved a series of changes to most of its low-income schools that are aimed at improving student achievement and reduce overcrowding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Here's a closer look at the plan's details and some of the reasons why the changes are needed, according to district leaders and school principals. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The principal at one of the middle schools that is going to be closed as a result of the board's decision said there are no hard feelings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

work force ready

Both political parties stood side by side Thursday at the Colorado Capitol to introduce a package of workforce-development bills that leaders of both parties termed as being among their highest priorities. A few of the bills have implications for career readiness programs at schools. ( Denver Business Journal, Denver Post )

Human Resources

Several Denver Public Schools employees were tricked by a phishing scam that may have led to the theft of seven direct deposit paychecks worth a total of $26,000. ( Denver Channel )

Getting out of the gap

Students that ordinarily may have fallen through the cracks are given a second chance with the Expelled and At-Risk Student Services that bridges the gap between a home life that may not be conducive to an education and school. ( KUNC )

to infinity and beyond

Budding scientists at a Littleton school might be some of the youngest ever to send an experiment up to the International Space Station. ( 9News )

Off to college

A Longmont nonprofit, Nest To Wings, will hold its annual conference that aims to educate both daughters and mothers on the college experience. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board approves changes, shuffle for Jefferson and Alameda schools

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 00:54

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school board Thursday night approved plans to overhaul two clusters of schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students.

The board, in a series of rare unanimous votes, approved the plans to overhaul and shuffle schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods.

The schools in the Jefferson area border Denver’s west side and have been struggling academically for several years.

The Alameda neighborhood schools serve most of Lakewood. Its elementary schools are significantly overcrowded. Most of the students in the Alameda area are also academically behind their peers in other parts of the county.

At the meeting, several teachers and parents from schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods spoke in favor of the plans.

“The Jefferson plan presents local solutions instead of district solutions,” said Joel Newton, a Lumberg elementary school parent and director of the Edgewater Collective, a nonprofit that serves schools in the Jefferson area.

Under Colorado law, the district would have been forced to make drastic changes at one of the Jefferson area schools — Wheat Ridge 5-8 — at the end of the school year because the middle school has been on the state’s accountability watch list for five years.

The board’s action tonight, which included shutting down Wheat Ridge 5-8, will keep state intervention at bay. 

One group of teachers said they supported the plan and were anxious to work through the details.

“There are still numerous questions and concerns about the logistics, jobs and placements, student concerns, and future plans, but we know that the reconfiguration committee is currently working on answering these questions and ironing out the details,” said Rhiannon Wenning, a Jefferson High School teacher. “We are appreciative of the committee’s and our administrators’ work so far and would like it if their work be allowed to continue.”

The teacher group suggested that teachers be paid for additional time, principals share the same information at every building, and open positions be filled as soon as possible.

During an earlier portion of the meeting, Amy Weber, Jeffco’s head of human resources, suggested the district pay teachers at many of the schools in the Jefferson and Alameda areas an additional $3,800 on top of their current salaries.

The teacher group also asserted that the Jefferson schools don’t need to seek innovation status from the state. Such a status allows schools to opt out of some state and district policies as well as any collective bargaining agreement.

The discussion around innovation status has been one of the more contentious parts of the discussion around the Jefferson reform plan. At a board meeting last month, Jeffco’s Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott said the district would not seek innovation status for at least one more school year and would do so only after receiving approval from a majority of teachers, parents, and students at Jefferson schools. 

The board’s votes didn’t come without some last minute fireworks.

Board member John Newkirk proposed an additional shuffle of schools in the Wheat Ridge area. The additional changes had been lobbied by an organization known as the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance. That resolution was tabled pending further community engagement. 

Categories: Urban School News

Data privacy bill advances – with a complication

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 22:41

The Senate Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved a key student data privacy bill, but not until adding an amendment that might complicate the delicate balance of interests backing the measure.

Senate Bill 15-173 is the sole surviving 2015 bill on security and privacy of student data, an issue of increasing concern in Colorado since Jefferson County parents pushed back against a controversial data collection system in 2013.

In its original form, SB 15-173 proposed to restrict software, database and app 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 approved a full rewrite of the bill – known in legislative parlance as a “strike-below” – but the basic thrust of the measure remains the same. (See the amended version of the bill here.)

The measure also would require school districts to provide information to parents about data collection and all vendors used by a district. Small rural districts would be excluded from this requirement. Districts also would have to provide staff training on data security and notify parents of data breaches.

The bill would apply to companies that supply educational services, not to broader online or other services like web search engines.

But it’s a second amendment that’s causing heartburn. Proposed by Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, the change would impose additional disclosure requirements on vendors and also would require the deletion of student records within three years after they were no longer needed by a vendor to fulfill its contract with a school district. The amendment was added to SB 15-173 on a 5-4 party-line vote, with majority Republicans prevailing. (Read the Woods amendment here.)

Lobbyists for vendors don’t like the additional requirements, and school districts are worried that requiring vendors to delete data after three years would require districts to bear the expense of maintaining their own backup databases of student information that originally was collected by vendors. (Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, raised the example of a student who needs copies of academic records several years after graduating from high school.)

SB 15-173 was drafted after months of negotiations among school districts, parent groups and vendors, brokered by Elisabeth Rosen, lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Schools Executives.

The bill also has bipartisan sponsorship – Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker and Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver. Holbert repeatedly told his fellow education committee members Thursday that he’s committed to a bill that can pass both chambers and earn the governor’s signature.

“Rep. Pabon and I will put the bill on the governor’s desk,” he said.

But the Woods amendment, if approved by the full Senate, likely will face opposition in the House, raising the possibility that SB 15-173 could end up in a House-Senate conference committee late in the legislative session.

There was extensive testimony on the bill, including statements from several Jefferson County parents who’ve been advocates for better data privacy protections.

“It’s simply a beginning, a foundation,” said Paula Noonan, a former Jeffco school board member who’s been active on testing and data privacy issues.

Holbert also indicated that the bill wasn’t the final answer to the problem. He said the measure “takes a first step toward restoring trust of parents in their school system.”

The measure next goes to the Senate floor for preliminary consideration. Although it’s possible that the Woods amendment will generate costs for the bill, which would require it to be sent to from the floor to the Senate Finance Committee.

Two more extensive data privacy bills already have been killed by the House Education Committee (see story). They include provisions on parent consent and opting out of data collection, ideas that weren’t likely to pass.

Senate Finance nixes college savings bill

A bill that would have created an additional tax advantage for low- and middle-income families who use the CollegeInvest savings program was killed 3-2 by the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

The apparent deciding vote was cast by Holbert, who described himself as “a very reluctant no.”

But the Parker Republican said he was keeping in mind the interests of his constituents in the well-to-do Douglas County.

The amended version of Senate Bill 15-118 would have created a graduated system of deductions. So families with annual incomes of $150,000 or less could have taken a double deduction, while families that make more than $500,000 a year could have claimed no deduction. (Currently CollegeInvest participants get a $1 income tax deduction for every dollar deposited in the program, regardless of income.)

“The people who elected me and whom I represent are in those two upper brackets,” Holbert said. (The bill also would have changed the credit for families making between $250,000 and $500,000 a year.)

Get more details on what the bill would have done in this legislative staff memo.

Parties unite on workforce development bills

Members of both parties teamed up at a joint news conference to announce a package of workforce development bills, several of which are related to education.

Here’s a quick look at some of those bills that yet to be formally introduced:

  • A measure that would make apprenticeship and internship programs part of state concurrent enrollment programs, which up to now have focused on helping high school students take college-level courses.
  • A proposal to help high school students focused on STEM courses to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.
  • A bill that would establish mobile learning labs that would bring community college courses to workplaces.

Several other workforce development bills already have been introduced in the 2015 session.

Categories: Urban School News

No hard feelings, says principal of Jeffco middle school set to close

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 17:11

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

LAKEWOOD — O’Connell Middle School Principal Jennifer Kirksey, left, hated breaking the news about a possible merger between their school and Alameda High School to her teachers and staff.

As a first-year principal at a school the state has identified as failing, where the staff has been working hard to improve student outcomes, the last thing Kirksey wanted to do was give her anyone a reason to quit, she said.

The Jefferson County board of education vote tonight will determine whether the district will shutter O’Connell and send the school’s seventh and eighth graders to nearby Alameda High School.

Kirksey said that when she arrived, staff morale was low, as were expectations for students. In fact, an independent review of the school, commissioned by the state, described the campus as joyless.

But things have improved over the course of this year, Kirksey said: Attendance is up, office referrals are down, and the principal is betting on an uptick in student test scores. That’s why it was so hard to level with the staff about the potential school closure.

“As far as I’m concerned, my teachers walk on water,” she said. “The staff has already shown in one semester that great things can happen.”

“But we’re caught in the middle of a facilities problem,” she said.

So, was all the staff’s hard work this year for naught?

“Absolutely not,” Kirksey said. “When a teacher ups her game, and the students feel great — it’s worth it.”

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board to vote on changes for struggling, crowded schools

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 17:11

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Principal Warren Blair has a teacher problem: He has to keep hiring them.

In the five years his school, Wheat Ridge 5-8, has been open, teacher turnover has been a consistent challenge. Just last year, Blair had to replace about a third of his staff. The year before that, he said, a little less than half of his staff left. One year, the teacher turnover rate Wheat Ridge was 70 percent.

Tonight, the Jeffco Public Schools board of education will vote on a plan that aims to reduce those high rates of teacher turnover and improve student achievement in the part of the county known as Jefferson, where Wheat Ridge 5-8 is located. As part of the plan, the district will close Wheat Ridge 5-8 and send seventh and eighth graders to Jefferson High School, create specific professional development programs for teachers at all six schools, and develop a problem-based learning curriculum for each grade level.

At the same time, the board will decide whether the district should move forward with a similar set of changes in the Alameda neighborhood, which is suffering from extreme overcrowding in its elementary schools.

Both clusters of schools serve mostly poor and Latino students, unlike most of the rest of the majority-white, middle class suburban district.

If the board green-lights the proposals in their current form, many details, such as bell schedules and new incentives for teachers, will still need to be worked out. “All the unknowns need to be decided, fast,” Blair said.

The plans

The plan for the Jefferson neighborhood aims to address lower academic achievement, while the plan for the Alameda schools is designed to relieve overcrowding at elementary schools in Lakewood. But though the reasons for the proposed changes are different, the plans are similar.

In both neighborhoods, academically struggling middle schools will be merged with nearby high schools. In Alameda, next year’s seventh and eighth graders who would attend O’Connell Middle School will instead report to Alameda High School. In Jefferson, seventh and eighth graders who would attend Wheat Ridge 5-8 will instead report to Jefferson High School.

O’Connell Middle School will be converted to a new elementary school and draw students from nearby Stein Elementary, where enrollment is at 164 percent of the building’s capacity. Currently, O’Connell Middle School enrolls only seventh and eighth graders and uses just 60 percent of its building space.

Related: O’Connell principal says staff will continue to work hard for Jeffco 

Under the current plan, the Wheat Ridge 5-8 building would house Stevens Elementary; Sobesky Academy, which serves Jeffco students with extreme emotional needs would move to the current Stevens campus.

The new district-run elementary school in the Alameda area will adopt an International Baccalaureate or IB model. It will complement the IB program that Alameda High already uses.

Meanwhile, all Jefferson schools will offer a dual language program for native Spanish speakers and will adopt problem-based curriculum. That means students will be asked to learn math and science concepts through real world problems.

The main difference between the school revamps in the two neighborhoods involves teachers. The Alameda plan does not include changes to teachers’ professional development, compensation, or schedules. But such changes are very much at the heart of the proposed Jefferson plan.

While details are still being worked out, teachers in the Jefferson neighborhood — which the district refers to as the Jefferson articulation area — can expect to have special professional development, more support in the classroom, time carved out to work with peers across the hall and at other schools, and a discussion about a different compensation model.

“We want to make teaching in the Jefferson articulation area a desired career path,” said Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s chief effectiveness officer.

Tara Scholten, an eighth grade teacher at Wheat Ridge 5-8, said she hopes the changes include more formal teacher collaboration, known as professional learning communities. But conditions need to be right for that to work, she said.

“Teachers need to be vulnerable” she said. “It takes extra time and you can’t close your door and just teach by yourself.”

Mandy Hayes, a dual language teacher at Molhom Elementary in the Jefferson area, is cautiously optimistic about the changes despite the unknowns, but has been critical of the plan’s rollout so far.

She said communication to teachers and parents has varied from school to school. “I’m pouring my heart and soul into my community every day,” she said. “The staff is going to be the ones living and breathing these changes. And there have been more questions raised than answered. That’s not creating a positive work environment.”

High teacher turnover plagues both neighborhoods

While curbing teacher turnover isn’t part of the Alameda area’s plan, turnover rates in the Lakewood schools are similar to those in the Jefferson neighborhood, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s data.

At Alameda High, for example, teacher turnover was 26 percent last year. That’s compared to 21 percent at Jefferson High.

For the 2013-14 school year, teacher turnover rates were also high in at least three Alameda area elementary schools: 28 percent in Kendrick Lakes Elementary, 23 percent at Patterson Elementary, and 20 percent at Stein Elementary.

In the Jefferson area, 42 percent of Stevens Elementary left their posts last year, compared to 28 percent at Edgewater Elementary, and 21 percent at Lumberg School.

Meanwhile, the district’s average teacher turnover rate — which includes teachers who have retired or moved into administration, as well as those who have switched schools, left the profession, or been fired — was 10 percent last year, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Education.

Student safety

The plans the board will vote on tonight have been pitched to the community at district board meetings and at the schools that would be affected by the changes.

Parents in both the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods have been most vocal about their concern about the safety of seventh and eighth graders who would share the same campus as high school juniors and seniors.

“They don’t feel like they’re safe in their elementary and middle schools now,” said Molhom Elementary teacher Hayes.

In fact, student incident rates, which include classroom suspensions, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions reported to the Colorado Department of Education, are much higher in the Jefferson and Alameda areas than in the district as a whole, especially at the middle schools. During the 2012-13 school year, the student incident rate at O’Connell Middle School was 53 percent, compared to a district average of 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, the incident rate at Wheat Ridge 5-8 was 47 percent.

But principals at both Alameda and Jefferson high schools said they’re taking every precaution to keep students safe even if the changes are approved, by having different start times for younger and older students, funneling different grade levels to different parts of their building, and having locker room aides during gym class.

“There will be adult supervision at all times,” said Susie Van Scoyk, Alameda High’s principal.

Correction: An earlier version of this article omitted a prevision of the Jefferson area plan that would move Stevens Elementary School to the Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus and the Sobesky Academy to the Stevens campus. This article has also been updated to reflect the correct teacher turnover rates at Wheat Ridge 5-8. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Public contract negotiations begin in Westminster

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 10:42

The tech of testing

For the most part Colorado school districts are confident about their technological readiness going into this year's exams, which started in many of the state's 178 districts Monday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Still more testing

State officials reported that testing went fairly smoothy on the third day of PARCC exams. But there apparently were widespread student test boycotts at three Boulder Valley high schools. ( 9News )

Students in the Pikes Peak region are giving mixed reviews to the new state tests. ( Gazette )

The kickoff of the PARCC tests has increased the debate over parents pulling their kids out of exams. ( Chieftain )

Contract talks

The Westminster district has started negotiations with its teachers union, this year in public because of a measure passed by state voters last year. ( Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel )

Bus battle

The Pueblo 60 schools have barred buses from Pueblo 70 from using stops within district 60's boundaries. ( Chieftain )

Early education

Money, both the cost for parents and public funding, is a crucial part of the effort to increase preschool participation. ( Vail Daily )


The rollout of St. Vrain's technology program is drawing good reviews. ( Daily Camera )

Keeping kids in school

A long-standing state grant program that provides services for expelled and at-risk kids seems to get good results. ( KUNC )


Kelli O'Neil, principal of Soaring Eagles Elementary in the Harrison district, is a Colorado finalist for national distinguished principal of the year. ( KKTV )

New supe

John McCleary, superintendent of the rural Liberty district, has been named to lead the Holyoke district. ( Holyoke Enterprise )

Farm to lunchroom

A bill pending in the legislature seeks $5 million to help small farmers get their products into Colorado schools. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing technology was big lift for some districts

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 19:46

Are Colorado school districts ready for the state’s new online tests?

There are 178 different answers to that question (one for every school district in the state), but for the most part districts are confident in their technological readiness going into this spring’s exams.

For 76 districts, their preparedness now is being “tested” in real time, as they began giving the online language arts and math exams on Monday.

There have been glitches and problems in some districts and schools but no major technical issues, according to the Department of Education and a sampling of district officials around the state. In Adams 12-Five Star, for instance, problems were reported at only two of 36 schools, and those were issues like pop-up screens interfering with tests.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been stressful moments in classrooms and administrative offices.

Mapleton had to stop testing for five hours on Monday to reconfigure Windows computers being used for tests.

Superintendent Michael Clough said that in the Sheridan schools the situation is “a little better each day but still plagued by nagging issues – just like every time you rely on technology, you’re going to have problems.”

Testing also got off to a rocky start Monday in Montrose. On Wednesday, Superintendent Mark MacHale said, “Today was a better day. Reports from the field are that we are not experiencing the volume of issues we had in the first couple of days. We have our fingers crossed.”

See this Chalkbeat story for an overview of what’s involved in Colorado’s testing season

CDE reported that 119,500 students were tested Wednesday. A total of 86,110 tests have been completed since Monday. (The exams are given in multiple sessions.)

District leaders interviewed before testing started were generally comfortable with their readiness.

Comments by Douglas Bissonette, superintendent of the Elizabeth schools, echoed what several others said and highlighted the checklist of what districts had to do to get ready.

“Our district is well prepared from a technology perspective…We believe we are fully ready to administer the PARCC tests.”

Stephen Clagg, chief information officer for the Aurora schools, has observed districts’ readiness in his role as president of the Colorado Association of Leaders in Education Technology.

Interviewed in August 2013, Clagg rated overall district preparedness then at C-minus.

He declined to give a letter grade this time, but he said, “I think we’re in better shape than we were two years ago, much better shape.” But, while he’s confident about his district’s readiness, he added, “I know that isn’t the case for every district.”

District hardware challenges

Preparing for online testing forced districts to face a long list of questions about their networks, inventories of laptops and tablets, and even the need to acquire more external keyboards and computer mice.

Some districts were farsighted or lucky, in that network improvements and hardware purchases intended to expand instructional use of computers coincided with the demands of testing.

Clagg said a multiyear district initiative to provide every classroom with a wifi hotspot “supports the testing. It was just a lucky break. … We can test in any classroom.”

More than 200 miles away at the tiny Center district in the San Luis Valley, Superintendent George Welsh said, “Our district has been investing in a one-to-one device program for the past eight years and finally achieved that last year, so in many ways we are in a good spot to implement such online assessments.”

Other districts faced different challenges and choices.

Rob Sanders, superintendent of the small Buffalo district in northeastern Colorado, said the district was saving up to replace eight-year-old computers, “When the PARCC and CMAS assessments came into play we had to hurry that purchase. We ended up spending approximately $40,000 which we did not have to purchase refurbished machines so that students could take the assessments.”

In Montrose, MacHale said the district had to take old desktop machines out of storage to use for testing.

In any event, the advent of online testing was good news for computer salesmen. In Cherry Creek, thanks to money provided by 2008 and 2012 tax elections, “We purchased about 25,000 Chromebooks over the last two years,” said spokeswoman Tustin Amole.

It takes more than hardware to test

Acquiring new hardware wasn’t the only hurdle districts faced.

“The challenge has been time and logistics,” said Cheyenne Mountain Superintendent Walt Cooper. “We are having to consolidate technology from several buildings to those that are testing, and our IT staff have had little time to do anything else but prep for testing for a number of weeks.”

Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger explained, “Every machine has to be touched by a technician to make sure it has the right software, secure tests. … There’s significant work that goes to getting ready for this.”

In Colorado Springs, “Depending on the size of school and amount of computers to prep, school library technology staff in District 11 has reported from 13 hours to 200 hours prepping for PARCC,” said district Chief Financial Officer Glenn Gustafson.

The work requires more than the skills of computer techies. Many districts are using computer carts that have to be shuttled from classroom to classroom by teachers and other staff. In Montrose the carts will have to be moved school to school by warehouse workers, MacHale said.

Districts got a head start

Last spring districts had to give online science and social studies tests in selected grades, and many school gave sample PARCC tests in language arts and math.

District leaders and others agree that was a big help.

State testing director Joyce Zurkowski said “many” districts last year asked for visits by CDE and Pearson (the company that produced the tests) staff to check out their devices and systems. “The number of requests this year has greatly decreased.”

But this year some districts complain that the Pearson administrative system for language arts and math is different than the one used for social studies and science.

Both CDE and Pearson provided extensive pre-test training and advice for districts, and the testing company is available by phone and text for district questions and problems.

District leaders have varying opinions of how helpful the giant testing company is.

“It’s very difficult to rely on Pearson,” said Jessica Beller, instructional services coordinator in Montrose.

But Center’s Welsh said, “CDE and Pearson have been very helpful.”

What it all costs

It’s hard for districts to put firm dollar figures on the costs of preparing for and giving the new tests. A key reason for that is that districts, especially larger ones, spent the money for other reasons as well.

“This past year, our district invested more than $14 million in our IT infrastructure and devices to support blended learning in all of our classrooms as well as to prepare for online testing,” said Joe Ferdani, spokesman for Adams 12-Five Star.

Other, smaller districts are harder pressed. Eagle Superintendent Jason Glass said testing “will consume all of the district’s technology capacity in terms of devices, labs, IT staff to pull this off. As there have been no additional resources provided to build tech capacity to deliver the PARCC assessment, our district has diverted general fund dollars to get ready for this over the past few years.”

Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Jaclyn Zubrzychki conducted some interviews for this article.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Half of one Monument charter school won’t take PARCC tests

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:54

Testing time is now

Thousands of Colorado students began taking the state's new standardized assessment this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

There were some technical problems in Sheridan and Aurora schools. ( Denver Post )

More than half of the students at a Monument charter school will not take the test after their parents opted them out. ( KOAA )

Meanwhile, nearly 500 high school students and dozens of middle school students walked out of their New Mexico classrooms as their schools began to proctor the same PARCC test. ( The Las Cruces Sun-News )

Second opinion

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has decided to seek its own opinion from the attorney general’s office about whether parents must give written consent before students can take the biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Keeping them in their seats

Flexibility is the key to lowering the state's dropout rate to zero, argues an education advocate. ( KUNC )

Smart classrooms

The St. Vrain Valley School District is a little more than halfway through its first year of a four-year technology upgrade. So far, all systems are go. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy schools

The program credited with helping drive down the state's teen pregnancy rate by 40 percent since 2007 is at risk of running out of cash. Here's what it could mean for schools. ( CRP )

safe schools

An Aurora fifth grade classroom has a message about bullying, and they shared it on YouTube. ( 9News )

A matter of time

The Cherry Creek School District has approved a new academic calendar that is more akin to neighboring school districts'. ( 9News )

Two cents

The State Board of Education should not undermine the state's survey of teenagers and their habits, writes Alicia Caldwell. ( Denver Post )

As American students lag behind their peers in other countries, how can the U.S. ensure and improve the quality of school instruction? A few experts debate that question for The New York Times. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado crosses its fingers and starts taking the tests

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 00:08

With computer mouse in hand, hundreds of thousands of Colorado students will click through new online language arts and math tests this month. Just the prospect of the new exams has fueled unprecedented levels of anxiety and controversy for more than a year, but now it’s game time.

Testing began Monday for about half the state’s students, in districts that began their assessments a week early.

The Department of Education reported Tuesday evening that 130,800 students started tests on Tuesday. A total of 40,730 tests were completed Monday and Tuesday. Language arts tests are given in three sessions, and math in two, and students don’t necessarily take a whole test in one day, accounting for the difference between tests started and tests finished.

“While there have been isolated issues that districts have experienced, the testing technology overall has been meeting the demands of Colorado and the multiple states currently testing,” said Janelle Asmus, CDE’s spokeswoman.

Do your homework

Legislators, policymakers, parents, teachers, and students have been debating for months whether to change the new testing system, known as CMAS, before it fully launched. That wasn’t a realistic prospect, and it didn’t happen.

So the testing experience this spring for students and adults, and the ultimate test results (not available until late this year or early 2016), will provide fresh grist for debate well into next year.

As schools and families brace themselves for the new tests, here’s a refresher on what the new assessment system looks like and what may happen as the testing debate continues beyond this school year.

This spring’s tests

Districts got a taste of online testing last spring with social studies and science tests in some grades, plus sample language arts and math tests in some schools.

“The addition of the English language arts and mathematics assessments to the CMAS assessment system will stretch districts in terms of their ability to assess online this spring,” said Joyce Zurkowski, the state’s executive director of assessment.

Language arts and math tests were developed by PARCC, one of two multi-state testing groups, and are based on the Common Core State Standards. Science and social studies tests are Colorado-only exams. All the tests were developed by Pearson, the multinational testing company.

The first part – The initial section of the language arts and math tests emphasize essay questions and other “constructed response” items that take longer to score because they aren’t machine gradable.  Those are the tests that started this week. Starting in eighth grade, students are assigned different math tests depending on which classes they’ve taken.

The first “window” – Some districts started giving the first parts of language arts and math tests in grades three through 11 Monday. The so-called “testing window” remains open until April 3. An individual district has four weeks within which to schedule tests to accommodate computer availability and other scheduling and administrative needs.

The second part – Called “end of year” assessments, these tests are intended to assess student knowledge of what they’ve learned through the year and are mostly multiple-choice items that can be scored quickly. The ultimate goal of the new tests is to have results available before the school year ends, but that won’t happen this year.

The second “window” – Districts may test between April 20 and May 22.

Other tests – Social studies tests will be given to fourth and seventh graders, and eighth graders will take science tests, between April 13 and May 1. High school juniors will take the ACT test on April 28. There are a variety of other, special tests given to some English language learners and to students with special needs. (See the full testing schedule here, and get more details on state-required tests here.)

Time on task – CDE estimates the two sets of language arts and math tests will take a combined 9¾ hours for third graders, 10 hours in grades four and five, a little under 11 hours for middle school students and about 11 hours in high school. The system allows for accommodations for students who may need extra help.

Costs – The cost to the state is estimated at $36.8 million for all of this spring’s tests, not just PARCC, or about $42 per student. Some $7.7 million is covered by federal funds. There’s an additional $8.1 million in local costs to administer state tests, but that doesn’t count such things as redirected staff time. (The cost estimates come from a study done last November for the Standards and Assessments Task Force.)

Technology – Paper-and-pencil tests are available for math tests in all grades and for third grade language arts. CDE estimates about 15 percent of Colorado students will take paper tests this spring. Some districts are using a combination of paper and online tests.

There’s been a high level of district anxiety about technology over the past two years as the new tests loomed. Districts have responded in different ways, but most seem ready for online testing.

Opting out

The expansion of state tests into the 11th and 12th grade, fears about the new online tests, and worries about tests eating into instructional time have sparked a testing backlash among some parents and teachers.

Discontent bubbled to the surface last fall, when some high school seniors boycotted science and social studies tests. The boycotts were concentrated in a few districts, but those actions drove statewide student participation in the tests to 83 percent. (Districts that drop below 95 percent participation on two tests can have their accreditation ratings lowered.)

Some parent activists are predicting a significant increase in opt outs this spring, and that concern prompted the State Board of Education to pass a resolution that seeks to protect districts from the impact of parents opting out. The resolution means students whose parents take them out of tests won’t be counted when the participation rate is calculated. (That exemption apparently doesn’t apply to students who boycott tests on their own.)

What’s next

Scores on the language arts and math tests won’t be available until late in the year of early in 2016. That’s because cut scores need to be set to determine students where students fall into the new proficiency categories of “distinguished command,” “strong command,” “moderate command” and “limited command.” (Those replace the old CSAP/TCAP categories of “advanced,” “proficient,” “partially proficient” and “unsatisfactory.”)

The percentages of students scoring as distinguished or strong will be lower than those who were proficient or advanced under the old system. Why? The new tests are unfamiliar, and they are intended to be harder. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story about scores on last spring’s science and social studies test scores.)

At the Colorado General Assembly, lawmakers still are dancing around what to do about testing. The best guess is that the legislature will pass a bill that cuts the amount of testing, most likely by eliminating current tests in ninth, 11th and 12th grades.

Testing also is in play in Washington, D.C., where various proposals circulating Congress would ease requirements for annual testing, allow more flexibility in use of district tests to meet state requirements, and make other changes in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

If Congress ultimately loosens current federal requirements, the 2016 legislature could have more flexibility to change Colorado’s testing system.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reports on the roll out of Colorado’s testing system. Check back for more coverage through the spring. 

Categories: Urban School News

State health department seeks separate AG opinion on student health survey

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 18:54

After the State Board of Education received an assistant attorney general’s opinion last Friday stating that parents must give written consent before students can take the biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decided to seek its own opinion from the attorney general’s office on the subject.

It will likely be a couple of weeks before that opinion is ready, said Mark Salley, communications director for the state health department.

Until now, health department officials said, it has been up to districts to decide which of two methods of parent consent to use.

The vast majority of schools use “passive consent” to notify parents about the survey. That means parents must sign and return a form to opt their children out of the survey.

Active consent, which is what last Friday’s informal opinion said is necessary, means that parents must sign and return a form before their children can be given the survey. In 2013, only 8 percent of schools that administered the survey required active consent.

The opinion requested by the health department will come from a different assistant attorney general, but like the opinion provided to the state board by Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl, is expected to be an “informal opinion.”

In other words, it will represent the legal opinion of the lawyer who wrote it and is not a formal ruling of the attorney general.

This tale of two opinions erupted after recent criticism from some parents and state board members about the survey’s parent notification methods and the explicit nature of some questions.

The high school version of the survey asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, suicide, smoking, alcohol, drugs, bullying, exercise, nutrition, grades, and school involvement. The middle school version of the survey doesn’t ask questions about sexual orientation or sexual behavior, but does ask about the other topics.

In 2013, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey was given to more than 40,000 middle and high school students at more than 220 schools.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Health department proposes tougher vaccination exemption policies

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 11:06

Toughening Up

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has proposed that parents who opt their children out of vaccines would have to submit exemptions more regularly. ( 9 News )

parent engagement

A bill that would expand a law that gives parents time off for certain school activities passed the House Education Committee—and revived a years-old debate about whether the law improves parent engagement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9 News )

Youth-led Change

At the second Aspen Challenge, teens from 21 Denver schools pitched solutions to social problems ranging from racism to mental health. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Seuss Effect

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock proclaimed that yesterday, March 2—also Dr. Seuss's birthday—is Read Across Denver Day. ( 9 News )

Students In Charge

The Daily Camera profiles a student who is leading a workshop on sexual health and policy. ( Daily Camera )

Personal Narrative

A Colorado student's story about dropping out of school—and then getting back in. ( KUNC )

Building Blocks

The humble building block turns out to have an important role in children's learning and development. ( KUNC )

Defining Competency

Colleges adjust to competency-based standards, but questions remain. ( Hechinger Reports )

Categories: Urban School News

Parent time-off bill starts down rocky and familiar road

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 22:24

The House Education Committee passed a bill Monday that expands and extends a current law allowing parents unpaid time off from work for certain school activities.

But the 6-5 vote was party line, with Democrats in the majority, and the two hours of debate revived old arguments that flared six years ago when the original time-off law was passed.

“When the parents are involved in their kids’ education, the kids are more likely to succeed,” argued prime sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. She repeatedly characterized House Bell 15-1221 as all about getting parents more involved in their children’s education.

Republican committee members questioned the bill, primarily because there’s no data about whether the 2009 law has had any impact or whether  parents are being denied time off for school events.

“We all value parent engagement,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “But the data is exceptionally thin.”

Fields and co-sponsor Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, acknowledged that problem but defended the bill.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to get answers to how many people are being denied” time off, Fields said.

Buckner, recalling his 40 years as an educator, said, “I know there were parents who couldn’t get to school because of their work schedules.”

The bill was supported by witnesses representing 9to5 Colorado, Padres y Jovenes Unidos, STRIVE Prep, Clayton Early Learning, and the American Federation of Teachers and Colorado Education Association.

But lobbyist Loren Furman opposed the bill on behalf of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business.

“There is no data showing employers are denying leave,” she said. “More than 90 percent of employers have some sort of alternative leave arrangement.”

The 2009 law

A measure named House Bill 09-1057 required businesses with 50 or more employees to give employees up to 18 hours a year in unpaid leave for parent-teacher conferences or meetings related to special education services, interventions, dropout prevention, attendance, truancy, or disciplinary issues.

The requirement didn’t apply to businesses with existing leave policies, and the law contains no enforcement provisions or penalties for non-compliance.

Most important, the law was scheduled to expire in 2015, creating the need for a bill this session.

The issue was controversial in 2009, and the original version of the bill was diluted substantially. “In 2009 it took quite a bit of energy to come to the compromise,” lobbyist Furman recalled. (See this story from the Chalkbeat Colorado archives for more background.)

The 2015 bill

HB 15-1221 proposes to extend the law indefinitely and also add meetings with school counselors and “academic achievement ceremonies” to the list of school events for which parents can claim time off.

Fields and Buckner said they wanted to add “positive” school events to the original list. But the committee passed an amendment to eliminate a catch-all phrase that would have allowed time off for “other activities in which the child is directly participating and that contribute to the child’s academic progress.”

The bill also would extend the law to parents of preschool students and require school districts to inform parents about the time-off law.

What’s next

Wilson proposed an unsuccessful amendment to put a five-year sunset clause in the bill, HB 15-1221, and he also was unsuccessful in having the bill sent to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee.

So the 6-5 vote sent the bill to preliminary consideration on the House floor, where Monday’s debate is likely to be repeated.

If the bill passes the House, it likely faces a tougher time in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature in 2009 when the original time-off law was passed.

Read text of bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

At competition, Denver teens pitch solutions to social challenges

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 19:42

More than 150 high schoolers from 21 schools gathered today in downtown Denver to present their solutions to challenges ranging from food deserts to racism to mental health as part of the Aspen Challenge, a competition that spotlights youth-driven solutions to social problems.

At the McNichols Civic Center Building, students from Strive Prep Excel passed out chocolate chip cookies made with garbanzo beans while a group from the Denver Center for International Studies recruited pen pals for a project focused on improving international diplomacy through communication. Across the hall, students from DSST: Green Valley Ranch asked passersby to examine about racial stereotypes.

Students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College’s Team Well Aware demonstrate an activity they used in a curriculum for children.

A team of high schoolers from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College intermittently dropped to the ground to do sets of push-ups and sit-ups to demonstrate a wellness program. A giant orange die told them how many of each to do.

The projects started in January, when each school’s team wrote a practice grant application to the Aspen Challenge’s founders, the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation. Each team had a $500 grant to develop a sustainable solution to a social challenge.

This year, George Washington High School’s C.O.L.O.R. team walked away with first prize for a project focused on combatting racism through literature, music, arts, and conversations. That means they will be presenting their project at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer. Last year, three Denver teams presented their projects at the festival.

Denver Center for International Studies’ team won second prize for its Planting Diplomacy project, and North High School won third for Nourish, a project focused on addressing food deserts.

Students from PUSH Academy’s Raising Our Own Fathers team proposed a mental health awareness day.

South High School’s team won the impact award for a project focused on addressing racial inequality and challenging stereotypes, while West High School’s team won best exhibit. The Martin Luther King Jr. Middle College group that spent most of the afternoon doing push-ups won an award for team spirit.

Bruce Randolph High School and Push Academy won the People’s Choice Award.

But many of the schools’ projects have already had concrete results. The team from North High School, for instance, has signed up more than 75 families for a fresh food delivery program.

The Aspen Challenge started in Los Angeles three years ago, expanded to Denver next year, started in Washington D.C., and will continue to add cities. Denver Public Schools spotlighted some of the projects on its Facebook page.
Categories: Urban School News

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