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Updated: 49 min 8 sec ago

Rural Merino district first to formally seek testing waiver

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 19:15

The 315-student Merino School District in northeastern Colorado is the first to formally seek a waiver from some state testing, following up on an “offer” made earlier this month by the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Rob Sanders, at the Capitol earlier this week to testify at a hearing, told Chalkbeat Colorado that he’d dropped the paperwork off at the Department of Education. A CDE spokeswoman said Merino’s was the first waiver request received.

“We realize you were told by Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tony Dyl, that you do not have the authority to pass this kind of motion,” read a letter from the Merino school board that accompanied the resolution seeking the waiver. “We also understand the Commissioner of Education is consulting with the Attorney General’s Office to determine the legality of the directive. Yet, the burden of these tests and the negative impact they are having on our ability to set educational standards and priorities to meet the needs of the students and to provide opportunities for innovation and creativity mean we cannot wait any longer.”

On Jan. 8, the State Board voted 4-3 to direct the commissioner of education to grant waivers to districts that want to opt out of the first part of the state’s language arts and math tests that will be given this spring (see story). Unlike past exams, the new tests will be given in two parts, the second near the end of the school year. The State Board resolution offers a waiver from the first part.

The attorney general’s office has advised CDE that such waivers aren’t legally permitted, but a formal opinion is being prepared. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond has said he won’t act on any waiver requests until he has a formal opinion from the attorney general.

A split Jefferson County school board voted on Jan. 15 to seek a waiver (see story). But it hasn’t been filed yet.

After the State Board’s vote, a group called the Rural Alliance drafted a letter supporting the board’s action and prepared a model resolution that school boards could use for submission to the department. The alliance is a coalition of small districts around the state. The Merino board’s resolution follows the language of the model resolution.

The Merino schools are southeast of Sterling. The district also is known as Buffalo. The interchangeable use of the two names is a holdover from a long-ago consolidation.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How one state is putting teachers in charge of their evaluations

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:47
  • Wisconsin wants instructors to take a larger role in developing the state’s teacher evaluation tool by asking them to decide how much students should be expected to learn, and how that growth should be measured. (Hechinger Report)
  • If schools want to improve student achievement, they must racially integrate their classrooms. (Huffington Post)
  • Or they should just let teachers run them. (Washington Post)
  • Some students should experience the benefit of touch. (Atlantic)
  • New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made her most substantial changes to the district’s bureaucracy this week. (Chalkbeat New York)
  • Author of the new book “The Test” answers questions about the future of standardized testing in the U.S. (NPR Ed)
  • Vox explains No Child Left Behind, including what’s next. (Vox)
  • ICYMI: Here’s what President Obama had to say regarding education issues during the State of the Union. (EdWeek)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan live tweeted during the president’s #SOTU. (
  • To improve student discipline, change teacher behavior. (Slate)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: For equitable results, give schools equitable funding

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:35

On Tuesday, we asked our readers “How can Colorado schools become more equitable?”

The most common response: If you want equitable results give schools equitable funding.

Before we see what our readers had to say, I asked our capitol editor and school funding expert to explain how schools here are funded. Here’s what he had to say:

Colorado schools are funded through a complicated formula that weights cost of living for district staff, district size, percentage of at-risk students and other factors to determine different per-pupil funding amounts for each district. Some critics feel the current system doesn’t adequately pay the true costs of educating at-risk and minority students or English language leaders, especially in districts where such students are concentrated.

And some observers feel funding is further distorted because some districts — often larger, wealthier ones — have additional revenues from extra property taxes approved by local voters, in addition to money provided by the state formula. Some poorer, smaller districts haven’t been able to raise such revenues.

That maybe why Mark Sass, a teacher and occasional First Person contributor put it plainly in our comment section:

Allocate funds based on academic need versus the current per pupil allocation.

Former State Board of Education member Ed Lyell went a little more in-depth:

Declare the total state one valuation district. Eliminate the school district boundaries in terms of property values, mill levies, and funding.  This would cause Aspen to help fund Antonito, etc.

It is archaic to even have local districts in terms of funding since the state is the primary source of funding of all schools. Up to the 1970’s local property tax paid over 60% of school funding. Now local property tax is less than 40%, and near 0 in some areas.

On another note, Chalkbeat reader Gwendolyn Eden suggested on Twitter the — very unlikely — idea of closing private schools. She got an idea from this 2012 Gawker article.

@ChalkbeatCO Close all private schools. @WarrenBuffett

— Gwendolyn Eden (@gwennebrask) January 21, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

As Denver Public Schools enrollment booms, poverty rate drops

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:00

The flock of construction cranes downtown and in Cherry Creek, rising rents and new businesses across the city are often cited as signs that Denver is booming. More people are moving to the city. Denver looks different now than it did 20, 10, or even five years ago.

Want more evidence of change? Look at who’s attending Denver Public Schools.

In a sharp reversal from the recent past, the number of DPS students from higher-income families is growing faster than the number from lower-income families.

The percentage of students from low-income families has been shrinking incrementally for three years now. And DPS and state officials are projecting that the new trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Neighborhoods like Stapleton and River North are gentrifying, and more middle-class families are staying in the public school system. There’s also evidence that more families are moving out of poverty as the Great Recession recedes.

But some of the forces at work are more surprising: State and local officials point to the longer-term changes in who attends public schools wrought by the shrinking economy, the steady improvement in the district’s reputation and academic track record, and even a state-funded contraceptive program.

A confluence of trends

DPS is growing more quickly than any other school district in the state. In 2000, the district enrolled 70,955 students; this year, it had 90,150. For most of that time, both the number and percentage of the district’s students who lived near or at the poverty line—$23,850 per year for a family of four in 2014—were increasing at a steady pace.

School systems often use families’ eligibility for federally-subsidized meals as a means of tracking poverty. Families with an income that is 130 percent of the poverty rate are eligible for free lunch. Those whose income is 185 percent that rate are eligible for reduced-price lunch.

In 2000, 61 percent of Denver students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. By 2011, that had increased to 73.6 percent.

But the 2011-12 school year marked a turning point. Since then, the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch has been dropping, to 72.2 percent in 2012-13, 72.1 percent in 13-14, and 69.7 percent this year.

The percent of students eligible for free lunch dropped more quickly, from 66 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013 and 62 percent in 2014.

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the real number of students eligible for free-and reduced-price lunch combined increased slightly, by some 150 students. The number of students eligible for free lunch declined for the first time in years.

Citywide, the total number of people in poverty increased from 2008 to 2010, said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s State Demographer. “But overall, things are definitely improving since 2010.”

That lines up with statewide trends: The poverty rate in Colorado schools overall decreased from 41.9 percent last school year to 41.6 percent in 2014-15.

But both state and city are bucking national trends. According to a report released earlier this month by the Southern Education Foundation, the number of low-income students in the country’s public schools has increased in recent years, to 51 percent in 2013.

Changing numbers

Garner said that while the total population under 18 in Denver dropped between 2008 and 2013, more residents now are sending their children to the Denver school district.

“Our capture rate of middle-class families is going up,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said. Before, he said, more families were transferring to nearby suburban districts or opting into private schools. “Especially in middle school, the quality and reputation of our schools has gone way up.”

The trend has not been evenly spread throughout the city, however. Gentrification in certain neighborhoods has had a major effect, Boasberg said.

Still, Boasberg said that he hoped that the declining poverty rate would allow for increased socioeconomic diversity in Denver schools. “I think the more diverse we are as a district, that helps us in our efforts to have greater diversity in our individual schools.”

State and district officials said that the simultaneous reduction in free-lunch eligible families and increase in reduced-lunch eligible families indicate that some families are moving out of poverty as the economy recovers from the Great Recession.

But Garner said the recession led to a web of other changes. For one, more than 10,000 of the city’s foreign-born residents left the city between 2008 and 2013 as the economy bottomed out. She said there were also fewer low-income Hispanic residents in 2013 than in 2008.

Garner said that the gloomy economy may also have helped spur more affluent citizens to send their children to the public schools. “Some people who could previously afford private schools were now choosing to send their children to public schools.”

“That will push down the share of people in poverty or the share who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, because you’re adding people on the higher end,” Garner said.

Another wrinkle: The state demographer said there has been a decline in the number of children aged 0-5, partly due to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a state program that funded contraceptive devices for women. That program is credited with lowering Colorado’s birthrate by 40 percent over five years.

Garner said the steepest drops in birthrate were among women under 20, who, she said, are more likely to live in poverty. Children in that age group are not yet in school, but could be part of projections that lower-income regions will see fewer students in school.

Budget, academic implications

The changing demographic may eventually be reflected in academic performance in some of the city’s schools: Often, students from higher income brackets score better on standardized tests.

The change will also have funding implications for Denver schools. School districts receive state and federal funds to support low-income students.

Mark Ferrandino, the district’s chief financial officer, told the DPS board last week that the district is projecting a decrease in the revenue it gets from Title I—a pot of federal money targeted at high-needs schools—as both Colorado and Denver have a smaller percentage of at-risk students than in the past.

Ferrandino said the district would make cuts to central office programs to avoid affecting school budgets.

“The reason why the state and federal governments tie funding to free and reduced-price lunch is that there are often higher needs for those kids,” Ferrandino said.

“Relatively, from a budgetary perspective, it means less money coming in,” he said. “But from an overall societal perspective, it’s good news.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Senate panel kills proposed tuition cap

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 09:56

Inside 2014 graduation rates

The percentage of Colorado high school students who graduated on time rose to 77.3 percent in 2014, a nearly 5 percentage-point increase since 2010. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Some key stats in the graduation rates are illustrated in five graphics. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

More on grad rates

Districts along the Front Range take a look at their graduation and dropout rates. ( Gazette, Chieftain, Daily Camera, Denver Post, CBS Denver )

No go at Capitol

A bare, 5-4 majority of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed a measure that would have set a 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases by state colleges and universities. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool funding

When it comes to trends in state preschool funding, Colorado runs with the pack. It was one of 28 states (and the District of Columbia) to increase preschool funding from 2013-14 to this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Impact of creativity

A study finds arts programs can help struggling schools like Denver's Noel Community Arts School. ( 9News )

Serving special kids

A Chaffee County school has received special approval from the Department of Education for its autism program. ( Chaffee County Times )

Looking to grow

A tiny school in the mountain town of Rico hopes to gain new students from its growing neighbor. ( Telluride Daily Planet )


A guest columnist argues that all Colorado families need greater access to charter schools. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado’s high school graduation rates in five graphs

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 22:22

The Colorado Department of Education today released graduation, completion, and dropout rates for the state’s high schools. Overall, the graduation rate, or students who complete high school in four years, is up.

The state’s dropout rate also dipped for the eight consecutive year, albeit by just 0.1 percentage points. That’s about 120 fewer dropouts statewide than in 2013.

You can read more about the trends here. Or you can look at these snazzy charts. A note, this analysis is our first stab

Colorado graduation rate by gender, race

As expected, high school girls graduated at a higher rate than boys, though boys are closing that gap slightly by about 1 percentage point. Meanwhile, white students graduated at a higher rate than either black or Latino students.

The big 15

Changes in graduation rates among the state’s largest 15 school districts were mixed. Aurora Public Schools and Colorado Springs District 11 saw the largest gains with 3 percentage points each. Meanwhile, the Falcon school district saw the largest drop, 24 percentage points.

The big 15’s gaps

Achievement gaps between students of color and their white peers vary among Colorado’s 15 largest school districts. It’s clear that some school districts –Mesa (Grand Junction), Aurora, and Cherry Creek, for example —  do a better job of graduating black students, while school districts like Colorado Springs District 11, Greeley, and Pueblo do a better job of graduating Latino students.

Graduation rates — mostly up — at state’s struggling schools

More students graduated last year from seven of the 10 school districts on the state’s accountability watch list. That’s good news for the students and the school districts that are at risk of losing their accreditation. While the state mostly judges schools on how much students learn year to year, graduation rate is a critical factor. It’s unknown whether the boosts, especially in Sheridan, will be enough to stave off state intervention.

Some poorer districts graduating more students than others

Denver Public Schools has nearly doubled its graduation rate since 2006. But it still has a long way to go to catch up to the state’s average — and to get bragging rights on Colorado districts with similar demographics. Here’s a look at some of the state’s largest and poorest school districts’ graduation rates.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate panel not persuaded, kills tuition cap bill

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 21:12

A bare, 5-4 majority of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed a measure that would have set a 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases by state colleges and universities.

Although Senate Bill 15-062 was sponsored by the panel’s senior Democrat, Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, and all five committee Republicans voted against it, the nearly two hours of discussion really weren’t partisan.

Rather, committee members of both parties complained about the bind created by state underfunding of higher education – which has driven rising tuition – and the legislature’s inability to do much about it.

The bill would have indefinitely capped annual resident undergraduate tuition increases at 6 percent, although colleges could have applied for waivers in years when the legislature didn’t increase higher education funding by at least the rate of inflation.

Kerr said tuition increases were one of the issues he heard about most frequently while campaigning for reelection last year.

State colleges and universities took substantial reductions in state support after the 2008 recession shrank state revenues. In compensation, lawmakers gave colleges the flexibility to raise tuition by up to 9 percent a year – or at a higher rate if approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

With revenues improving, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Kerr last session won a $100 million increase in higher education funding – along with a 6 percent cap on increases for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 budget years.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a similar bump for higher education in the next budget year, but there are widespread concerns those sorts of increases won’t continue for long.

Citing other future demands on the state budget, Department of Higher Education lobbyist Kachina Weaver told the committee, “It’s extremely unlikely that we’re going to continue those kinds of funding levels” in the future.

Given that, committee Republicans were reluctant to limit colleges’ options to respond to variations in state support. “It seems to me we need to give some flexibility to higher education,” said Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs and chair of the committee.

“I think we should be very careful about capping their options,” said Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

The whole conversation seemed to depress Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. After a discussion about how little support higher education receives in the context of all college and university revenue, he said, “We’re actually far worse off than we thought we were. … This sort of blew my mind, this conversation.”

Tuition is by no means a dead issue. The cap on increases could resurface this session, and if that doesn’t happen the 2016 session will face the issue. The current 6 percent cap will expire for 2016-17, and a higher education department  study on what drives college costs is due at the end of the this year, giving lawmakers fresh food for thought in 2016.

Postscript: Despite the thoughtful tone of the hearing itself, the Senate Democratic Caucus couldn’t resist taking a jab at Republicans in an emailed news release that went out shortly after the vote.

“Republicans in the Senate Education Committee rejected the bill today on a partisan vote, meaning the already heavy burdens of tuition and student loan debt on Colorado students and families will continue to escalate,” read the release. Such news releases are a common tactic used by both parties after committee and floor votes.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Many states, including Colorado, increase preschool funding

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 20:07

When it comes to trends in state preschool funding, Colorado runs with the pack. It was one of 28 states (and the District of Columbia) to increase preschool funding from 2013-14 to this year, according to a new report published by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

Colorado’s 3.2 percent bump in funding for the Colorado Preschool Program is modest compared to expansions in California (79 percent) and Michigan (37 percent). Both states spent at least double what Colorado does even before their double-digit increases.

Still, Colorado’s $82.6 million preschool outlay is larger than in some states that posted big spending gains. For example, South Carolina increased preschool funding by 51 percent this year, but still spends a few million less annually than Colorado.

Bucking national trends around expanding publicly-funded preschool, several states decreased funding this year, including Tennessee, Florida, Maine, Nevada and Oklahoma. In addition, a half-dozen mostly western states don’t provide any public funds for  preschool. These include Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Hampshire.

Along with side-by-side comparisons of states’ preschool spending, the report highlights the bipartisan appeal of publicly-funded preschool. Of the 44 states with such programs, 25 have Republican governors and 19 have Democratic governors.

Categories: Urban School News

State high school graduation rate rises to 77.3 percent

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 13:42

The percentage of Colorado high school students who graduated on-time rose to 77.3 percent in 2014, a nearly 5 percentage-point increase since 2010, the Colorado Department of Education reported Thursday.

The graduation rate for 2013 was 76.9 percent.

The high school completion rate was 79.5 percent for 2014. The graduation rate includes students who got their diplomas within four years of entering high school from the 8th grade. The completion rate includes students who received GEDs or “non-diploma” completion certificates.

The department also reported the state’s dropout rate was 2.4 percent in 2014, a small dip from 2013’s 2.5 percent. That represents 118 fewer dropouts. The dropout rate was heavily influenced by students who left alternative high schools. Their dropout rate was 10 times that of non-alternative students — 16.7 percent compared to 1.6 percent.

Find your school’s 2014 graduation rate
Click here to peruse Chalkbeat’s database of 2014 graduation rates

“There is cause for optimism in these steadily improving results,” said Rebecca Holmes, associate commissioner for innovation, choice and engagement. “Many districts are doing remarkable work to move more and more students toward readiness for the day after high school graduation, even if that means giving them more than four years to get there. However, in our state as a whole the gaps based on race, ethnicity and income level are still concerning.”

The 2014 graduation statistics show gaps among different groups of students, gaps similar to those seen on test scores and other education statistics.

Here are the on-time graduation rates by gender and ethnic group:

  • Female – 81 percent
  • Male – 73.7 percent
  • American Indian – 60.7 percent
  • Asian – 84.7 percent
  • Black – 69 percent
  • Hispanic – 66.7 percent
  • White – 83.2 percent
  • Two or more races – 79.7 percent

There also were lower graduation rates for groups of students with a variety of academic challenges:

  • Students with disabilities – 54.6 percent
  • Limited English proficiency – 58.7 percent
  • Free/reduced-price lunch eligible – 64.2 percent
  • Title I students – 52.4 percent
  • Gifted/Talented – 92.2 percent

Graduation rates among school districts also vary widely, usually based on the ethnic and socio-economic compositions of their student bodies. In a few cases district rates fluctuate significantly from year to year. For instance, the Falcon district’s rate dropped from 89.8 percent in 2013 to 64.5 percent last year. The district added a new school for 2014 – the online Goal Academy whose 756 students had only a 31.5 percent graduation rate, helping to drop the district’s average.

Of the state’s districts and local education agencies, 126, or 71 percent, had graduation rates of 80 percent or higher, a key state benchmark.

Here’s a look at graduation rates for some key districts. The 2013 rate is listed in parenthesis.

The 15 largest districts
  • Adams 12-Five Star – 73.9 percent (73.7 percent)
  • Academy – 89.8 percent (91.3 percent)
  • Aurora – 55.9 percent (52.6 percent)
  • Boulder – 91.8 percent (90.9 percent)
  • Cherry Creek – 86.6 percent (87.3 percent)
  • Colorado Springs 11 – 68.2 percent (66 percent)
  • Denver – 62.8 percent (61.2 percent)
  • Douglas – 88.9 percent (88.7 percent)
  • Falcon – 64.5 percent (89.8 percent)
  • Greeley – 77.8 percent (79.9 percent)
  • Jefferson – 82.9 percent (81.4 percent)
  • Mesa 51 – 77.2 percent (77.5 percent)
  • Poudre – 81.7 percent (84 percent)
  • Pueblo 60 – 71.9 percent (70 percent)
  • St. Vrain – 83 percent (82.9 percent)
Other districts of interest
  • Adams 14 – 65.9 percent (59.3 percent)
  • Brighton – 79.8 percent (79.2 percent)
  • Englewood – 49.6 percent (55 percent)
  • Littleton – 90.7 percent (92.1 percent)
  • Mapleton – 52.2 percent (47.8 percent)
  • Sheridan – 60.2 percent (40.1 percent)
  • Thompson – 74.5 percent (77.6 percent)
  • Westminster – 57.1 percent (63.9 percent)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cuomo proposes broad overhaul of NY education policy

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 07:35

Own your learning

Aurora Public Schools has a new guiding strategic document, but the inner-ring suburban district is betting student academic plans will help stop the accountability clock. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cops and kids

Denver high school students say ongoing dialogue with police is leading to smoother relations six weeks after a series of walkouts focused on fatal police shootings of unarmed black men elsewhere in the U.S. ( 9News )

Contract talks

The Boulder Valley School District on Wednesday started a round of collaborative negotiations toward a new contract with the teacher union, the Boulder Valley Education Association. ( Boulder Daily Camera )

Bye-bye bill

A bill that would have funneled end-of-year state surpluses into special accounts for K-12 and higher education was killed Wednesday by majority Democrats on the House Finance Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Free meals for all

Harrison School District 2, one of the Pikes Peak region's most impoverished school districts leads the state in the number of students eating free meals through a federal program that started last fall. ( The Gazette )

Testing tested

After a long stretch as the law of the land, annual standardized tests are being put to, well, the test. ( KUNC/NPR )

Reupping on reform

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to push for a broad overhaul of state education policy on Wednesday, which will include raising the state’s cap on charter schools, increasing the state’s role in teacher evaluations, and lengthening the time it takes for teachers to earn tenure. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

GOP education funding bill makes early exit

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 23:54

A bill that would have funneled end-of-year state surpluses into special accounts for K-12 and higher education was killed Wednesday by majority Democrats on the House Finance Committee.

But the 6-5 vote didn’t come until after those Democrats went to substantial lengths to compliment the GOP sponsor and stress their support for improved school funding.

House Bill 15-1058 would have put 70 percent of what’s called the annual general fund surplus in the State Education Fund and 30 percent into a higher education account. The surplus – the amount can vary widely year to year – is what’s left over after the state pays its bills, the legislature makes mid-year budget adjustments, and the state controller balances the books every year.

The K-12 transfers would have continued until the negative factor – the state’s $890 million school funding shortfall – had been eliminated.

Comparing the negative factor to an unpaid credit card balance, sponsor Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said, “Until we get that credit card paid off … this is the responsible way to use the surplus. … We have a very large debt to K-12 education.”

He and other Republicans called it a first step toward broader and more permanent improvements in school funding. “We can’t do everything at once,” noted Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County.

Questioned by a fellow Republican, Becker acknowledged it was hard to estimate how much money the bill would raise. “This could be as much as $45 million for this year and as little as $20 million.”

Democratic committee members voiced plenty of objections: lawmakers can do this already if they want, the bill would limit the flexibility of future legislatures, and a bigger, more permanent school finance fix is needed, not an incremental step.

“Our priority as a legislature needs to be coming up with a permanent fix to the negative factor,” said Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder. (The two Beckers aren’t related.)

What she and the other Democrats didn’t mention was that a permanent school funding fix – the $1 billion tax increase known as Amendment 66 – was offered to voters in 2013 and soundly defeated.

Witnesses supporting the bill included three rural district superintendents from northeastern Colorado and representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association. (The CEA gave contributions to most if not all of the committee Democrats last year but to none of the Republicans.)

Before the vote was taken, committee members spent half an hour on the peculiar legislative politeness ritual known as “explaining my vote.” That involved Democrats complimenting Becker for introducing the bill while explaining why they were going to vote no. Committee Republicans complimented Becker and explained why they were voting yes.

If the bill had been passed by the finance committee, it would have gone next to the House Education Committee. It perhaps was assigned by House Democratic leadership first to finance to avoid the political embarrassment of Democrats on the education committee voting no.

The serious discussion of school finance in 2015-16 probably won’t unfold until late March, after state revenue forecasts are updated.

Fields considering minority teacher legislation

Rep. Rhonda Fields said Wednesday she’s considering legislation designed to encourage more minority students to become teachers.

Fields talked with Chalkbeat Colorado following a Capitol briefing on a new report, “Keeping Up with the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado.”

The Aurora Democrat was a prime sponsor of the 2014 law that commissioned the study, which was presented to a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees.

Fields said she doesn’t have a specific proposal yet in mind but is interested in doing something that would encourage “bridge” programs in community colleges that would help direct minority students toward teacher prep programs. She said she’s also looking into way to interest minority students in teaching as early as their middle school years.

The study found that only 10 percent of state teachers are minorities, compared to 43 percent of students, and that Colorado lags behind the nation in the percentage of minority teachers. (Read our story and see the full report here.)

The study recommended that the legislature consider creating a “multi-million dollar” program of state grants to minority teacher recruitment and retention programs. Committee members had lots of questions about the report, but no legislator asked about or touched on the idea of spending that kind of money.

(In a First Person commentary posted on Chalkbeat Wednesday, UCD Professor Margarita Bianco writes about the importance of having more students of color become teachers.)

Fishing for BEST funding

Advocates of the Building Excellent Schools Today program have been hunting around for more money to fund the effort, given that BEST has hit the ceiling on the $40 million it is allowed to spend every year to repay the lease-purchase agreements that have been used to build or renovate dozens of schools around the state.

The program gets half of the annual revenues earned on state school lands, and the issue came up Wednesday when the House and Senate education committees were briefed by Bill Ryan, director of the State Land Board.

Sen. Mike Johnston tried to draw Ryan out on the issue of how to raise more funds for BEST, but Ryan’s answer was cautious. “Our job is to earn the revenue,” he said, but decisions on how to spend it are up the legislature.

He also noted that revenues from school lands are volatile because they “are so linked to commodity prices and production.” Much of the land board revenue comes from oil and gas leases and royalties.

Citing the recent dramatic drop in oil prices, Ryan said, “We do see a steep drop off coming in our revenues.”

Johnston, a Denver Democrat, said the coming revenue decline worries him and then suggested looking into how to increase interest income from land board’s permanent fund.

Ryan said state law currently requires the permanent fund be invested in low risk – and therefore low-interest – securities. Johnston suggests easing those limits, and Ryan responded, “That would be a good alternative to pursue.”

Categories: Urban School News

Students to lead the way in Aurora while accountability clock ticks

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 17:07

AURORA — The Aurora Public Schools board adopted a single strategic document for the inner-ring suburban school district Tuesday night.

But school and community officials are betting that the thousands of new individual academic plans students develop will be what drives achievement forward.

As part of the district’s new five-year strategy, every APS student will write his or her own plan for the future, be asked to develop a set of skills to implement that plan, and earn credentials toward college or a career.

Known as APS 2020: Shaping a Successful Future, the plan is a stark departure from the district’s former governing documents. Previous iterations of the APS strategic plan were lengthy, packed with goals and initiatives written in education jargon, and were focused on what teachers and administrators would accomplish.

But APS 2020, officials say, is student- and parent-friendly, will likely be printed on just two pages, and places the responsibility for academic success on the students.

“We agreed as a community that this plan was about student self-determination,” said Rico Munn, Aurora’s superintendent. “It’s about them having the capacity within themselves to shape their future.”

Much of the work outlined in the plan is already underway. APS has been a leader in developing career-pathways for students. And it recently rolled out a digital program that awards students certificates akin to scout badges for workplace skills like collaboration they can show they’ve mastered.

Aurora by the numbers
41,729 students
46 percent of third grader read at or above grade level
56 percent of students graduate on time
67 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch
38 percent of students have limited English skills
18 percent of students are white

But many details still need to be worked out. It’s unknown what an academic plan might look like for a kindergartner. And it will be a challenge to have each of APS’s 41,729 students write these plans within 90 days, as called for in the the proposal.

It’s also unclear whether the plan will accelerate student achievement quickly enough to starve off state intervention. Aurora is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list. It has two years to boost student achievement or face a number of state sanctions that could include losing its accreditation.

Munn said the district’s responsibility to the state weighed on the committee that developed the plan, but it was ultimately more important for APS to do what its community felt was best for its own students.

“We’re doing the work that needs to be done and the work our community told us needs to be done to move each and every kid forward,” Munn said. “That will play out however it plays out at the state. But that’s the work that needs to be done to accelerate the learning for all of our kids.”

Munn said the district does have a sense of urgency to improve its schools, 18 of which are on the state’s watch list. And, Munn said, the plan gets straight to the point.

“It’s not about some broad philosophical education theory,” he said. “It’s about saying ‘every single kid, we need to move. And here’s the strategies we’re going to use to do it.'”

Aurora teacher union President Amy Nichols, who served on the committee that created APS 2020, said she’s excited to work with Munn in implementing the plan. But she does have some concerns about how teachers will have time to work with students to develop their plans.

She said APS officials will need to address testing mandates and class sizes, especially at the middle school level, as they ask teachers to implement student individual plans.

“The best way to get something done is to ask the teachers,” she said. “They’ll find a way.”

Veronica Palmer, co-CEO of nonprofit parent engagement organization RISE Colorado, said it’s important for APS to engage families as they roll out APS 2020.

“Parents are a vital resource,” she said. “If parents know how they fit in, they’re more likely to be involved.”

That could lead to more parents supporting the district’s school improvement efforts, Palmer said. Palmer also served on the committee that drafted the plan.

APS 2020 was approved on a rare 4-3 vote. Board members Mary Lewis, Barbara Yamrick, and Amber Drevon, voted against the plan because they said the vision statement, “every student shapes a successful future,” was uninspiring. However, those members said they generally supported the rest of the plan.

“I love every other word in the plan,” Lewis said. “I will support it completely.”

Presentation on Aurora 2020 DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1506966-aps-strategicdocumentpresentation' });
Categories: Urban School News

Why creating opportunities for students of color to become teachers is important

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 13:29

The Colorado Department of Education recently published a study to explore the current landscape of teacher diversity in the state. The report, Keeping up with Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado, is a call to action.

The highlight of the report is the list of specific strategies to increase the recruitment and retention of teachers of color and why this is an important issue to address.

I sincerely hope that all stakeholders, from legislatures and policy makers to school district leaders and teacher preparation programs are planning to respond to that call.

I know I am.

Why? Teacher diversity matters for all students. As an associate professor at UC Denver, my scholarship centers on issues of diversity and equity in urban schools. Whenever I present my research at professional conferences around the country, I ask conference participants to think about and respond to this question, “what message is conveyed regarding the authority of knowledge and positions of power when students experience school with a predominantly white (and mostly female) teacher workforce?” Our conversations are lively and center on a few important themes including: students’ perceptions of whose voice matters and whose views count, students’ sense of belonging in school, and the need for all children to learn from and interact with teachers who bring a variety of perspectives and lived experiences to their classrooms.

A sad reality exists. Given that 90 percent of Colorado teachers are white, it is entirely possible for a Colorado student to go through her entire K-12 public school education and never have a teacher of color. The same student can continue her education and complete her BA, MA and PhD and still never have a teacher of color.

For these reasons and many more, I created the Pathways2Teaching program in 2010.

Pathways2Teaching is a concurrent enrollment program designed to engage high school students of color in exploring the teaching profession as an avenue for engaging with, giving back to, and righting wrongs within their communities. In collaboration with the University of Colorado Denver and high schools in Denver Public Schools and Adams County School District 14, the Pathways2Teaching program has served over 300 high school juniors and seniors over the last five years.

Our potential future teachers look vastly different from the current teacher demographics in Colorado. Nearly 60 percent of our current and former students are Latino/a, 35 percent African American and 42 percent male.

As the authors of Keeping up with Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado point out, there are a number of early outreach programs aimed at recruiting high school students into the teacher workforce. Not all, however, focus specifically on recruiting students of color. If we really want to diversify our teacher workforce and build effective early outreach programs, these programs must be culturally responsive. They must feature a curriculum specifically designed to engage students by explicitly pointing out why they are desperately needed as our future teachers – not just because of the color of their skin, but because of their lived experiences in the same communities that need them the most.

How? It is not always an easy sell. For many students of color, particularly those who live in poverty, schools do not always feel welcoming or safe. This is especially true for African American, Latino and Native American males. One only needs to examine national or state data by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status to see the disproportionate rates of school disciplinary actions, suspensions, special education placements, and lower graduation rates for students of color to better understand the level of disenfranchisement often felt by these students.

The marginalization students experience can become the catalyst for helping them understand how they can disrupt the inequities they have experienced. The Pathways2Teaching curriculum has an explicit focus on having students critically examine the complex educational issues and inequities that exist in poor, urban communities- the very issues that have contributed to the marginalization that they’ve experienced in schools.

Through the Pathways2Teaching program, students also learn about the importance of dedicated, culturally responsive teachers who come to school each day to empower students and make a difference in students’ lives. Students gain a better understanding of the important roles teachers of color play for all students as they read the published work of national scholars (and sometimes have the opportunity to interview these scholars via video conference calls).

Beyond the scholarship of effective teaching for diverse learners that students study, they get to experience it firsthand. The program incorporates a weekly field experience where students work in local elementary one day a week throughout the year. In fact, our research indicates that this experience is a significant factor in motivating high school students of color to seriously consider becoming a teacher. Students better understand that effective teaching is a complex task – one that involves content knowledge, culturally responsive pedagogy, and unwavering dedication – but above all “revolutionary love.”

The call to diversify our teacher workforce is clear and urgent. I know we have a lot of work to do. The Pathways2Teaching program is one small contribution to answering this call.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Obama didn’t mention No Child Left Behind rewrite plan during speech

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:59


President Barack Obama didn't use the words teacher or test in his State of the Union address last night. But he did share a lot about expanding preschool and making community college free. ( Huffington Post )

Talk to us

Answer our question of the week: How can Colorado schools become more equitable? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No room at the Inn

Jeffco Public Schools is running out of room and the district's board is having a hard time agreeing to a solution. ( Arvada Press )

meeting of the minds

Five Colorado school board presidents, including those from Jeffco and Douglas County, met at a suburban Mexican restaurant. Conspiracy theories and vague answers follow. ( Adams County Sentinel )

Two cents

Here are the three education issues Colorado Senate Republicans and Democrats agree on. ( Denver Post )

Human Resources

Northwest Colorado BOCES Executive Director and Special Education Coordinator Amy Bollinger will leave the organization after her contract expires June 30. ( Steamboat Today )

under investigation

Denver Public Schools is investigating a bus driver after a family claims the driver tied down their autistic 3-year-old grandson. ( The Denver Channel )

It takes a village

KidsTek, a nonprofit that aims to make kids more technologically literate, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. ( 9News )

Denver Public Schools will create a defined career path into the health and bioscience field for high school students after receiving a $650,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente Colorado. ( Denver Business Journal )

Longmont-based nonprofit Colorado Friendship aims to expand its weekend meal program for students across the St. Vrain Valley School District this year following a donation from Whole Foods. ( Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: How can Colorado schools be more equitable?

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 18:48

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Denver’s annual “marade” broke attendance records. The Denver Post described the scene this way:

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock estimated 30,000-plus gathered at City Park on Monday morning and marched downtown as part of the city’s annual Marade. The crowd called — or rather bellowed — for more than just progress in race, marching also for social justice, education reform and health care equality.

Monday’s celebration was bolstered by thousands of first-time participants, motivated to march by the protests over the deaths of black men at the hands of police. Activists said this year’s parade was especially significant in the aftermath of the “black lives matter” movement.

Many school reform efforts, in Colorado and across the nation, have been undertaken in the name of equity. Some have worked and some haven’t. Other’s are just getting off the ground.

That brings us to our question of the week: How can Colorado schools become more equitable?

Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora teachers say co-teaching, time with peers helps students learn English

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:09


Colorado legislators introduced several more bills focused on testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


At a school where students speak 47 languages, teachers say students benefit from co-teaching and being with their peers. ( Aurora Sentinel )


In honor of Martin Luther King , Jr. Day, reflections from schools on race relations in America. ( KUNC )


Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg will testify to the U.S. Congress about testing and accountability. ( Education Week )

The Times, They Are A-Changing

Silver Creek High School in Longmont is dropping home economics in favor of a business program. ( Times-Call )

Student Profiles

Seventh grader Enrique Hernandez Salcido dreams of being a teacher. ( Daily Camera )

Speaking Up

An eleven-year-old challenged young people to get involved in tough issues at a summit at Colorado College. ( Gazette )

Growing, Growing

A charter school in Arvada has plans to rapidly expand. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing, standards bills keep piling up

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 10:24

Two new Republican testing bills and a proposal on flexibility for rural districts were introduced in the House Friday before lawmakers left the Capitol for a three-day weekend.

The new measures bring to five the number of testing and standards bills introduced so far, three in the House and two in the Senate. The House bills all are sponsored by Republicans, who are in the minority in that chamber. On the other hand, the Senate bills are by Democrats, the minority party there.

Here’s a look at the new bills:

House Bill 15-1123 – Allows district and charter boards to administer only the language arts, math and science tests required by federal law and to stop administering the ACT test to 11th graders. The bill also allows districts to choose their own school readiness and early literacy tests rather than following current state requirements. It also would require the Department of Education to adjust the growth model and accountability requirements to accommodate local district choices. Prime sponsor: Rep. Jack Tate, R-Centennial.

House Bill 15-1125 – Withdraws Colorado from the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing consortium, reduces state testing and makes numerous other changes in the testing and standards systems, including creation of a schedule for updating standards. Prime sponsors: Republican Reps. Paul Lundeen of Monument and Terri Carver of Colorado Springs; Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

House Bill 15-1124 – Permits rural school districts to receive the same waivers from various state laws and rules as those allowed to charter schools. It also allows rural districts to request waivers from the state system of school readiness assessments. Prime sponsor: Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Most public school students now come from low-income families

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 18:20
  • Most public school students in the U.S. now come from low-income families. (Washington Post)
  • American education may not be experiencing the dramatic crisis we’ve grown so used to hearing about—and black and Latino students, in particular, are doing better over time. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Public school teachers write about testing, joy, and gray hairs in an essay series on Gawker. (Gawker)
  • Teachers are more likely to injure their voices than any other professionals—but most don’t know how to tend to their voices. (Chalkbeat Tennessee)
  • Is a clash in “blue collar” and “white collar” values behind some of the current pushback to education reform? (CRPE)
  • The GED just got way harder. (KUNC)
  • Bilingual preschool programs are becoming more popular in New York. (Chalkbeat NY)
  • Could the idea of the mad—male—genius hold back women in the classroom? (KUNC)
  • Children’s innate sense of how numbers work doesn’t necessarily line up with how math is taught in schools. (Radiolab)
  • Annual assessments and the federal role in education are all on the table as Congress dives into the the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Education Week)
  • An educational consultant argues that differentiation works better in theory than in practice. (Education Week)
  • How toxic stress can take a toll on student learning. (Latino USA)
  • “Engaging multiple modalities.” “Measures of student growth.” Why is education reporting is so boring? Let’s talk about jargon. (The Atlantic)
  • More and more is being expected academically of Kindergartens. (Education Week)
  • And, a weekend listen: Education reporters discuss some of the top issues for 2015. (Bloomberg EDU)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Congress should expand choice, wrap-around services

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 13:44

There has been a lot of talk in Washington this week about Congress rewriting the nation’s education laws: here, here, and here.

So with reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in view, we wanted to know what our readers top priorities would be for the revamped federal law.

Reader Melanie emailed that she hopes Congress does something to make school choice more available:

It would be great to see real school choice.  It is not fair to those who are “locked in” to less proficient schools because of zip codes.  I would love to see more options for families and students to choose as well as more incentives for great principles to take on the challenge of turning around less proficient schools.

Meanwhile, Eden Messutta, a middle school English development specialist, said in an email that Congress should ensure that schools serving the neediest students have all the wrap-around services they need.

… we are not meeting the social-emotional needs of our students. And, despite having oodles of interventions in the areas of academics, we are lacking truly effective intervention, programming and supports to meet the needs of at-risk students and students that struggle socially and emotionally. This is an area that, considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, must be addressed as we ask students to engage their brains in academic tasks. If our students are not getting their basic needs met and are not getting their social-emotional needs met, we cannot expect young people to be emotionally available to learn if they lack coping skills and/or means to acquire those skills.

On Facebook, reader Kelly Johnson suggested that testing mandates and their results shouldn’t be tied to funding:

I don’t like money tied to testing mandates. We need assessments but we also need more time spent on teaching — and LEARNING (and lots of the important lessons cannot be “tested”). I think preschool funding would be grand, but how about K funding?? Agree there could be a better distribution of federal dollars – but also think Colorado needs to step up and invest in education.

But reader Doug Fresse took the contrarian view on Facebook and said the feds should just butt out of education.

Return to local control of schools. Get the feds out of our neighborhoods. Arnie isn’t listening. The states will undo this mess.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Chalkbeat is off on Monday, it’s Martin Luther King Jr., Day. But we’ll be back with a Question of Week on Tuesday! Thanks for chiming in.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hick urges caution on testing cuts

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:07

Jeffco strikes first

The Jefferson County school board didn’t wait long to seek a waiver from a portion of the state’s new standardized assessments after the State Board of Education cracked open the door on that option last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Warning from the gov

Gov. John Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to be cautious about trimming the state testing system in his 2015 state of the state speech Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Second thoughts

A group of legislative Republicans Thursday introduced a bill that would roll back many of the education reforms passed by the legislature over the last six years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Spend, spend, spend

The DPS board has approved new spending plans targeting technology, buildings, and other improvements. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Musical chairs

Denver Public Schools, running out of space to house new programs as enrollment surges, is playing policy catch-up to clarify which programs merit space in district buildings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Counting kids

Colorado public school enrollment grew 1.4 percent in 2014 to 889,006 students, the Department of Education has reported. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Data privacy

President Obama's proposals for protecting privacy of student data are drawing attention from Coloradans, including Congressman Jared Polis. ( Denver Post )

guns in schools

Frontier Academy, a Greeley charter school, is considering arming some non-teaching staff members. ( Greeley Tribune via Denver Post )

Growing pains

Increasing enrollment has put a strain on some schools in the Pikes Peak region. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

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