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Rise & Shine: Aurora, Pueblo mulling turnaround plans

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 09:43

Jeffco Interrupted

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

Under Construction

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

Readers respond

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

Clock is ticking

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

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

student voices

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

Looking ahead

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

Expanding access

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

Healthy meals

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other bills do move on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 19:10

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

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

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

Friday is the national “Day of Silence.” It is organized by GLSEN, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and teachers in schools. The aim of the protest is to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Students who participate in the protest attend school but remain silent. Some put tape over their mouths. describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.

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

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

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

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

A screen shot of Williams’ Facebook post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado LGBT climate survey DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1965872-glsen-2013-colorado-state-snapshot' });
Categories: Urban School News

Students solve gender gap at annual event

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 18:12

A mid-April draft blew through the trees on Regis University’s campus as members of the Regis community gathered inside to watch middle school students perform for a panel of judges on solutions to mend the global gender gap issue.

Students dove deep into this issue unearthing a wealth of information about a variety of different regions.

The students were participating in The World Affairs Challenge, hosted at Regis University. The annual challenge asks middle school students to address a range of global issues spanning a multitude of nations in an effort to promote knowledge on subjects that reach beyond the boarders of the United States.

After presenting their findings and solutions to a panel of judges each student participated in a group yoga exercise followed by an art and culture presentation. After, teachers attended a presentation on how to address gender in the classrooms.

The final portion of the day was set aside for the winning school to perform their solutions on stage for their parents. Out of 17 districts Boulder Valley took first place and presented on the current standing of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: PARCC parent report better, but could still be improved

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 13:19

On Monday we asked our readers what they thought of a sample report Colorado parents will receive with their student’s results on the state’s standardized tests. The report is supposed to be more user-friendly and provide parents with a clearer picture of where their students are academically — especially compared to previous reports like this one.

Did PARCC, the nonprofit responsible for the state’s new standardized test achieve that goal?

Readers were split, but a plurality said either “heck yes,” or “sort of.” Here’s a look at the breakdown:

Let’s go to the comments.

On our Facebook page, opt-out activist and parent Illana Spiegel was concise:

On our website, Christopher Richardson said the report was pretty. But compliments stop there.

But teacher Mark Sass pointed out that the information in the report is markedly better:

And on Twitter, Jason agreed.

More friendly than TCAP info RT @ChalkbeatCO: Is the new PARCC score sheet for parents user-friendly? | | #edcolo

— Jason (@jason_seybert) April 14, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Check back Monday for a new question!

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hick pushes plan to free up money for K-12

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 09:44

Small change

The most modest school-funding bill in recent memory was passed 9-0 Thursday by the Senate Education Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

End of the line

Less than three years after Denver’s first all-boys public charter school opened its doors, Sims-Fayola International Academy is preparing to close. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A founding family watches in dismay as the school prepares to close. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interrupted

The president of the Jeffco teachers union explains why the group filed suit to block rollout of a new compensation system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

moving on

Nicole Veltzé, the principal of Denver’s North High School, has told families that she will leave the school after the end of this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Freeing up funds

Late in the legislative session, Gov. John Hickenlooper is promoting a plan that would free up money for both education and highways and change how taxpayer refunds are distributed. ( Denver Post, CPR, Denver Business Journal )

Snow day for some

Jeffco closed its mountain schools and Dougco is starting later on Friday, and wet weather also affected schools in El Paso County. ( Denver Post, Gazette )


Three boys who allegedly brought guns and a smoke bomb to Denver's Skinner Middle School have been charged with felonies. ( Denver Post )

Day of silence

Some students will be marking the annual event that calls attention to bullying and harassment of LGBT students. ( Gazette )

Artistic differences

Cherokee Trail High School students claim censorship of student plays, but district officials say a performance is just being delayed for normal review. ( 9News )

Hot button issue

Two legislators debate the Indian mascots bill. ( Denver Post )

Pushing back

Parents at a Castle Rock charter school say their kids are being punished for opting out of state tests. ( CBS4 )

Starting over?

Some Greeley school board members think the district ought to toss out its contract with teachers and start fresh. ( Greeley Tribune )

Getting closer

The Fort Morgan school district is crunching the numbers in a final push to build a long-awaited new middle school. ( Fort Morgan Times )

On watch

Eight for-profit colleges in Colorado have been placed on a federal watch list for financial reasons. ( CPR )

planning ahead

Steamboat Springs citizens are reviewing four options for updating school district facilities. ( Steamboat Today )

looking back

The departing superintendent of the Custer County schools reflects on his work as he prepares to move to a new district. ( Wet Mountain Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education passes “very small” K-12 funding bill

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 21:26

The most modest school-funding bill in recent memory was passed 9-0 Thursday by the Senate Education Committee after some prolonged member handwringing about Colorado’s K-12 finance woes.

Sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, acknowledged that Senate Bill 15-267 is a “very small bill.”

While the measure would increase K-12 funding by $306 million to about $6.23 billion next school year, most of that is driven by constitutionally required hikes to cover enrollment growth and inflation.

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

Average per-pupil funding would rise to $7,295 from this year’s $7,026. (Get more details on the bill in this staff summary.)

Only a couple of witnesses testified. Adams 50 Superintendent Pam Swanson urged that the new money be targeted to at-risk students.

She was followed by Jane Urschel, veteran lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards.

Urschel is known around the Capitol for this description of K-12 funding: “School finance is like a Russian novel – long, boring, bloody and in the end everyone dies.”

Thursday, Urschel said to Hill, “Senator, you’ve written a children’s book. It’s short and it ends sadly.”

Saying, “I hope to add a slightly happy ending to this short story,” Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, proposed a couple of amendments to the bill, but they were mostly for show.

The first would have taken $200 million from the State Education Fund (a dedicated K-12 account) and added it to the bill, divided among the negative factor, small rural schools and at-risk students. (Johnston’s amendment was in the spirit of a plan that’s been pushed by 174 of the state’s 178 superintendents.)

That amendment predictably failed, as did a second Johnston motion to split the $25 million between rural aid and at-risk students.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do here,” Hill said, to which Johnston replied “the kiss of death.” (Hill uses the “I appreciate” phrase almost every time he starts speaking against a bill or motion.)

Hill started the session with high hopes and big talk about reducing the negative factor, providing more money for charter schools and deciding on the school finance bill much earlier in the legislative session.

“The money available for our K-12 schools unfortunately has been squeezed out by what are seen are higher priorities. I’d like to change that,” he said.

Hopes for bigger increases in school funding have run afoul of the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers, meaning the much of the new revenue can’t be spent for education or other state programs.

Capitol budget experts consider heavy use of the State Education Fund, as proposed by Johnston, unwise because money spent from that fund one year becomes an obligation of the state general fund in future years. Because state constitutional provisions set a ceiling on overall state spending in a given year, automatic increases in education funding reduce the amount of money available for other programs.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts.

Categories: Urban School News

Celebrated North High School principal to leave at end of year

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 17:58

Nicole Veltzé, the principal of Denver’s North High School, told families last week that she will leave the school after the end of this year.

Veltzé has been North’s principal since 2011. She led the school through a period of significantly improved attendance, academic performance, and graduation rates.

North students work on a project in journalism class in spring 2015.

Veltzé and the North Collaborative School Committee have recommended that Scott Wolf, the school’s associate principal, become the North’s principal starting in 2015-16. School officials said they expect Wolf’s appointment to be finalized within the week.

Before Veltzé’s tenure, North was a turnaround school.  Her work at North, and the school’s significant academic improvements, were spotlighted in an article and video in The Denver Post earlier this year.

Veltzé was previously the principal of Skinner Middle School. When she left to come to North, she was also succeeded by a former assistant principal. She has not announced plans for after she leaves North.

North High School was the site of Denver Public Schools’ announcement that graduation rates across the district had increased earlier this year. The school had the largest increase in on-time graduation of any of the district’s comprehensive schools.

Principal turnover, training, and support have been a concern in Denver Public Schools in recent years. Veltze outstayed the district’s average principal tenure of 3.4 years.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union president explains lawsuit on compensation plan

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 16:44
This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance its budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.
– John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association

That’s the crux of why the Jefferson County Education Association filed a lawsuit to block the rollout of a new compensation system for teachers and specialists joining the suburban school district in the fall.

We shared news about the lawsuit via Complete Colorado in our morning headline roundup, Rise and Shine, and newsletter.

Complete Colorado is funded by the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank and advocacy organization that backed Proposition 104. That measure, which Coloradans overwhelmingly approved, requires school districts and teacher unions to bargain in public.

The article correctly points out that all five school board members approved a pay bump for new hires with masters degrees, who are specialists, and teachers who are hired at high-needs schools. And that Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resource officer, urged the board to address the discrepancy between current and Jeffco educators.

However, union representatives who reached out to Chalkbeat took offense at some of the article’s claims including that the union has created anonymous Twitter accounts to stir the digital pot and has encouraged public disruptions at board meetings. Those claims lack evidence.

“We have not supported board meeting disruptions, many of those were done by the students,” said Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for JCEA. “We actually do rallies outside the building.”

The union and the school district resumed open negotiation meetings in public this week after several “small group” meetings behind closed doors.

The focus of those sessions was to discuss priorities around teacher evaluations, school level autonomy, compensation, and educating the whole the child.

Here’s Ford’s statement about the lawsuit in full:

This week we filed for a temporary injunction to prevent the district from violating the Negotiated Agreement between the District and everyone protected under this agreement. The injunction will prevent the Jeffco School District from implementing changes to the teacher compensation structure unilaterally.

In March, the District unilaterally changed the salary structure for new teachers who would be coming into the district. This non-negotiated salary structure will result in teachers new to Jeffco making thousands of dollars more than current Jeffco teachers with comparable education and experience.

As an example, a current Jeffco teacher with a master’s degree and five years of experience makes $38,000 and under the District’s new plan a brand new teacher to the district with the same qualifications will make $48,017.

This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance their budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.

The Jeffco School District and the School Board Majority cannot continue to undervalue our Jeffco teachers if they want to continue our tradition of excellence in educating Jeffco’ s children.

The Jeffco School Board promised to improve pay when the recession ended if we would defer our salary increases during the recession, and they have reneged on that promise time and time again. Now, the School Board Majority are going to give large raises to new employees and leave current employees out.

Categories: Urban School News

Founding family watches in dismay as three-year-old school closes

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:19

Jordan Robinson was not initially enthusiastic about the idea of an all-boys school. But when you’re an 8th grader, “your parents make most of your decisions for you,” he said.

And his mother, Yashakia Robinson, had made up her mind. “The public schools were failing him,” Robinson said. No matter how hard her son studied, she said, teachers were constantly telling her he was falling behind.

Robinson, who had moved to Denver from Mississippi when Jordan was in kindergarten, was considering relocating to Chicago so her son could attend an all-boys public school there.

But then she met Dedrick Sims, who was planning to open Sims-Fayola International Academy. Robinson attended an open house and was impressed by Sims’ pitch: Public schools aren’t meeting the needs of male students, especially young black and Latino men. Sims-Fayola would be a new model, tailored to meet boys’ needs.

In 2012, Jordan enrolled in Sims-Fayola International Academy one of the school’s founding freshmen.

The Robinsons relocated from Lakewood and bought a house in the far northeast part of Denver to be closer to Sims-Fayola.

“We invested,” she said. She and other founding parents helped with everything from recruiting to painting school walls.

Jordan Robinson also invested. He says he quickly adjusted to the all-boys environment and came to appreciate the sense of brotherhood.

Jordan Robinson, a junior at Sims-Fayola, was one of the school’s founding freshmen.

He has thrived academically. This spring, he was wearing a gold tie, reserved for Sims-Fayola’s honors students. He was looking forward to being one of Sims-Fayola’s first graduates.

But this fall, word got out that the school might be in financial and academic trouble. In November, the Sims-Fayola board voted to close the high school, and in January, it announced that both the middle and high school would close at the end of this school year.

Read more about Sims-Fayola and the school’s closing.

Yashakia Robinson was furious. “In his junior year, you’re told he won’t get to be a senior at Sims-Fayola, which is everything you dreamed of,” she said. “You wanted to see him walk across the stage as a Sims-Fayola man.”

“I understand the data says this or that, but I also understand what was working,” she said. “And I know that had they given them a chance it could have worked.” She said several families had even investigated whether the school could remain open as a private school.

Denver Public Schools and Sims-Fayola staff worked with families to make sure all of the students had places to go. But Robinson wanted her son to be able to maintain at least some of the relationships he’d developed at Sims-Fayola.

So she and a half dozen other families of juniors at Sims-Fayola coordinated with each other and school officials to enroll their children at nearby Collegiate Prep, a co-ed charter school.

“Jordan will be fine,” Robinson said. “Everything he’s learned at Sims-Fayola over the last few years, he’ll take that with him.”

Jordan said that while he is frustrated that the school is closing, he is not overly concerned about the transition. “It’s a place to graduate.”

Robinson said that despite the abrupt ending, she would do it all again. She says she still believes in the value of all-boys education.

But she wishes her son had had a chance to graduate from a school they – and others – threw their hearts and souls into.

“Don’t think our boys failed,” she said. “Our boys didn’t fail. We failed our boys.”

Categories: Urban School News

Denver’s first and only all-boys public school to close

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:17

Less than three years after Denver’s first all-boys public charter school opened its doors, Sims-Fayola International Academy is preparing to close.

After external reviews highlighted financial, logistical, and academic challenges, the charter school’s board voted this winter to shutter Sims-Fayola’s middle and high schools, which currently house grades 6-11 in an office park in far northeast Denver.

The 165 boys who attend the school have been guaranteed spots at other schools for the 2015-16 school year.

But for Sims-Fayola’s students and families, the closure marks the loss of a school with a mission, unique in Denver, that some felt was critical: To provide an academic and social experience tailored to the needs of male students, especially African-American and Latino boys.

“We built a brotherhood and could be academic at the same time,” said Cy’ree Page, a junior who was one of the school’s founding freshmen. “When you think about it being taken away, it’s hard.”

But, he said, “I think it should have been shut down. It was more chaotic this year.”

The school has been plagued by inconsistent leadership and high staff turnover since it opened in 2012. Three years in, the school has had three principals. Just one teacher remains from the opening year.

Another blow was when founder Dedrick Sims left the school last fall. A board member said that the board had decided that while Sims was able to inspire families, his management and planning had “some deficiencies.” Staff and students said he was rarely in the school and spent much of his time fundraising for its expansion.

Sims, who was also the school’s principal in its first year, is planning to open a Sims-Fayola school in Atlanta and could not be reached for comment.

Principal Deborah Blair-Minter, who was recruited out of retirement by the Sims-Fayola board, came to the school early this school year to help right an unsteady ship.

“Trying to create the vision and get funding—you need to be able to do that piece. But you also have to have someone who understands how to run a school,” she said.

That tension between vision and execution is present for other charter schools. Tony Lewis, who heads the Donnell-Kay Foundation and sits on the state Charter School Institute’s board, said it can be hard for a charter school authorizer to predict whether a start-up school like Sims-Fayola will succeed. “Any time you authorize a school you’re taking a risk,” he said.

But he said it’s important to look beyond a school’s written application. “Do they have the leadership both at the school and board level to pull it off? It might all sound good on paper, but can they actually do it?

“If you take no risk on a school, then you’re never going to have new school models, you’re never going to have things like Sims-Fayola,” he said. “But the flip side is, if you take too much risk and you have a school that’s open for one, two, three years, the worry is, you haven’t harmed kids but you certainly haven’t given them a stable environment.”

A vision that resonated

In Sims-Fayola’s charter application, submitted in 2011, Sims made an impassioned case for the school. Sims cites high drop-out and incarceration rates for young African-American and Latino men and says his school will create “a learning experience for young men that will increase college readiness, global competence, and global awareness.”

That vision resonated with the families of the dozens of 6th and 9th graders Sims recruited to help start the school, and with notable Denverites, including Mayor Michael Hancock and Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, both of whom visited the school.

When Sims-Fayola opened in 2012, it was the city’s second single-gender public school, after GALS Academy, an all-girls charter. (A second all-boys school, Miller-McCoy, was proposed in 2011, but never opened. GALS is considering opening an all-boys school.)

The plan was to enroll 250 6th and 9th grade students in the first year, and to build up to a 700-student 6-12 school.

The school did attract its target audience. In the 2013-14 school year, 92 percent of the school’s 198 students were identified as minorities by Denver Public Schools. More than three quarters were eligible for subsidized school lunches.

But enrollment never lived up to Sims’ projections. Some students rebelled against the all-boys model and misbehaved in class. Some parents were concerned by the academic track record and ever-changing cast of teachers. The school’s location in an office park far from downtown Denver may also have been a barrier.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year, Sims was projecting that 270 students would enroll in 2014-15. Just 202 boys showed up.

Lack of enrollment put the school in an untenable financial position, said Les Walker, a member of Sims-Fayola’s board. Schools are funded largely based on enrollment.

The board was initially going to close just the high school, which had seen the most dramatic drops. That plan was presented to and approved by the Denver school board in November.

But after those plans were announced, even more families and staff began to leave the school, Walker said. “We thought it was better to end it now.”

So far this school year, nearly 50 students have left the school.

Walker, who joined the school’s board last year, said that while he knew parents and students were upset, “they’ll probably thank us later that they went to a better school…we should have had a consultant to help with demographics, with academics.”

Still, he said, two and a half years seems to him like a short period of time to establish a new school.

Academic and social challenges It’s considered bad luck to walk on the Sims-Fayola insignia.

In 2013-14, just 31 percent of Sims-Fayola students scored proficient or advanced in reading and fewer than 15 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math on state tests. The school’s growth scores were better, but in its second year, Sims-Fayola still earned the lowest rating on Denver’s school performance framework.

Some students took that low rating to heart. “We didn’t realize that what we were doing was causing our school to be destroyed,” said one eighth grader.

But Blair-Minter said the school’s teachers weren’t sufficiently trained in project-based learning, part of the school’s model, or in the kinds of classroom management or academic strategies that would have been most effective for the students, most of whom came into the school behind grade level. She said a too-long school day, too little time for gym and fresh air, and an irregular schedule were burning out teachers and students.

Rebecca Sanders, a high school social studies teacher who has been with the school for two years, agreed.

“It wasn’t just one thing. We had new teachers who weren’t quite sure how to teach…and there was a lack of consistency about expectations and when we were observed,” she said. “Some of us pushed the kids and some took it to mean I could show a movie every day.”

“Students saw that,” Sanders said.

Jarion Hamm, a junior, said some teachers seemed afraid of the students. “We had some great teachers. But nothing was consistent,” he said. “There was a lot of childishness.”

Other parts of the school’s program also never came to fruition. Just two students went on an international trip initially intended for an entire class.

Sanders said that she thought that given more time and Blair-Minter’s leadership, the school could have been improved. “They are very loving, thoughtful, compassionate kids who deserve better than this, who deserve a better future.”

But now that the closing is imminent, the focus has shifted from stabilizing the school to preparing to close up shop and transition students to new schools.

Students are going to more than 20 schools throughout the metro area. Juniors, who will have just one year in their new schools, got special attention.

But many of the students still have a fierce sense of school pride, and frustration at what they say is a false perception, influenced by a few misbehaving boys, that all of the school’s students are “thugs in suits.”

“We weren’t just a bunch of well-dressed hooligans,”said junior Angel Magana, a founding freshmen. “We were a family.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco union sues school board

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 09:04

Shot in the arm

The State Board of Health voted unanimously today to approve rules that would require parents to submit non-medical exemption forms opting children out of immunizations more frequently to schools and child care facilities. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

girl power

GALS, a Denver all-girls charter school, will be opening a second school in Los Angeles in 2016. The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved the school this week. ( LA Times )

Contract contretemps

The Jefferson County Education Association has taken a page from the Greeley Education Association and filed suit against its district during the height of contract negotiations. ( Complete Colorado )

Dome doings

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing tizzy

A state representative from Salida is worried that if fellow lawmakers draw lines in the sand on this issue, this year’s efforts to reduce the number of tests students have to endure may go for naught. ( Colorado Statesman )

Pony up

Snowmass Village, which accounts for almost 20 percent, or 299, of Aspen School District students, was this week asked by a contingent of administrators and school board members to significantly increase its contribution to local school funding. ( Aspen Daily News )

baleful math lesson

An agriculture education teacher has teamed with a math teacher in rural Oak Creek, teaching to Common Core math standards by having students build an octagonal steel bale feeder. ( KUNC/CPR )

parental largesse

Denver's East High School is getting a revamped college counseling center after parents raised $500,000 to pay for the project, much of it from CU President Bruce Benson and his daughter, Ann Reidy, whose children attend the school. ( 9News )

Boulder moves

The Boulder Valley School District has filled eight of its 10 open principal positions, including hiring Creekside Elementary's James Hill as the next principal at Boulder High School. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

When it comes to the profitable world of student data mining, Colorado lives up to its Wild West reputation, an op-ed writer says. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

“Diploma protection” bill jumps first hurdle

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 21:17

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state.

The measure, House Bill 15-1326, is being pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background on the process in this story and in Chalkbeat’s accreditation timeline.)

This bill is one sign of the rising anxiety about the state’s five-year accountability clock. One of the proposed testing measures, House Bill 15-1323, would designate 2015-16 as “timeout” year for the clock.

Loss of district accreditation could affect college applicants’ “ability to apply for scholarships, get financial aid or even be admitted,” said prime sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “To me this is an issue of fundamental fairness.”

Both Moreno and cosponsor Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, acknowledged that colleges don’t necessarily consider accreditation when reviewing applications. But Esgar said, “We’re putting this in as a safety net.”

Kiera Hatton, the mother of an 8th grader in the Pueblo 60 schools, supported the bill and said she’s moving her daughter to another district because of uncertainty about the district’s future accreditation. “We will have a lost generation of Pueblo kids, and we will have families leaving.”

Pueblo 60 is in Esgar’s district, and the Adams 14 district is in Moreno’s. Six other districts are in the same situation.

The bill applies only to state colleges and universities, not private colleges or out-of-state schools.

The bill passed to the House floor on a 9-2 vote.

House Ed runs out of time on other bills

The main act for Wednesday’s late-morning House Education session was supposed to be Senate Bill 15-173, the proposal to set security and privacy requirements for data vendors who work with school districts.

The bill left the Senate with some unresolved issues (see story), but the committee didn’t get to amendments or even finish public testimony. Because House floor work dragged on Wednesday, the committee didn’t get started until nearly 11:30 a.m. and had to vacate the hearing room by 1:30 p.m. for another committee.

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, delayed additional testimony until a special meeting sometime Friday. Buckner was startled when prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, announced, “I actually won’t be in the state on Friday afternoon.”

Buckner said that means action on the bill won’t come until next week. “That would have been really great information for me to have this morning,” Buckner said sternly to Pabon about his absence.

The committee also had to delay consideration of House Bill 15-1339, which makes important changes in district financial transparency reporting, and House Bill 15-1273, which seeks to improve compilation and reporting of dangerous incidents at schools.

For the record

It’s the time of year when multiple education bills are on the move – or being killed – daily, so here’s a quick rundown of what else happened Wednesday. Also check the Education Bill Tracker for updates on other bills of interest to you.

American Indian mascots – The House gave 33-32 approval to House Bill 15-1165, which would require state approval for school use of American Indian mascots and logos. This measure has little or no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate (get background here).

Truancy – Senate Bill 15-184, a watered-down version of a measure originally intended to end jailing of truant students, passed the Senate 31-4 (get background here).

Teacher evaluations – The Senate Education Committee voted 9-0 to kill Senate Bill 15-003, which would have eliminated the use of student academic growth in teacher evaluations. The bill was largely a symbolic statement by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs – he joined the vote to kill the bill. More modest changes to teacher evaluation are contained in Senate Bill 15-257, of which Merrifield is a cosponsor.

Categories: Urban School News

Health board votes to toughen rules for opting kids out of immunizations

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 16:00

The State Board of Health voted unanimously today to approve rules that would require parents to submit non-medical exemption forms opting children out of immunizations more frequently to schools and child care facilities.

The change, which will take effect July 1, 2016, requires parents of K-12 children to submit personal belief or religious exemption forms annually and parents of younger children to submit the forms up to five times prior to kindergarten. (See this story for more background.)

A related provision meant to reduce the paperwork burden on schools will create an online exemption form that parents can submit directly to the state health department.

Currently parents have to submit an exemption form just once during their children’s schooling.

Health department officials say the more stringent requirements, which are still far from the strictest in the country, will help reduce exemptions claimed out of convenience rather than conviction and help push down Colorado’s higher-then-average immunization exemption rates.

Today’s hearing comes about a year after the state legislature passed House Bill 14-1288, which required schools to release immunization and exemption rates upon request and assigned the Board of Health to examine the exemption frequency issue.

The vote took place after a public comment session that featured a number of speakers who expressed strong support for the change, several who opposed the change, and several who said they wished the rules made it even harder to claim exemptions.

In the brief discussion that followed public comment, some board members agreed that the rules need to be even tougher, but said the change strikes a balance between two extremes.

“I am concerned that it doesn’t go far enough, but I do think it is a good first step,” said Board Member Jill Hunsaker-Ryan.

In addition to the exemption frequency rule, the Board of Health approved a plan to create a public database of immunization and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and child care facilities. That database represents a major expansion of the work Chalkbeat Colorado started in February when it published a first-of-its-kind database of immunization compliance and exemption rates for more than 400 schools in the state’s 20 largest districts.

The state’s database, expected in the 2016-17 school year, will create a standardized system for reporting school immunization rates, and set an annual Dec. 1 deadline for districts to report their data to the state. Since such a reporting deadline doesn’t currently exist, Chalkbeat’s database included rates that were compiled at all different times during the school year.

Finally, the rule changes approved today include an overview of a new online immunization module that’s being created by the state for parents who want more information. The module will include information on vaccine benefits and risks, vaccine safety, Colorado immunization rates, vaccination schedules, and a video on how vaccines work.

At least two public commenters argued that the module should include information on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which provides financial compensation to people hurt by vaccines. After the public comment period, state officials said that was a reasonable suggestion and information on the topic would be added.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Social studies, science test briefly put on hold after technical difficulties

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 09:57

Mo money mo problems

Colorado superintendents are likely to be disappointed after reading the recently introduced School Finance Act. Schools are likely to only see a marginal increase in funding this year — about $25 million, not the $70 million they hoped for. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

Colorado's social studies and science standardized tests were put on hold for about four hours yesterday at some schools due to a technology problems. ( Denver Post, 9News, CPR )

One Colorado Springs teacher said Tuesday's technology hiccup was emblematic of the intrusion testing has on classroom instruction. ( Gazette )

Meanwhile, teachers guilty of cheating on Georgia's state standardized tests are going to prison, a judge decided Tuesday. ( New York Times )

Capitol Report

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Here's a closer look at a pair of senate bills dealing with violence and mental health in schools that received initial approval Monday. ( Denver Post )

No room at the Inn

Aurora Public Schools is running out of room. And officials hope a better economy could lead to more buildings. ( 9News )

Get it? "Gearing" up

Coronado High School’s robotics team is gearing up for a world championship competition held in St. Louis, Mo. ( Gazette )

Stepping up

Adams County parents and community members interested in understanding how a school district works will get their chance by participating in the Adams 12 Five Star Leadership Academy. ( Adams County Sentinel )

on the stump

Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush endorsed the reform efforts in Douglas County during a campaign stop near Denver. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Human Resources

The new Greeley-Evans superintendent Deirdre Pilch will earn $198,000 in her first year. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

House committee endorses “pay for success” bill

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 20:55

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans.

House Bill 15-1317 would enable the state to launch such pay for success programs through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. Funders would be repaid if those programs produced savings in other government services but would have to absorb their costs if programs didn’t produce results.

A oft-cited example of such programs is private funding for quality early-childhood education. The hoped-for savings would come in remedial and special education costs after those children enter school.

“We need to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver and one of the bipartisan measure’s prime sponsors. “It shifts the risk from the taxpayers to those individual investors.”

Testimony at the hearing featured endorsements from witnesses representing groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Gary Community Investments, Colorado Concern, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

A similar measure died in the closing days of the 2014 legislative session, but sponsors feel they have a better chance this year. See this article for more background on the bill.

Senate strips main element from truancy bill

Sen. Chris Holbert’s imaginative plan to end jailing of truant students who defy court orders to stay in school ran aground on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

As introduced by the Parker Republican and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Senate Bill 15-184 would have shifted truancy cases from district courts to the Office of Administrative Courts, whose judges don’t have the power to jail people.

Administrative judges typically handle licensing, workers’ comp and teacher firing cases, among other matters. (Get more background on the original bill here.)

School districts now can take truant students to court, and a student can be sent to juvenile detention for contempt if he or she refuses to return to school.

Holbert and Fields want to end such jailing.

“This bill is a step right now to say that zero kids will go to jail because of truancy,” Holbert said on the floor Tuesday.

The idea of using administrative judges first ran into polite opposition at a mid-March hearing of the Senate Education Committee. Justice Brian Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court and other judges testified about innovative steps already being taken by many courts to deal with truancy.

Some committee members wanted to replace Holbert’s idea with an amendment basically calling on the courts to review truancy policies and continue working on new methods to deal with the problem.

Holbert was able to hold off changes in the education panel and in another committee. But on Tuesday a big coalition of Republicans and Democrats passed a floor amendment to keep truancy cases in the regular courts.

The sponsor wasn’t fazed. Holbert noted that he’d earlier promised, “If I didn’t have the votes I would stand by the will of the body.”

He said he hopes the amended bill goes to the governor’s desk but vowed, “If that number [of jailed students] doesn’t go down to zero I’ll be back with Senate Bill 16-something. Ending the practice of sending kids to jail for truancy is the right cause.”

Sponsor scrambles to save Indian mascots bill

Final floor votes on bills are usually routine, given that members have expended all their rhetoric during preliminary consideration and that sponsors presumably have lined up their votes.

Lamar High School Savages logo

But things didn’t go according to the script on Tuesday when the House prepared to vote on House Bill 15-1165, the Indian mascots bill. (Learn more about the bill and Monday’s preliminary debate here.)

During Monday’s debate bill opponents criticized the bill’s proposed heavy fines for schools that refuse to change offensive Indian mascot names.

On Tuesday prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, offered an olive branch on that issue, saying, “I’m happy to talk with our Senate sponsor about pulling back on that fine.”

But Salazar faced a new problem after Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, came to the microphone to say he couldn’t support the bill and that decisions to change mascot names should be made locally. Vigil’s district includes the La Veta Redskins and the Sanford Indians.

With Vigil a no and a second Democrat excused, Salazar didn’t have the 33 Democratic votes he needed to pass the bill, so a final vote was delayed until Wednesday.

Bill to improve awareness about child sexual assault advances

The Senate Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

Sen. Linda Newell has shepherded the bill through three Senate committees since late January. The Littleton Democrat is an advocate on mental health and abuse issues and argues the bill is needed to give school staff greater awareness of child sexual abuse and enable them to better help victims.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado schools likely won’t see big increase in revenue as once hoped

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 17:45

It’s become increasingly apparent in recent weeks that the state’s schools would receive only a modest funding increase next year, and that fact was underlined with Tuesday’s introduction of the annual school finance bill.

The measure proposes only a $25 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, commonly known as the negative factor. The shortfall currently is about $880 million.

“That’s our starting point,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She’s the House prime sponsor and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The $25 million is a far cry from the $200 million one-year cut in the negative factor originally proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s also far below the additional $70 million urged by the state’s superintendents for at-risk students and rural districts.

The bill would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion next year, up from $5.93 million in the current school year. (Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used to fund basic classroom and administrative functions.)

Senate Bill 15-267 was introduced late Monday and is the second piece of legislation needed to provide annual school funding. Base support, including constitutionally required increases to cover inflation and enrollment growth, is contained in the annual state budget, Senate Bill 15-254.

In past years the school finance bill has been used to enrich school funding beyond the amount in the state budget, but it doesn’t look like that will happen this year.

Hopes for a bigger cut in the negative factor have been blighted by the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers.

Introduction of the finance bill disappointed but didn’t surprise education interest groups. Some lobbyists feel schools are lucky to get the $25 million while others want the legislature to try to do more for districts.

Hamner said she hopes some additional funds can be found so “we can do some one-time spending” on education needs. “There could be some changes,” she said, acknowledging that the bill probably won’t see any big increases.

The legislature has some options for freeing up revenue that could be used for schools, but the odds of that happening may be long, given that only three weeks remain in the 2015 session.

Both tax collections and income from various fees drive state revenues above the TABOR limit. One large source of cash funds called the hospital provider fee generates money for Medicaid programs. There’s been talk of redefining those revenues so that they don’t count in the TABOR formula, but no such bill has been introduced yet.

“There are still pieces in motion that could affect” school finance, Hamner said.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts. Read the bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Families rally at Denver school after weapons incident

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 09:51

Showing Support

Parents rallied at Skinner Middle School to support the school after several students were found with weapons late last week. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Hard topics

A bill involving school districts' liability for school violence moved forward in the state legislature. ( 9News, AP via Aurora Sentinel, Denver Post )

What next?

The House Education Committee is in the process of developing a testing bill that looks to be different than proposals in the Senate. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Testing, testing: PARCC released its parent score sheet. Chalkbeat wants to know if you think it's accessible for parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Still it lingers

Oklahoma has repealed the Common Core, but after several years of training many teachers still use some Common Core-inspired strategies. ( Hechinger Report )

Two cents

A Michigan teacher writes that she is opting her own child out of the standardized tests in her state. ( Education Week )

ESEA redux

In Washington, senators are beginning to work out the details of the new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ( KUNC )


It turns out MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - haven't destroyed higher education as we know it. ( KUNC )

How DO they get well soon?

The state announced this year's selection for One Book 4 Colorado, a program that distributes books to the families of four-year-olds. This year's choice: "How do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?" ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

House panel loads lots of changes onto testing bill

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 21:26

The House Education Committee Monday added key amendments to a proposed testing bill, including language that would keep ninth grade language arts and math tests as part of the state assessment system.

The measure, House Bill 15-1323, was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan 9-2 vote, with only Republican Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Paul Lundeen of Monument opposed.

In addition to the ninth grade testing amendment, other notable changes include:

  • A provision that would freeze the state rating system for schools and districts for the 2015-16 school year, a nod to concerns that results from the new tests given this spring will come too late and will be skewed by student opt-out numbers, making them unreliable to be used for accreditation. The amendment passed 8-3.
  • A related amendment that forbids school districts from using student achievement data derived from state test results for teacher evaluations. Districts could continue using locally generated growth data. Districts have had flexibility this school year in using student growth for evaluations, and the amendment would apply to next school year. It passed 6-5.
  • A change to the original bill making social studies tests optional for districts. That amendment passed 8-3.

The committee killed two amendments that would have given districts the ability to choose among multiple tests to fulfill state requirements. A related amendment that would have required the state to pull out of the Common Core State Standards and create new content standards was ruled out of order.

Approval of nine amendments was a political compromise to get the bill out of committee. The amendments cater to the desires of individual members and of education interest groups. And no one expects the committee vote is the last word on testing.

“I understand this is not the perfect bill, nor do I think we will see one,” said Salida Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a prime sponsor of the measure. The other cosponsor is Aurora Democrat Rep. John Buckner, who is chair of House Education.

“We do anticipate there will be continued discussion as this bill goes forward,” Buckner said.

The Senate Education Committee last Thursday passed its own bipartisan testing bill – plus two others (see story). While the main Senate and House bills share some elements, there also are significant differences.

Lundeen, the former chair of the State Board of Education and a dissenter on many of the amendments, warned, “There is a very different version that’s coming from the Senate” and that “the lifting ahead of us remains incredibly heavy.”

A total of 34 amendments to HB 15-1323 were drafted, but not all were offered. Nine passed, two were defeated and three were withdrawn or died for procedural reasons.

Other amendments that were approved would allow limited district pilot programs for new testing and accountability systems, would exempt some immigrant students from testing during their first year in school, require districts to prepare comprehensive testing calendars for parents, and allow paper tests.

Additional elements of the original bill, none of which were discussed Monday, would ban mandatory states tests in the 11th and 12th grades (except for the ACT test), increase the number of years in which non-English speaking students could take tests in their native language and streamline several requirements of the READ Act early literacy program and of state school readiness assessments.

The committee took testimony on the bill a week ago (see story). Several witnesses representing education reform and business groups urged the committee to continue ninth grade testing.

“I am committed to seeing that we get something through the process,” Wilson said Monday, adding that the “absolute worst thing” is if the legislature passes no testing bill this session.

See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for links to details about all 11 of the assessment bills introduced so far this session.

Committee passes bill to change district liability for violent incidents

Many education lobbyists Monday afternoon were paying more attention to the Senate Judiciary Committee than they were to House Education.

That’s because the Senate panel was considering two school violence bills, one of which would open districts to financial liability if they fail to exercise “reasonable care” in protecting students from violent incidents (see bill summary). Current state law generally gives government agencies immunity from such lawsuits.

The bill stems from the December 2013 death of Claire Davis, a student who died after a shooting at Arapahoe High School. Her family feels the district has not been forthcoming in in providing information about the incident, and her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, provided emotional testimony at Monday’s hearing.

School districts are concerned that it’s difficult to define “reasonable care,” and that passage of the bill could lead to such unintended consequences as schools expelling students who might even remotely be considered threats.

Senate Judiciary approved some amendments to soften the bill, including removing a section that would have made the measure retroactive. The bill passed 4-1.

School district lobbyists face a tricky task working against SB 15-213, given that among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

The committee also voted 5-0 to pass Senate Bill 15-214, which would establish a legislative study committee to look into school violence and youth mental health issues.

American Indian mascot bill gets preliminary floor approval

A bill that would require schools to get permission to use American Indian mascots and images received preliminary approval from the House after a spirited partisan debate Monday.

“We are trying to protect children,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton. “The psychological effect on American Indian children” is negative when they see mascot names such as “Savages” and “Redskins,” he said.

House Bill 15-1165 would create a “Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools” in the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. All schools and colleges with Indian mascots would have to notify the subcommittee of such uses by Sept. 15 and stop using a mascot by Oct. 1 or request subcommittee approval for continued use.

If the subcommittee doesn’t approve a mascot, a school would have two years to discontinue use. A school that didn’t stop using a mascot could be fined $25,000 a month.

Republican critics of the bill argued that changing offensive mascot names should be handled at the local level and that the proposed fines and the cost of repainting gym floors and buying new uniforms would be prohibitive for small school districts.

But prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, argued that the state needs to have a say because “there are communities that refuse to change.”

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora, told House members, “Think about being called a savage, think about being called a redskin. This is about fairness, this is about respect.”

Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, said, “I’m not sure that everyone who is Native American feels redskin is offensive.” Corum’s district includes the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.

The original bill included funding to help districts pay the cost of changing mascots, but that was stripped in the House Appropriations Committee. The House could take a final roll-call vote as early as Tuesday. The bill’s chances are iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Testing Bill Tracker

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

Categories: Urban School News

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