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Updated: 7 min 36 sec ago

Education committees offer different testing visions

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 22:21

Two new testing bills introduced in the legislature late Monday afternoon remix elements of other measures and toss in some new ideas, adding more choices to the stalled Capitol testing debate.

The latest measures seem to set up a face-off between the legislature’s two education committees, with a majority of the House panel supporting the new House bill, and a majority of Senate Education backing the fresh Senate bill.

Nine testing-related bills were introduced earlier in the session, including one that covers only parent opt-out rights. Most of the rest, including measures that propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, are considered not viable for a variety of reasons.

One recent measure, Senate Bill 15-215, has bipartisan sponsorship and the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper. But it was greeted with faint applause elsewhere in the statehouse and has faded from consideration.

Here’s a look at the two latest bills:

House Bill 15-1323 (read bill)

What’s included: Elimination of state-required tests in 9th, 11th and 12th grades. The ACT test would continue to be given to juniors, and districts could give 9th grade tests. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations.

New twists: Holding districts unharmed from accountability and ratings consequences in 2015-16. (This is related to the opt-out issue.)

What’s not included: Any mention of Common Core or PARCC.

Who’s pushing it: House prime sponsors are Reps. John Buckner, D-Aurora, and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Eight additional House Education members, six Democrats and two Republicans, are cosponsors, plus former committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. But there are no Senate sponsors.

Senate Bill 15-257 (read bill)

What’s included: Requires only one set of language arts and math tests in grades 9-12; individual districts can test in two additional grades if they choose. Keeps 11th grade ACT test. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations. Social studies tests appear to be gone.

New twists: Local tests can replace state tests, creation of a pilot program for new assessment and accountability systems, extension for three more years of the current one-year of district flexibility in using student growth for teacher evaluations.

What’s not included: The bill doesn’t mention Common Core or PARCC, but its goal is to ultimately give districts options for using a broader array of tests.

Who’s pushing it: Senate prime sponsors are Republican Owen Hill and Democrat Mike Merrifield, both of Colorado Springs. Five additional Senate Education members, four Republicans and one Democrat, are co-sponsors. The two committee members not signed on are Democrats Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. The two House prime sponsors are people not previously involved in testing bills, Reps. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. No members of House Education are signed on.

Despite widespread criticism of testing by legislators, action on the issue has been stalled by disagreements between the parties and within the parties, and by a reported lack of communication among legislative leaders. (See this story for background.)

Only one testing-related bill, Senate Bill 15-223, has had a committee hearing. That measure, which involves parent rights to opt out and a ban on penalizing districts for low student participation, faces its own challenges (see story).

Even if one of the new bills gains traction – or becomes the vehicle for a compromise plan – lawmakers have little time to deal with the issues. The Senate is focused on the state budget this week, and the House faces that multi-day task the week after Easter.

That will leave only a bit more than three weeks until the required May 6 adjournment date.

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

Lawmakers get a second look at “pay for success”

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 18:56

A new bill in the legislature would enable the state to launch “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.

For example, investors in a preschool program would be repaid if that program led to reduced remediation or special education costs in schools.

The bipartisan sponsors of House Bill 15-1317 hope their bill has better luck than a similar 2014 measure, which passed the Senate but died in a House committee during the chaotic final days of that session.

“It’s a very new concept,” acknowledged prime sponsor Rep. Alex Garnett, D-Denver. (Some senators at hearings last year seemed a bit befuddled by the whole idea.) But Garnett hopes the idea will get more traction the second time around, and that this year’s version may have more appeal, given that it’s less focused on education services.

He also said increased experimentation with such programs by local governments provide concrete examples that can be cited during hearings on HB 15-1317.

Garnett stressed the concept is worth serious attention because “for a state as cash strapped as Colorado … we really need to find innovative ways to fund programs.”

The idea is gaining interest around the nation. Pay for success programs have been launched in a handful of state to pay for preschool, recidivism prevention programs for youth offenders, and for initiatives to reduce homelessness.

A conference sponsored by Chalkbeat Colorado last December drew about 150 people to learn more about the concept. Read about that event here, and also see this previous Chalkbeat story about pay for success.

What’s named the Pay for Success Contracts Act would put the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the executive branch’s budget arm, in charge of developing such programs. The state treasurer and auditor also would have roles, and the effectiveness of the programs would be judged by outside evaluators. Local governments and agencies could partner with the state in such projects.

Garnett said local governments are free now to launch pay for success programs but that the bill is needed to get the state into the game.

The bill was introduced last Friday, with just 40 calendar days left in the 2015 session. Garnett admitted, “The timing is something I worry about,” given that lawmakers still have to approve the 2015-16 state budget and deal with big issues like school funding, testing and others.

The other prime sponsors are Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale and a member of the Joint Budget Committee; Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton. Both Garnett and Martinez Humenik are freshmen.

The bill has been assigned to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, but no hearing date has been set.

Read the bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rick Hess: ‘teacher leadership’ can and should be more than an empty phrase

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 17:43

Rick Hess, the political scientist and education reform advocate/critic, is out with a new book, “The Cage-Busting Teacher.”

The book is meant to be a guide for teachers who want to create a better learning environment for themselves and their students. Hess was in Denver last week to promote his book at a special event hosted by the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Before his event, Hess, who is the director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado to talk about his new book and what teachers in cities like Denver can do to advocate for themselves.

This interview has been edited and for length and clarity.

You write “I’m struck by how often even acclaimed teachers tell me that they feel muffled, stifled, ignored, undervalued, and marginalized … and aren’t sure what to do about it.” How do you think we got to this place where teachers feel trapped? 

One, it’s always been this way. Back in the 1970s, a wonderful University of Chicago scholar, Dan Lortie, wrote the book “Schoolteacher,” talking about how teachers were out of the loop for key decisions about their schools. I think it’s part of the way we’ve built the American education system. In the 19th Century, when we created the common the school, we feminized teaching and put men in charge. The men would call the shots and the women would just do what they were told. And we never revisited that model. So a lot of it is historical.

Second, when teachers fought for their rights — I mean, teachers used to be treated just horrifically. Women who got pregnant would be fired. Teachers in New York would be fired if they didn’t fit a certain height or weight requirement. As teachers fought for step and lane pay and tenure, I think those things were good advances a century ago. But as the teacher unions fought to build on things like seniority protection, things that were once reasonable adjustments created a very bureaucratic profession.

And I think third, frustration that schools that were designed hundreds of years ago and systems that were designed 50 to 100 years ago don’t seem very conducive to excellence today. You have a lot of reformers and policy makers trying to do something about it. And their language and ideas have sometimes been careless and crudely drawn. And teachers have not responded productively, which has made these reformers distrust them. I think we set the table and teachers have reacted in a way that makes the reformers distrust them. We’ve gotten into this cycle of hostility.

This book [attempts]…to help teachers think about how to break that cycle.

Can you give me an example of a workplace rule that you find nonconducive to today and conversely a half baked policy initiative?

Step and lane pay were introduced a century ago because women were being paid a third of what their male counterparts were making. And so the idea that teachers should be paid based on experience and some credentials was a far more equitable approach. That made a lot of sense at that point in time. Today, that’s not how any professional is compensated. Seniority is a part of how professionals are compensated and credentials matter, but places that employ college graduates don’t usually have these strict gridlock models.

What’s a place where reformers have misfired? On compensation: we should absolutely differentiate pay. Some people are better at their job, some aren’t. We’ve seen for example in Nashville: the school district was going to pay science teachers more if their kids’ test scores went up. Well, that’s really how we paid encyclopedia salesmen in the 1960s. That’s not anyone’s recipe for how you attract professionals or motivate them in the 21st Century.

You write, “Breaking free from this disheartening standstill begins with cage-busting teachers ready to step out of their classroom, able to deal with policymakers in good faith, and willing to make teacher leadership more than an empty phrase.”   When I read this, it makes it sound like it’s the teachers responsibility to end the hostility. Why do they have to step up? Why isn’t it the reformers responsibility to end the hostility?

Frankly, you only get out of the cycle if both sides do their part. Most of what I write is targeted toward the reformers. Many of my reformer friends are somewhat frustrated with me because I raise these kinds of points about how reformers tend to take good ideas and out of the best of intentions push them further than they can usefully push them and rush them in clumsy ways.

So, the backdrop is that reformers and policymakers need to do a lot better here. But this book is not for them — its for the teachers. And in reality, teachers also have to do their part on this. And they have to do at least their part because they’re in an asymmetric relationship with policymakers. Like it or not, its policymakers who are elected to write the laws and fund the schools.

…[W]hat’s happened is to a large extent…there are these teachers out there who are doing amazing things and speaking up, there are lot of teachers who are just doing their thing in the middle, and then you have teachers who are disgruntled and frustrated. These teachers in the backend, the 10 percent, they’re the teachers the reformers and policymakers envision when they think about the profession. They’re the ones who are rallying and screaming and writing nasty notes at the bottom of New York Times stories.

So what’s happened is they’ve become the face of the profession. And what I’m taking about, those other teachers, instead of retreating to their classrooms saying ‘I don’t want any part of this,’ need to take ownership of their profession…

In the preface and in some of your blogs, you take to task the idea of teacher leadership. You call it an empty buzzword. Well, it’s a really big buzzword in Denver. Are you familiar with the local model?

Not specifically.

The one thing about Denver’s model is that there is no one model. Every teacher-leader has their own sort of portfolio. While they might all do some coaching, one might be in charge of professional development, one might be in charge of leading data discussions. What do you think needs to happen in places in Denver — or any urban district — to make teacher-leaders a reality?

Teachers don’t work in isolation, they work in schools. If discipline is lax it affects how a teacher does her job. If a school is disorganized with their substitutes and a teacher has to be pulled out to do coverage, that affects how a teacher does her job. So the reality is a lousy schools make it difficult for a teacher to close her door and teach. And good schools make an OK teacher a better one because she can ride on the coattails of her colleagues.

Part of the trick is so many terrific teachers think of the job simply in the terms of pedagogy and instruction. So they’re writing a lot of micro-grants and they’re up until 2 a.m. and burning themselves out and they’re not really changing anything at the school. So the logic for me, what teacher leadership really needs to come down to is teachers who are opening that classroom door and creating schools and systems that are easier for them to do their best work. Where professional development is actually energizing rather than infuriating. Where principals are helping solve problems. Where weak colleagues are either getting better or moving on.

For me, teacher leadership should start with teachers using their specific insight on what’s going on in their schools and classrooms to help make schools work better for kids and teachers. So, when principals are coming on and making announcements and disrupting first and last period, teacher should call them on that. When meetings are wasting time and not yielding any useful outcomes, when schools are giving feedback or taking into account teacher morale, these are the kinds of things I want teachers to start with.

One of my concerns about leadership is that it’s led teachers to believe it means giving up your Saturday to go to the statehouse to rally or sit in some boring meeting or talk to legislators for 10 minutes.

Rather than thinking “leadership,” it’s solving problems at the school, generating trust to get more involved at the district, and then using that insight and expertise to then contribute at the policy level and in public discussion. That all falls under the umbrella of leadership, but I think it gets lost when people just throw that word around.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.)

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Hess as a social scientist. He is a political scientist. 

Categories: Urban School News

Tell us: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the tests?

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:07

The state’s major testing window for English and math exams is coming to a close. According to reports, the number of students who did not take the tests because their parents opted them out is at an all time high — especially in more conservative spots in the state.

That made us wonder: How are the students who didn’t take the test using their new-found free time?

That brings us to our question of the week: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the PARCC exams? 

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: How the great testing compromise bill fell apart

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 09:36

Human Resources

Denver's teachers union says it needs time to consider a new proposal that would give more incentive pay to teachers at 30 high-needs schools. The proposal calls for a reduction of bonuses at other schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

The testing compromise bill that won the endorsement of House and Senate leadership and the governor was dead from the moment it was introduced. ( Denver Post )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers believe Denver Public Schools is right to use student growth data as the ultimate measurement of a school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

trip of a lifetime

Three Colorado teenagers earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World Resort in Florida where they meet celebrities and professionals in the fields that the teens dream of entering one day. ( 9News )

Inside the classroom

Engineering students at Lafayette's Centaurus High School are designing prosthetic hands using the basic circuitry and computer programming skills they learned through a recent pilot program. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Conflict in Dougco

Some Douglas County parents are upset their principal has resigned after a dispute with district leadership. ( Douglas County News Press )

construction zone

The city of Broomfield has approved a plan to provide a new location for a K-8 school but it could take years for the school to be built. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

Sports editor: Indian mascots at Colorado high schools are respectful and the state doesn't need to butt in. ( Denver Post )

A high school teacher explains how she got her students to work together — even when they said it would never happen — to write beautiful poetry. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Performance-pay negotiations in Denver catch on changes for high-needs schools

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 18:56

Several months into negotiations over changes to ProComp, Denver’s 10-year-old taxpayer-funded incentive pay plan for teachers, the city’s school district and teachers union leaders are haggling over a proposal that would shift more bonus funds to teachers who work in high-needs schools.

The district would accomplish this shift by decreasing bonuses for teachers throughout the district whose schools are identified as top performing on the district’s school performance framework.

The overall dollar amount the district spends on the bonuses — $20.8 million per year — would remain the same.

Both Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools officials said during a bargaining session Thursday that they were eager to come to an agreement quickly, because many schools have already begun hiring for the upcoming school year and changes might be too late to incentivize teachers to work at any given school.

But DCTA negotiators said they need time to process the proposal and made a series of requests for information they said would help them understand its implications. Union representatives said that this was the first time the district has brought forward a concrete outline of proposed changes.

This is Denver Public Schools’ first round of union-district bargaining sessions since Colorado passed an open bargaining law in November 2014.

DCTA president Henry Roman told Chalkbeat late last year that he anticipated that the agreement would be finalized in January. The union and DPS have had six bargaining sessions since the start of the year.

The last agreement between DPS and the union was finalized in 2008, and is informally referred to as “ProComp 2.0.” The initial agreement was approved by the district’s board in 2004.

A study group convened by the union and the district in 2014 recommended that the district make significant changes to ProComp. One of the recommended changes was stronger incentives for teachers in high-needs schools.

The current round of negotiations was initially focused on clarifying the impact of changes to state standardized tests on ProComp, and on extending the current agreement in advance of a more comprehensive round of negotiations at the end of this year.

Historically, teachers have been eligible to receive bonuses for working at a school identified as top performing. Since schools are not being assigned an overall rating this year due to the change in assessments, the district is proposing that those incentives go to teachers at schools whose students have high growth scores on tests in 2014-15.

The district also proposed at Thursday’s meeting decreasing the top performing incentive in 2015-16 to fund increased bonuses for teachers in some of the district’s neediest schools.

In 2015-16, teachers at the 30 schools the district has identified as highest-need would be eligible for a $5,800 bonus if they had earned one of the top two scores on their evaluations the previous year. Teachers who earned the third-highest score would earn a $4,000 bonus. The current incentive is $2,481. Highest-need schools are identified based a number of criteria, including the percentage of special education students and percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

The district would also expand the number of teachers eligible to earn a $2,481 bonus for teaching at a school identified as hard-to-serve — a broader category than “highest-need” — by including all schools that receive Title I funds from the federal government due to their high numbers of low-income students.

The funds for those changes would come from a reduction to bonuses for teachers at schools identified as top performing. Those teachers would now be eligible to earn $1,000 instead of $2,481.

More than 90 percent of the teachers whose bonuses would be decreased if the proposed shifts are approved are already receiving an additional bonus because they work at schools with track records of improving student learning, district officials said.

The DPS proposal also would tie some ProComp bonuses to the district’s evaluation system instead of directly to standardized test scores.

The DCTA team told district officials several times that pay alone would not lure teachers to struggling schools.

“One of biggest issues is, specifically in this group of schools, history’s repeated itself,” said Zachary Rupp, a music teacher and DCTA negotiator. “We haven’t seen significant changes to the other pieces that need to go into this puzzle.”

Sarah Marks, the district’s executive director of strategic school support, said, “We know this is just one piece of the puzzle. Our charge at this table is thinking about ProComp, one of the options we can use.”

DCTA representatives said they were concerned about which schools would be identified as the highest-need and how long the designation would last, and about tying ProComp to the district’s evaluation system.

In an email to members earlier this week, DCTA officials wrote that they are hesitant to decrease any teachers’ bonuses and shared a proposal based on funds the district might have if a bill that is making its way through the state legislature is approved.

“DCTA does not support taking money from one group of underpaid teachers to give to another group of underpaid teachers,” the email read. “DCTA believes that we need to find new money to increase compensation.”

DCTA left the district with a long list of data requests Thursday, including an overview of the methodology DPS uses to invoice the ProComp funds and an analysis of the level of effectiveness of teachers at various schools.

Friday morning, DPS sent an email to teachers outlining the district’s proposal. The subject line: “Can’t We Reach a Compromise to Help Teachers in Our High-Poverty Schools?”

The next round of bargaining is scheduled for April 9. The union and district agreed to extend the current agreement until April 17.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Toward a better way to measure college-readiness

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 18:53
  • What if college readiness is being measured in a way that isn’t accurate? Here’s how we can better help underprepared students, and steer nontraditional students toward a college degree. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Bored students score higher on tests compared to highly-motivated students, according to a new global study. So does creating an engaged student body really matter? (The Atlantic)
  • Here are seven reasons why more money is spent on education in the U.S. compared to almost every other country in the world. (Vox)
  • New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s argument that taking annual state tests should be compared to getting a medical check-up doesn’t support her case against opting out. (The Hechinger Report)
  • Common enrollment systems can help parents in cities with more school choice. (Flypaper)
  • An education researcher and parent calls for charter schools to do more to take responsibility for educating students with special needs rather than forcing the traditional public schools be the places of last resort for those students. (CRPE)
  • A Nashville-area teacher sees the isolating impacts of the opportunity gap all around her. (Mind/Shift)
  • A new study reports that one-third of New Orleans principals interviewed admitted that, though their schools professed to enroll all comers, they tried to select the best students. (Times-Picayune)
  • Detroit Public Schools is $53 million behind in pension payments, costing the city the equivalent on one student’s annual state funding grant in interest each day. (Detroit News)
  • A plotline about charter schools in a gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood tells a lot about middle class white families’ attitudes toward public education. (Salon)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Growth, not proficiency, best measure of a school

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 14:53

On Monday we asked our readers, “What measurement should Denver Public Schools consider more highly in its school rating system?”

Earlier, DPS unveiled how it plans to evaluate its schools during a transition between assessments, and beyond. While schools will continue to be rated mostly on student growth on standardized test scores, a larger chunk of how well a school is doing will be determined by how proficient its students are on those same tests.

Advocates of growth, which measures how much a student learns year-over-year compared to his or her academic peers, say the measurement demonstrates how much a teacher influences a student’s learning regardless of other factors like poverty or whether a student is learning English as a second language. Meanwhile, advocates for status, which measures whether a student is at grade level, stress that growth by itself can mislead the public.

Well, Chalkbeat readers have spoken and most agree with DPS: growth should be the predominant factor in a school’s evaluation.

Here’s a look at how our readers voted:

Readers who chose the “other” option said DPS should develop a metric that evaluates how the school is educating the whole child; for example, are music and art classes available.

Another reader said student and staff satisfaction should be a major factor in determining how a school is rated. (Denver does use staff and student surveys, but those play a very small role in the overall rating.) One reader went a step further and suggested teacher retention should be a major factor.

Meanwhile, Noelle Green (who said she lives outside of Denver) emailed this comment:

School rankings are so misleading. They are more about recognizing those schools that bring up the bottom, rather than true academic achievement. The great schools that consistently out perform every other school in testing and in academic competitions don’t rank as high as the schools that improve on mediocre scores (growth). I notice that Summit Middle in Boulder, which dominates Math Counts and typically score over 85 percent advanced on standardized tests, is only ranked 36 on Colorado School Grades, a nonprofit education reformer organization. Some of the schools ranked highest by US News and World Reports have mediocre test scores and limited curricula and enrichment. Maybe as a whole, we should reevaluate our definition of great schools. My evaluation system would include small class sizes, experienced and qualified teachers, low teacher turnover, a healthy culture with trust and respect, parental involvement, respect for the arts and music, and enrichment.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More changes for schools in southwest Denver

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:35

Testing madness

The Colorado Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would legitimize parent rights to opt out their children from state tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The vote was 8-1. Denver Democrat Sen. Mike Johnston voted against the measure. ( Denver Post )

A change in the air

More changes are in store for schools in southwest Denver including a new middle school to be located at Lincoln high. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Tech savvy

Colorado Springs School District 11 placed fourth in the annual Digital School Districts Survey by the Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association. ( Gazette )

meeting the people

Ellicott School District superintendent, Dr. Pat Cullen, conducted a question-and-answer session with housing residents who had raised concern about the district. Here's a look at the issues in the rural Colorado school district. ( Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group )

verdict is in

A jury has awarded $2.2 million to the family of a disabled Pueblo student who was repeatedly restrained in a special control desk at school. ( AP via 9News )

Human Resources

Schools around the country are trying to stretch high performing teachers across multiple classrooms. ( NPR via KUNC )

winner, winner, chicken dinner

Chalkbeat Colorado was won two awards in a national reporting competition. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Spirit Day!

A high school shows off its spirit with an epic lip dub to Taylor Swift's "Shake it off." ( Huffington Post )

Which is clearly a throwback to Lakewood High's lip dub of Katy Perry's roar. ( Huffington Post (vintage) )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing opt-out bill passes Senate Education

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 00:26

The Senate Education Committee gave 8-1 approval Thursday evening to a bill that would codify parents’ right to opt students out of standardized testing and also forbid penalizing districts, schools, and teachers for low participation rates.

The vote was the first official action on any testing-related bill this session, and the debate and testimony offered a taste of future debates on the issue.

Discussion on the seemingly simple four-page bill also crystalized some key questions that remained unanswered after the committee vote, including:

  • Will passage of the bill blow up the state system for rating districts and schools because of incomplete testing data and the fact that the state couldn’t penalize districts for low participating rates?
  • Could the lack of penalties for low participation lead schools and districts to “game the system” by covertly encouraging certain groups of students to opt out?
  • Would the bill as written inadvertently prevent teachers from lowering a student’s course grade because the student didn’t take a test?

Those issues came to the fore during discussion of amendments proposed by Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood during the second half of the four-hour session.

Johnston, a main architect of key education reform laws in recent years, was the odd man out in the 8-1 bipartisan vote to send the bill to the Senate floor.

Speaking to Chalkbeat Colorado after the vote, Johnston called the bill “an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver

A key Johnston amendment would have allowed the state to continue using test scores and test participation to rate schools and districts, while holding teachers and students free of any penalties. He also proposed tracking which kinds of students opted out of testing. And a third amendment would have protected high-participation districts from any loss of federal funds if the state drops below required participation levels.

The bill would require districts to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts and bans any penalties for students, teachers, principals or schools for low participation.

State and federal policy mandates that 95 percent of students participate in state testing, and Colorado imposes a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

Johnston politely told prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, “You are endeavoring unintentionally to tear down 10 years of work on the state accountability system. … You are knocking down a barn we built in the last decade, and you’ve got to put up something in its place.”

Holbert said, “It comes down to freedom and liberty … when it comes to our kids we have the right to make this choice.”

Earlier in the debate, Holbert said the way to ensure high test participation is to “build a better assessmnt tool that parents can trust.”

Holbert and other bill supporters argue that it’s necessary to prevent intimidation of bullying of parents by teachers and administrators who fear lowered school ratings if test participation drops. With that fear removed, supporters argue, school officials won’t feel the need to pressure parents.

The only amendment approved by the committee was a minor proposal by Kerr to require that schools inform parents about the “purpose and use” of statewide tests in addition to informing them about their opt-out rights, as the bill’s original language proposes.

Kerr withdrew an amendment that would have clarified the issue of consequences for students who don’t take class tests required for a course grade. The bill refers to no penalties for “standardized” tests, and that concerns Kerr because districts sometimes give standard tests across schools as course requirements. That issue likely will resurface later.

Another amendment intended to penalize school officials if they encourage students to opt out was defeated.

“The data is abundantly clear that there are schools in the state of Colorado that are urging students to opt out,” Johnston charged, without naming any districts.

The bill has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. The Senate sponsors are Holbert and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.

The measure has wide support among interest groups including teachers unions and school districts, plus from anti-testing activists. Education reform groups oppose it. Those divisions were evident in testimony Thursday.

In the end, only one vote may count. If the bill passes the legislature in its current form, some observers expect Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto it.

Todd alluded to that possibility in her opening remarks, saying, “We’re really looking forward to having great conversations with the governor.”

Read the bill text here.

SB 15-223 is only the first of several testing-related bills pending at the Capitol. Get more information below.

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

More changes on the way for southwest Denver schools

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 21:17

Denver Public Schools plans to put out an unusual late “Call for New Quality Schools,” announcing that it is looking for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and for a new middle school to share a building with Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver.

School staff and families found out about the plans this week. Officials say the new schools are part of an effort to bring better schools to southwest Denver and to address declining enrollment and academic challenges at Henry and Lincoln. (See DPS’s presentations about its plan for Lincoln High School and its plan for Henry World Middle School.)

The district’s board will vote on any final proposals in the fall, and the schools would open in 2016-17. That’s a unique timeline: All other new school applications for 2016-17 — which were due this month — will be presented to the board in June.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez said that figures from the first round of school choice applications in the district and the schools’ low scores on the district’s school ranking system prompted DPS to make new plans for the schools now instead of waiting until next year.

DPS is targeting schools in southwest Denver for improvement efforts, prompted partly by a report put out by local advocates highlighting challenges in the region and calls from parents for the district to address problems in southwest schools, which serve mainly low-income and Hispanic students.

Several southwest schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new “shared enrollment zones”, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Rodriguez said that those shared enrollment zones highlighted problems at Henry. Fewer families chose Henry this year than last year, even as the overall participation rate in the district’s school choice system in southwest Denver jumped from 67 percent to 91 percent after an extensive outreach effort.

Last year, 53 percent of families zoned to Henry chose to attend other schools. This year, 74 percent of families chose to go elsewhere. Rodriguez said that she has heard that many families in the area send their children to Jeffco Public Schools.

Plans for Lincoln

Lincoln’s enrollment is also declining. The school enrolled 1,900 students in 2009 but now has closer to 1,400. The district has started a number of new high schools in the area in recent years, including KIPP Collegiate and DSST College View.

Some of the space left empty as Lincoln’s enrollment has dropped might be filled by the new middle school. There would be no cap on Lincoln’s enrollment even if another school is placed in the building.

The district is also planning to expand Lincoln’s career and technical pathways program and add a new digital technology program. The program would be supported partly by the city of Denver and potentially by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The district also says it will focus on improving college readiness at the school, though just how it will do so is not yet clear.

“Right now, for every 100 9th graders who start at Lincoln, one graduates from college in four years,” Rodriguez said. “We need to change that.”

Plans for Henry World Middle School

Henry will be phased out a grade at a time starting in 2016-17. That means that the school will have just 7th and 8th graders in 2016-17, just 8th graders in 2017-18, and then will be closed altogether. The school is also becoming a turnaround school, which means it will get some additional funds and resources from the district as it is phased out.

Whatever new school the district approves would open with 6th graders in 2016-17 and would add grades as the old school phases out.

The district has hired Lindsay Meier, currently an assistant principal at Skinner Middle School, to develop a proposal for an International Baccalaureate middle school program similar to the one that already exists at Henry World Middle School.

But the new district program is not guaranteed a spot in the Henry building. Rodriguez said the school will be evaluated against schools that are already approved to open in southwest Denver, including DSST, Compass Academies, and Strive, and with other proposals that might be submitted using a facilities policy the board approved earlier this year.

At a community meeting at Henry World Middle School last night, parents’ biggest concern involved discipline and school climate. Henry made national news in 2013 for a bullying incident, and local news last year after many teachers voted no confidence in one of the school’s then-administrators.

Rodriguez said there is a perception that the current interim principal is not excited to be at the school. “There’s a lot of dismay about current trends.”

Don Roy, currently the interim principal at Manual High School, will lead Henry through the phase out starting this summer.

Roy said that he knows staff and community members are apprehensive about the changes. He said he plans to introduce more consistency in the school’s approach to discipline.

“It’s an ongoing job,” he said. “You have to work on it every day.” Roy said he is committed to staying at the school through the phase out.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that DPS has not officially put out its new “Call for Quality Schools.” The official announcement will be released in April.

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat Colorado wins two national education reporting prizes

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 18:07

A Chalkbeat investigation on Denver’s principal turnover and a close look at the past and present struggles of Manual High School won recognition from the Education Writers Association, the reporters’ organization today.

Kate Schimel’s “The Revolving Schoolhouse Door,” examined years of principal turnover data in Denver and found that turnover was highest at schools where intense reform efforts were underway. The article won first place for investigative reporting in the small newsroom division in the association’s annual reporting contest.

Schimel, Nic Garcia, and Alan Gottlieb were also recognized for their coverage of Manual High School. Manual is the city’s lowest performing high school and has been subject to a series of high-profile reform efforts. The series “A Promise Unfulfilled” and additional coverage by Gottlieb were named a finalist in the single topic news or feature category.

EWA is the professional organization for journalists who cover education at all levels. EWA has more than 3,000 members and has existed for 65 years.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Everybody’s talking testing

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 08:48

getting testy

A vocal crowd of about 250 people, chanting slogans like “Enough is enough” rallied on the west side of Capitol Wednesday, calling for cuts in state testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

A bi-partisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take is in limbo at the state legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don’t know when it will be rescheduled – if at all. ( KRCC )

PARCC test exemptions reached into the triple digits in Buena Vista last week, when roughly one-third of Buena Vista public school students in grades three-11 were pulled from the standardized test. ( Mountain Mail )

Two cents on testing

Without standardized tests, it would be far too easy for low-income and minority children to be passed along from grade to grade without accountability, the Denver Post editorial board opines ( Denver Post )

U of Phoenix's Icarus moment?

The for-profit University of Phoenix has seen its enrollment and its stock price plunge. ( CNN )

School growth

Construction of two new high schools — one boasting an athletics complex — plus a new elementary school, is included in a long-range planning proposal introduced late Tuesday by Poudre School District Superintendent Sandra Smyser. ( Coloradoan )

Durango's Mountain Middle School, a 4-year-old charter institution already recognized as one of the top schools in the state, plans to grow next year by adding grades three, four and five. ( Durango Herald )

Plug for PE

When it comes to kids and exercise, schools need to step up and focus more on quality as well as quantity. ( KUNC/NPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing opponents rally on eve of opt-out bill hearing

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 20:46

A vocal crowd of about 250 people, chanting slogans like “Enough is enough” rallied on the west side of Capitol Wednesday, calling for cuts in state testing.

The rally, organized by the Colorado Education Association and other groups, drew a crowd of  teachers, students and parents over a cold, blustery lunch hour.

The event came a day before the first committee hearing this year on any testing related bill, a measure that would ban penalties against schools or teachers if test participation drops below required levels because of opt-outs. Progress on more substantive testing bills remains stalled.

“We are here to let our Colorado legislators know that our students are more than a score,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman, and the phrase “more than a score” was repeated on signs and in chants called out by the crowd.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, touted the opt-out bill, of which she’s a sponsor. Other speakers included a parent, a teacher, a high school student, and a national anti-testing activist.

Sign seen at testing rally

The rally also was sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, FairTest (a national group), Colorado Jobs with Justice, and the Colorado PTA. Absent from the rally were any representatives of the more conservative anti-testing groups that frequent State Board of Education meetings.

Four Democratic lawmakers were behind the podium or in the crowd, but no GOP legislators were seen.

Opt-out bill will provide first airing of testing issues

Testing was expected to be the top education issue of the 2015 session, and nine testing-related bills have been introduced. (Get information and links for all those bills at the bottom of this article.) But not one has had a committee hearing.

That will change Thursday, when the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 15-223.

The proposal would require districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

Another sign at rally

The bill’s summary also says that neither the state nor a local school district can “penalize the student, the student’s teacher and principal, or the public school that the student attends, and the department cannot penalize the local education provider that enrolls the student, if the parent excuses the student from taking the standardized assessment.”

Current state and federal policies mandate that 95 percent of students participate in state testing. The federal government requires states to impose a penalty on districts that drop below that level. Colorado imposes a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

While the bill doesn’t specifically reference the accreditation penalty, its no-penalties provisions presumably would prohibit that.

The bill has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. The Senate sponsors are Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and Todd. Seven of the nine Senate Education members are sponsors of the bill.

Other testing bills remain in limbo

No legislator nor education interest group is publicly in favor of more state standardized testing or even of keeping the current system.

But it has proved remarkably difficult for lawmakers to gather behind a single testing bill for a variety of reasons.

Observers cite differences and rivalries within the Senate Republican caucus and the Senate Education Committee, lack of cooperation between the GOP Senate and Democratic House, and a push by conservative Republicans to get rid of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests as reasons for the lack of progress.

A study group, the Standards and Assessments Task Force, recommended cutting back state testing to more closely match federal requirements. (See this story for details.)

A bipartisan bill containing many of the task force’s recommendations was introduced two weeks ago (see story). Gov. John Hickenlooper publicly endorsed the bill (see story), but it has failed to gain traction with lawmakers and many education interest groups, who see it as too mild.

The education reform and business groups whose leaders flanked Hickenlooper at his news conference last week would like minimum tinkering with the testing system and definitely oppose elimination of Common Core and PARCC – or any of the changes to the teacher evaluation system that are included in some testing bills.

According to the latest Capitol handicapping, all the currently introduced testing bills may be heard in committee, with Senate Republican bills ultimately killed in the House. (There are no Democratic testing bills pending in the House, although there’s talk that a copycat version of SB 15-215 may be introduced there.)

After such a bloodbath of bills, the speculation goes, a compromise bill would emerge, perhaps a version of a Holbert plan that would reduce testing and give districts some flexibility in using local instead of state tests.

Whatever scenario plays out, testing may not come to the fore until mid-April, after the Senate and House finish the 2015-16 state budget bill. Lawmakers have to adjourn by May 6, so that tight timing has prompted a few statehouse observers to start speculating about the possibility that no testing bill will pass this session.

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

Rise & Shine: Gender gap in drop-out rate persists despite overall decline

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 09:59

Double down

In an ode to charter school networks, Denver Public Schools is giving a successful principal a second school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

By the numbers

Race and gender are big factors in determining who drops out of school in Colorado. ( KUNC )

#COLeg Report

A tuition tax credit bill won approval of the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday. But the bill is likely to be spiked in the House, which is controlled by the Democrats. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A new testing bill introduced yesterday takes aim at PARCC, the Common Core, and teacher evaluations. ( Denver Post )

State lawmakers will have nearly $50 million more in tax revenue than they thought they’d have, but local schools probably won’t see much of it. ( Vail Daily News )

Meanwhile, a bipartisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take remains in limbo. ( KUNC )

A high school in Fredrick with a Native American inspired mascot is watching a debate at the Capitol closely. The fate of the bill might mean the school needs to find a new identity. ( Times-Call )

English language learners

A new report suggests Colorado policies around teaching non-English speakers should include teacher preparation requirements and funding for pre-school aged English learners. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Several Colorado school districts offer a program that rewards overweight adult participants — whether staff members or local residents — with cash prizes for losing weight. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Boulder Valley School District is rebalancing the air handling system for better air circulation and installing extended vents at Casey Middle School over spring break. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Tuition tax credits bill moves on to the House

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 20:25

Updated March 25 – Without further debate, the Senate Wednesday voted 18-17 for final passage of Senate Bill 15-045, which would create a system of state income tax credits for private school tuition, home school costs, and donations to private school scholarships.

The bill got a full airing and preliminary approval Tuesday after lengthy debate and two false starts.

Some form of tax-credit legislation has been introduced by Republicans in every session of recent years. None have gone very far, given Democratic or split partisan control of the legislature for more than a decade.

Prime sponsor Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, argued Tuesday that the bill is needed to put private schools and homeschooling on equal footing with public schools.

He said school choice would be strengthened by the tax credits.

The bill would allow a tax credit equal to half of the statewide per-pupil public school spending for taxpayers with children enrolled full-time in a private school. The credit wouldn’t apply to students already in private school but only to students who move from a public to a private school.

A credit of $1,000 would be allowed for full-time home-schooled students. People who donate to private school scholarships could claim a credit of half of statewide per-pupil funding or the amount of the scholarship, whichever is smaller.

Lakewood Sen. Andy Kerr led Democratic arguments against the bill, saying, “It’s not a front door voucher bill, but it is a backdoor voucher bill.”

Arguing that tax credits actually would undermine school choice, Kerr said “a select few people who can afford to will take this tax credit.”

Democrats used the time-honored tactic of proposing amendment after amendment, prolonging the initial discussion. All were defeated on voice votes.

Legislative rules allow amendments to be resubmitted after the preliminary consideration calendar is completed, so the Democrats did just that. All were again defeated, but one bipartisan change making it easier for lower-income taxpayers to claim the credit did pass.

Prompted by that, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, invoked a procedural maneuver to get a new cost estimate calculated for the bill. That sent the Senate into recess while legislative staff scrambled to write the estimate, known as a fiscal note. In the end, Democrats chose not to make an issue of it, and the Senate finally recessed just after 3:30 p.m.

The original legislative staff analysis estimated the measure would cost the state $12.1 million in 2015-16 and $37 million in 2016-17, involving 35,891 students in that second year. Its estimated the loss in tax revenues could reach $318.3 million by 2028-29.

The new fiscal note predicted an increase in costs starting in later years of the program, Steadman said.

Supporters of the bill argue public schools actually would benefit financially from the bill because they’d have fewer students to serve. But bill critics say that wouldn’t be the case because of districts’ fixed costs.

Tuesday’s prolonged discussions weren’t the first delay for the bill. Senators previously spent 40 minutes on SB 15-045 last Thursday and another 40 minutes on Friday, but both those debates were called off when the Senate ran out of time.

Tax break for teachers moves ahead

The Senate Finance Committee late Tuesday voted 3-2 to pass House Bill 15-1104, which would provide a small tax break for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies.

Teachers could deduct up to $250 from their taxable income, yielding a tax savings of about $10.

Sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, pitched the bill to his fellow committee members, saying it would “help encourage and support those teachers.”

The bill originated with a Republican House member, Rep. Clarice Navarro of Pueblo, but two Finance Committee Republicans voted no, Sens. Chris Holbert of Parker and Tim Neville of Littleton.

Get more information on this bill in this prior Chalkbeat story.

Categories: Urban School News

With nod to charter networks, DPS is giving a successful principal a second school

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 18:43

What do you do if you’re a school district with a successful principal?

In the case of Alex Magaña, the principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, Denver Public Schools has an idea: Give him two schools.

Starting in 2016-17, Magaña will oversee Grant Beacon and a new district-run innovation school, which will be called Kepner Beacon, at the Kepner Middle School campus in southwest Denver.

As executive principal, Magaña will supervise principals at both Kepner and Grant. A small network staff will include a data specialist and an operations officer responsible for both schools. Teachers at Kepner and Grant will plan and train together.

The schools together will be known as the Beacon Network. Both will be innovation schools, which have flexibility from certain district and state policies, and will focus on blended learning, in which technology is integrated into classroom instruction.

DPS is calling the new arrangement an Innovation Management Organization. The structure and its name are directly cribbed from the charter school world, where charter management organizations run networks of schools.

The hope is that the Innovation Management Organization structure will allow successful principals to expand strong programs without leaving their current schools to crash and burn.

Many DPS principals stay at their schools for only a few years, which leads to instability for staff and students. Magaña says this new arrangement means he will be able to expand the scope of his work while maintaining his ties to the community and programs at Grant Beacon.

“The biggest fear is, if you leave this falls apart. That’s not a good feeling,” Magaña said. “So much has been invested here.”

A template

Beacon is likely the first of several such networks in Denver.

At least one other district school, McAuliffe International School in Park Hill, has already applied to expand and become the city’s second innovation management organization. (McAuliffe principal Kurt Dennis declined a request for an interview.)

Other innovation schools, such as DCIS and Ashley Elementary, might also be candidates for expansion, said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Denver’s chief academic and innovation officer.

“It makes sense to do more of what we know already works versus always trying to design from scratch,” Whitehead-Bust said.

Magaña said that the rapid growth of charter school networks in the city made him wonder.

“There’s a demand for effective schools to replicate quite quickly,” Magaña said. “We thought, ‘Why can charter schools replicate so quickly? Why can’t I do that?’…I think we can show public schools are just as effective as charters.”

Bryan Hassel, a co-director of Public Impact, an education policy and management consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C, said that the idea of a single principal overseeing several schools is not unique. But, he said, both the idea of using this as a strategy for expanding the reach of successful principals and the charter-inspired name is new.

“Urban areas are desperate for good principals,” he said. “When they find them they often promote them into a central office job where they aren’t really impacting teachers and kids like they are in the principalship. The idea of creating this alternate career path is compelling.”

But there are challenges for principals newly charged with overseeing several schools, Hassel said.

“If you’re over two schools, over three schools, how do you have the time to do them justice?” he said.

Current Grant Beacon staff are optimistic.

“I think that Grant Beacon Middle School is pure magic, and I’ve been here long enough to know what it used to be like and what it’s like now,” said Valerie Svodoba, a teacher leader and language arts teacher at the school. “To be able to take that success and transplant that into a school that really needs it is a beautiful thing.”

Grant Beacon has earned national attention for its blended learning program. It has also moved from the second lowest rating of five on the district’s school performance framework to the second highest during the past eight years. The performance framework evaluates a schools’ academic performance and other characteristics.

The school has also seen a trend toward declining enrollment reverse.

Magaña said that if the Kepner expansion goes as well, the network might eventually add a high school or an elementary school.

New plans, complicated history

In 2016-17, Kepner Beacon will start enrolling students in the Kepner building. The plan is to phase in a grade at a time, starting with sixth graders.

But the new school is opening in a complex environment, as part of an effort to replace the current Kepner Middle School. Kepner, in southwest Denver, was identified as in need of drastic improvements last school year. DPS floated and then retracted several proposals for the school over the course of 2014.

In December, the district put its decision-making on hold yet again to respond to concerns about whether its plans adequately met the needs of the school’s English language learners and the requirements of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that governs how DPS works with Spanish-speaking students.

As part of an effort to meet the requirements of the agreement, Kepner Beacon will have a native-language program for Spanish speakers. Such a program is not in place at Grant Beacon.

The plan the district’s board eventually approved means that in 2016-17, four schools will be running in the Kepner building: the current program that will be in its second-to-last year of being phased out; and two charter schools, Compass Academy and a school run by STRIVE Prep. The school will also be within one of the district’s new shared enrollment zones, in which students are not assigned to a neighborhood school but are given enrollment preference at a cluster of schools.

Magaña said he is approaching the shared space with some trepidation.

“Culture is our number one priority,” he said, and creating that culture in a shared space might prove more challenging.

Kepner Beacon teachers will start work in 2015, a year before the school is scheduled to open. Using school start-up funds earmarked by the district, the network will begin preparing new teachers for Grant Beacon’s blended learning approach and work with English language learners.

Unknowns remain PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiAt Grant Beacon Middle School in Denver, Principal Alex Magana greeted a parade of students as they moved between classes in early March.

Magaña said he thinks the model will be more sustainable for the principals at Grant and Kepner, who will have the support of the network team and the executive principal as well as teacher leaders in their schools. He said he envisioned himself spending far more time in each school than the district’s instructional superintendents, who oversee principals across the district.

He said he also thinks the model will be more financially efficient in three years than running two separate schools. That’s because the schools will be able to share some staff and resources.

But just how the Beacon Network team — an extra level of administration — will interact with the rest of the district’s staff is still not yet clear.

“We’re early on in our thinking,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Clearly [Magaña] will report to an instructional superintendent, but he’ll have more autonomy in managing the two building leaders.”

Svodoba, who currently leads Grant Beacon’s data literacy team, said she is interested in working as one of the Beacon network staff.

“There’s a little bit of apprehension about what that will look like,” she said. “The roles aren’t clearly defined yet, so we’re sort of having to invent them as we go.”

Categories: Urban School News

In some districts, cash prizes for staff weight loss

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:44

Several Colorado school districts offer a program that rewards overweight adult participants—whether staff members or local residents–with cash prizes for losing weight.

Called “Weigh and Win,” the program is popping up in districts like Denver, Cherry Creek, Boulder Valley, Canon City, and Weld 6, and at libraries, hospitals and recreation centers across the state. In school districts, it’s typically seen as a staff wellness tool, though in some cases parents and community members are invited to enroll as well.

The centerpiece of Weigh and Win are kiosks where anyone 18 or over can sign up, step on a scale and get a full-length photograph taken. Participants then have access to an array of online or text-based services ranging from health coaching to grocery lists and meal plans.

Those with body-mass indices of 25 or over—the threshold for being overweight–are eligible for cash awards if they shed pounds between quarterly weigh-ins. Those with lower body-mass indices are entered into prize drawings if they do things like open Weigh and Win emails or refer friends to the program.

While Weigh and Win is free to individual participants, it’s not a non-profit organization. It was launched in 2011 by parent company incentaHEALTH and its kiosks cost up to $4,250 per year. Funding from the “DPS Health Agenda 2015″ grant covers that expense for Denver Public Schools.

Weigh and Win is contracted by Kaiser to deliver the program and earns money through annual per-participant fees paid by Kaiser.

Mandy Hydock, director of finance in Weld 6, has earned a total of $105 from Weigh and Win for losing 80 pounds over the last year. While she’s also consulted with a nutritionist unaffiliated with Weigh and Win, she said the program’s daily tips and reminders help her stay on track too.

“Any time people are incentivized with money, it helps keep you going,” she said. “It’s just human nature.”

Colleen Grandis, staff wellness coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said the program is simple and engaging for employees, and could eventually help the district save on health care costs.

“It was a great opportunity to just extend our wellness program,” she said.

In Colorado, more than half of adults are overweight or obese and more than a quarter of children ages 2 to 14 are overweight or obese. The rates are even higher for blacks and Hispanics.

DPS got a mobile “Weigh and Win” kiosk in 2013, but recent technology upgrades have put a greater focus on it this year. The kiosk–essentially a large sign, a scale and a tablet– regularly moves to different locations around the district, with stops this week at the transportation department building and Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.

All told, more than 650 people, including some community members, have signed up for Weigh and Win through DPS. Statewide, more than 60,300 people are enrolled.

While students can’t use the kiosks unless they are 18, Weigh and Win officials say the healthy habits promoted by the program have a trickle-down effect.

“If the parents utilize the program, it will help the children adopt these behaviors,” said Kaytee Long, health promotion manager at Weigh and Win.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Child poverty in Colorado declined for the first time since 2008

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 09:59


A survey of 1,800 teachers conducted by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association spotlights concerns about discipline in district schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )


The percent of Colorado students living in poverty declined for the first time since 2008. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, CPR )


The House Education Committee passed a bill that means schools would need to get approval before using an American Indian mascot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News )

Grading Graders

There will be no green or blue schools in Denver Public Schools next year. A look at how the district's school scorecard is changing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Talk to us

That brings us to our question of the week: Do you think growth or status matter more in a school's ranking? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


President Obama announced a new round of financial support for STEM education. ( Associated Press via Denver Post )

Summer vacation

Cherry Creek schools will start early and end before Memorial Day next school year. ( Denver Post )

standardized tests

Anti-test activists are holding a rally at the Capitol in Denver on Wednesday. ( The Gazette )


The website DonorsChoose has allowed teachers to bring more resources into their classrooms — but also highlighted funding disparities. ( KUNC )


Would an extra $45,000 per student per year help your school implement education technology? Education Week is launching an exploration into technology in elite private schools. ( Education Week )


The Arvada Wheat Ridge Wheat Ridge Service Ambassadors for Youth recognized dozens of local youth who have overcome adversity. ( Arvada Press )

Expeditionary Learning

The Douglas County News-Press takes a look at an expeditionary learning school in Douglas County. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Indian mascots bill passes first committee after emotional testimony

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 22:40

“We are not some people you can just make fun of,” Lakewood student Jerico Lefthandbull told the House Education Committee Monday afternoon, testifying in favor of a bill that would require schools to get state permission to use American Indian names or images as school mascots.

Many other witnesses made the same point – that American Indian mascots are damaging for Native American students — during a hearing that lasted more than three hours. But Lefhandbull, wearing his dance regalia from last weekend’s Denver March Powwow was the most succinct.

The committee passed House Bill 15-1165 on a 6-5 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans voting no.

The bill would create a subcommittee of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs that would have the power to rule on schools’ and colleges’ Indian names and mascots, including existing ones. If the subcommittee rejected a name, a school would have two years to find a new mascot or face fines of $25,000 a month.

According to bill cosponsor Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, some 38 Colorado schools have Indian names or mascots. A few, like Arapahoe High School in Centennial, have agreements with tribes that sanction use of the name. Other school names have generated controversy, like La Veta’s “Redskins.”

Jerico Lefthandbull

Monday’s hearing had a more youthful air than most legislature hearings. Large numbers of students were in the audience, and three panels of students from Denver’s East High School and a group called Mile High Unity testified in favor of the bill.

Much of the testimony focused the negative impact of mascots on American Indian students and their self-image.

“These mascots do not honor us but instead bring to mind negative thoughts,” said Elicia Goodsoldier of Firestone, who has studied the issue.

Melton picked up on the same theme, saying, “No one can tell me they’re honoring anybody when they say ‘redskin’ or ‘savage.’”

School board members from the Strasburg and Cheyenne Mountain districts opposed the bill, saying mascot decisions should be made at the local level and that changing names would be costly for hard-pressed school districts. Both districts use the nickname “Indian.”

Prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Melton got themselves temporarily crosswise with fellow Democrats with a slideshow they used to present the bill. The slides included caricatures of black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish “mascots” labeled with offensive names.

That deeply offended Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who said, “I have a hard time seeing the N-word up there.”

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, asked Salazar and Melton to stop showing the slides. Melton, Fields and Buckner are black.

The bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where its $200,000 price tag might be an issue, given that the 2015 session has little money to spend on new programs. The funding would be used for grants to school districts to help pay the costs of converting to a new mascot – things like repainting gym floors.

If the bill passes the House it may not get far in the Senate, where majority Republicans generally don’t like what they see as “politically correct” measures like HB 15-1165.

Get a more detailed summary of the bill here.

Committee kills educational savings accounts bill

After more than an hour of questions and testimony, the House Education committee voted 6-5 to kill House Bill 15-1196, a proposal that would have created state-funded savings accounts that parents could have used to pay for education at any school – kind of an electronic voucher system.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Lundeen, former chair of the State Board of Education and a tireless advocate for what he sees as educational innovation.

The Monument Republican said, “We need to move beyond a system of calendars and clocks set to the annual calendar of an agrarian society.” His proposed C-FLEX program “is not a voucher, it’s an educational savings account.”

The bill proposed to establish personal education savings accounts funded by the state and maintained by a third-party administrator that parents could use to buy educational services wherever they chose.

The program would have given preference to special-needs and gifted students but also would have been open to the first 5,000 other families that applied.

Witnesses representing the Colorado Association of Schools Board, Colorado Association of School Executives, and Colorado Education Association opposed the bill, saying it would syphon badly needed funding from public schools.

Jon Paul Burden, director of exceptional student services for the Windsor school district, said the program’s funding structure wouldn’t be sufficient to pay costs for special education students.

And Cindra Barnard, with the Douglas County group Taxpayers for Public Education, called the bill “just another privatization scheme.”

Democrats killed the bill on a party-line vote. The panel’s senior Republican, Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, said he voted for the bill to keep the discussion going, but he noted, “I’m not a big fan of a voucher system, coming from a small district.”

Categories: Urban School News

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