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Updated: 38 min 3 sec ago

Jeffco union wins injunction to stop release of names of educators involved in sick out

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 16:35

The Jefferson County teachers union has won a preliminary injunction that temporarily stops Jeffco Public Schools from complying with an open-records request to provide the names of teachers who collectively called in sick last year.

According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

A motion filed by the union in Jefferson County District Court last week asserts that teacher-absence files are personnel records and “medical information” that must be kept confidential under the Colorado Open Records Act. Releasing the names, it claims, would violate the teachers’ privacy and “cause (them) irreparable injury.”

Fifty teachers at Conifer and Standley Lake high schools called in sick Sept. 19 in a protest against the conservative school board majority. Both schools canceled classes. Classes at Golden and Jefferson high schools were also canceled Sept. 29 after a large number of teachers also called in sick or took personal days.

At the time, Superintendent Dan McMinimee vowed that teachers who did not follow the proper protocol for calling in sick or taking a personal day would be reprimanded.

But that wasn’t enough for the parents who filed the request, according to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

Golden parent Kathy Littlefield told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition that she requested the teachers’ names because “I don’t want them teaching my kids. I don’t think they showed much respect for the kids, doing what they did. If you’re going to (protest), do it on your own time.” The teachers, she added, should “take responsibility and show who you are. Why are you hiding yourself?”

Littlefield is one of at least two parents to request this information.

Parent and teacher Kyle Walpole had previously requested the names of teachers at Conifer who participated in the sick out. At first, he was denied the information. However, a lawyer arguing for the coalition pointed out that the request did not seek the reason for the teacher absences, only whether they were absent.

Jeffco officials eventually released to Walpole the roster of teachers who called in from Conifer, but the names of teachers from the other three schools have not been released.

From the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition:

After Littlefield’s CORA request, which was sent by email on Feb. 10., the school district notified the teachers union that it intended to release the records “on or about” Feb. 18, the motion says. Littlefield received an email from district community relations assistant Veronica Bennett on Feb. 12, saying that she would “forward the documents” on Feb. 18.

Littlefield was notified last week that the district would not fulfill the request to release the names of teachers publicly. A hearing on the matter is set for May 15.

“Jeffco teachers and our community need clarity about what is part of a private personnel file and what is public information,” the union’s president John Ford said in a statement.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed a statement from the union. It should have been attributed to John Ford, the union’s president. This post has also been updated to clarify that the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition does not represent Kathy Littlefield. 

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What can Colorado do to lower preschool suspension rates?

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 16:24

Last week we reported that in Colorado, there’s a growing push to establish state policies and data collection methods around preschool expulsion.

National data shows that boys and minorities are disproportionality suspended from preschool. And the limited state data that exists indicates that young children are expelled from preschool and child care at higher rates than K-12 students are from their schools.

Early childhood stakeholders agree that even with new policies and data collection mechanisms, any expulsion strategy must include training and supports for service providers.

That brings us to our question of the week: What strategies should the state roll out to decrease the number of suspensions and expulsions in preschool? 

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

Commentary: Class rank is an antiquated practice that pits student against student

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 14:00

“I heard he’s not number one anymore.”

My ears perk up as I hear the familiar discussion about class rank.

“Are you sure?” the other student asks excitedly. His level of enthusiasm is similar to when school lets out for the summer.

But this excitement isn’t concerning an A on a math test, or a sports team win. The excitement is in response to the realization that someone’s class rank dropped. It’s just a number, and someone else’s for that matter, but somehow it means this much.

East ranks its students. This makes sense at first: teachers, administrators, and colleges alike should have a general understanding of where a certain student falls academically. However, across the nation, more and more schools are ceasing to release their students’ class ranks because of the competitive environment it fosters among students and the subjectivity of ranking academic excellence.

They are beginning to realize that class rank is an inaccurate measure of student success and accomplishment, and doesn’t always represent the most hard-working individuals.

Although there is a certain element of competition in every high school, class rank makes competition a numerical goal that the 600 or so students in a given grade strive for. The number of times I have been asked, “What’s your class rank?” is not only crazy, but it also cheapens the idea of love of learning. It leads to students actively hoping for their peers to falter academically so that their own class rank will improve.

Class rank is important, but it should not encourage students to wish for their peers’ failure.

This competition, and the obsession with improving one’s class rank, causes students to take classes simply for the honors credit required to be in the top 10. The amazing thing about East is that it offers so many opportunities to students that encourage passion. This becomes difficult to sustain with the focus on class rank.

I’ve taken newspaper and choir for all my years at East, and these classes have been the cornerstones of my high school experience. Do I get honors credit? No, and my class rank suffers because of my non-honors classes, but I wouldn’t give these two classes up for anything.

When I first applied to join the newspaper at the end of my freshman year, I was advised not to take the class because my class rank would drop. It is unfair that these classes have proved themselves so incredibly beneficial to my growth as a person, and as a student, but in terms of class rank, taking them means I am valued less than many of my peers.

I’ve done more work by far for newspaper than most of my other classes. The real difference is that I love journalism. It’s not a class I’m taking for the sake of AP credit, but a class I’m taking for the pursuit of learning.

The idea of someone with an affinity for journalism choosing not to take the class for the sole reason of class rank saddens me, but it’s a reality here at East.

Really, class rank limits the horizons and potential of all East students, telling them that their accomplishments are only significant if they add up numerically.

The main problem with class rank is how significant it has gotten to be at East. The yearbook even has a page dedicated to the 10 top-ranked seniors in the school. I believe that academic excellence should always be recognized, and the top 10 have obviously worked extremely hard in high school, but what about the 30 other students in the grade with straight A’s? Their academic excellence is somehow deemed less significant than that of the top 10.

The short answer is that the top 10 have taken more honors and AP classes. But this isn’t the whole story. East students are amazingly eclectic.

We are a school that exhibits every passion, every pursuit, and essentially every talent within each student. We are a school that embodies what it means to be passionate about something. Our school should not pressure students to fit a mold so that they are valued more than others.

What would encourage and highlight the accomplishments of East students?  How about a page in the yearbook devoted to students who have done amazing things, not only with regard to school, but also independent of school.

The point of class rank is to see where students fall academically; to see their strengths and weakness laid out on a piece of white paper. The truth of the matter is that strengths and weaknesses of any student go far beyond a single sheet of paper. The individual accomplishments of each student go far beyond 100 pieces of paper, and they certainly go beyond class rank.

The truth is that class rank is an antiquated practice that pits student against student, and is being discredited by universities and other high schools across the nation. These institutions are realizing that academic excellence and achievement are not things that can be measured by a ranking system.

The message East is giving us is that education is a series of numbers, and we have to fit the mold of those numbers. We need to break the mold.

This First Person post was originally published in The Spotlight, East High School’s student-produced newspaper.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado GOP leading charge against standards, tests

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 10:48

Talking about pot

Chalkbeat readers disagreed about what schools should share with students regarding recreational marijuana. The fault lines appeared to depend on personal views about the drug. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, a school official says the state's changing views on marijuana are sending mixed messages to students. ( NPR )

About face

Colorado Republicans are leading the local legislative fight to roll back the state's involvement in nationwide reforms like the Common Core and its aligned exams. ( Denver Post )

Parents for Privacy

An increasing number of parents — like one Monument mother — are becoming increasingly worried about the number of data points schools are collecting and monitoring on students. ( Gazette )

Not this time

Poudre School District will not receive any money from legalized recreational pot sales, and some Fort Collins-area parents who see needs in the district’s 50 schools are angry. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Survey says

By a 2-to-1 margin respondents in a new survey told pollsters that kids who do not receive standard immunizations should not be allowed to attend schools or childcare facilities. ( KOAA )

Healthy schools

All schools in Mapleton now have salad bars. ( Arvada Press )

A bill to spend about $5 million to put more local produce in school cafeterias passed its first test last week at the legislature. ( AP via KRQE )

Teaching and learning

A newly published paper suggests how much you are like your teacher contributes to his or her feelings about you — and your grades. ( NPR via KUNC )

Hundreds of elementary school students from Denver Public Schools recently heard one form of music for the first time. ( CBS 4 )

A free, three-week course in coding is taught by software engineers in Lafayette as a way to introduce pre-teens to programming. ( Daily Camera )

Higher ed

Budget leaders at the University of Colorado are projecting a tough road ahead for public colleges and universities as Colorado wrestles with a complex set of budget pressures. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis opines the nation's federal education laws need nontraditional and entrepreneurial ideas to work. ( Colorado Statesman )

The Wonkette Blog celebrates the Jeffco school board's non-decision-decision to not review an advanced U.S. history course. ( Wonkette )

The Colorado health department's recommendation to increase the number of times parents would have to fill out nonmedical exemption forms for childhood vaccines is a small step toward a more sensible policy, writes the Denver Post's editorial board ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Different viewpoints on pot yield different conversations

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 17:06

On Monday, we asked our readers “What should Colorado schools do to address the issue of legalized marijuana?”

Our question was prompted by a recent investigation from Rocky Mountain PBS I-News that found a major uptick in drug-related incidents at Colorado middle and high schools.

Chalkbeat readers’ opinions were mixed and often appeared to be influenced by their view on marijuana use.

Reader Kathleen Chippi suggested in a comment that marijuana is nothing to worry about. 

Be honest? Cannabis is the safest therapeutic substance known to man and has no known lethal dose. History shows us people have used cannabis for many uses for the last 8,000 plus years.

Educator Jeff Buck countered:

It seems to me that an open and frank conversation about the effects of marijuana (and other abused substances for that matter) on a developing brain would be the logical place to start. … In combination with the current trends in Growth Mindset, Grit, and Mindfulness in schools, we could effectively engage students in thinking and decision making about their futures. Like, do you really want to be a disorganized mess who cannot prioritize the simplest of activities for the rest of your life? Not scared straight tactics but research based scenarios of what they can look forward to if they decide to alter how their brain develops.

Meanwhile, Jeff Deutsch said students need to know the difference between medical marijuana and recreational pot. 

Kids in high school and college already know about recreational marijuana — they get it from their friends. Medical Marijuana is different. Kids need to learn about compassion from an early age. The earlier they learn about the fact that we all are our brother’s keepers, that people in pain need our compassion, the better human beings they will become.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How the early childhood “word gap” could affect teachers, too

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 17:00
  • One viewpoint remains almost entirely absent from the conversation around how to improve education: that of people who weren’t always good at school. (U.S. News and World Report)
  • Teachers who are tired of seeing education policy being driven by non-educators are looking more to teacher leadership programs as a way to amplify their voices. (EdWeek)
  • One major obstacle to closing the word gap for low-income students: many early childhood educators are also at risk for functional illiteracy. (Answer Sheet)
  • A Wisconsin teachers union leader argues that unions need to redefine their mission beyond a traditional trade union model to one that more broadly reflects the needs of their communities. (Rethinking Schools via Answer Sheet)
  • A former college admissions officer advises parents to relax about what college their student might be admitted to and instead focus on evidence of their self-motivation and accountability. (Rox and Roll via Grade Point)
  • An ed tech company called Instructure has raised $40 million in advance of an anticipated public offering and wants to take on one of the industry’s behemoths, Blackboard. (Buzzfeed)
  • Why Oklahoma legislators — like some Colorado school board members before them — want to scrap Advanced Placement United States History courses. (NYMag)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Former teacher alleges grades changed at DPS high school

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:56

Preschool expulsions

Do you think kids don’t get expelled from preschool? Think again, and read about efforts to tackle the problem. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Dissenting voices

Some members of the State Board of Education are raising questions about key elements of state education policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Charter change

The DPS board is considering a change of management for the Pioneer Charter School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Community leaders honored

Aurora's newest school will be named after a prominent African American family, a first for the school district. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Grades changed?

A former DPS teacher claims grades were improperly raised for some failing students at one high school. ( KDVR )

No PARCCing

Opponents of standardized testing are holding workshops to help parents opt their children out of state tests scheduled this spring. ( KOAA )

History flap

The Jefferson County school board won’t review the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. history class, an issue that sparked student protests. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Teaching STEM

A program in Fort Collins is encouraging girls to explore STEM fields, aided by students from CSU. ( Coloradoan )

Cost overruns

The Ignacio schools are juggling funds to cover changing construction costs. ( Pine River Times )

Commentary

A Denver middle school is one example of how schools are rethinking zero-tolerance policies. ( NEA Today )

Editorial

The state should pay TABOR refunds to taxpayers and instead cut Medicaid to protect funding for schools. ( Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

No cow too sacred for some State Board members

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 21:52

The State Board of Education has taken some surprise actions on testing in its first two meetings of 2015, and there’s also a new tone in some board members’ questions and comments during presentations by Department of Education staffers.

The board voted Wednesday to end penalties for districts if they drop below required test participation levels because of parents opting kids out of tests (see story).

Thursday’s meeting didn’t yield any big decisions as board members sat through a long agenda of briefings on some major issues. Most of those agenda items were progress reports on matters like testing and high school graduation guidelines, work primarily mandated by the legislature in the wave of education reform bills passed over the last six years.

Some member comments indicated an interesting level of skepticism about the basic premises behind those programs. Here’s a sampling:

Testing and academic standards – State testing chief Joyce Zurkowski gave the board an update on the complicated process for setting “cut scores” to establish achievement levels on the science and social studies tests given to high school seniors last fall.

Republican board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs called the descriptions of the four achievement levels “kind of hokey” and suggested the test results be reported merely as percentiles of how students scored. People want to know “how do you stack up against other Colorado students.” He cited Iowa Test of Basic Skills results as an example.

Zurkowski explained that the tests are designed to show student knowledge on academic standards, not just percentile comparisons.

“The problem I have is … the standards don’t mean anything. They are a subjective measure that some individuals or groups have put together,” Durham said. Just report test scores “by percentile and send them out to the schools and let them do what they want,” he suggested.

Board member Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat, called that “good old 1950s information” and argued that reporting test scores in that way “isn’t the goal that has been stated by our legislature.”

Member Deb Scheffel, a Douglas County Republican, warned that reporting test scores by the four achievement levels is “creating a narrative of failure” and asked “What are our options?” (She was referring to the results of the new science and social studies tests for elementary and middle school students. Only about a third of fifth and eighth graders scored in the two highest levels on science tests, and 17 percent of fourth and seventh graders scored at those levels on social studies. See this story for details.)

Pulling out of Common Core – The board also was briefed Thursday on the mechanics of pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests. (Basically the board can’t do that by itself – see this legal memo.)

Scheffel suggested that the state needs less-detailed standards that create “a core of commonality rather than the pervasive commonality we’ve created with Common Core and PARCC.”

Republican member Pam Mazanec, also of Douglas County, said this about the Common Core: “For me it does not matter if these standards are perfect. I’m opposed to them because they invite federal intrusion. Standards drive curriculum, they invite federal intrusion in curriculum.”

Graduation guidelines – One of the many components of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law was creation of high school graduation “guidelines” that school districts are supposed to meet or exceed. The board was updated (see slides) on that long-running process; the eventual guidelines won’t go into effect until the end of the decade.

Durham complained, “These are not guidelines” and should be labeled as requirements. Scheffel said she felt the proposed plan was much too detailed. “What is the minimum the State Board can do? Being heavy on the regulatory side doesn’t really serve the kids, the parents, the schools,” she said.

The board is scheduled to vote on the guidelines later in the spring.

Chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, closed the long afternoon session by calling it “a good meeting” but gently noting, “I do get a little concerned about the accusatory note sometimes toward the staff.” (Durham had been a bit abrupt with Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl at various times Wednesday.)

Neal also told Durham, “I strongly suggest that when you have a motion you write it out.” Durham’s motions on testing in January and on Wednesday were made orally. Neal also suggested members should have a month to consider such motions before voting. Durham didn’t say anything in reply.

Following up on Wednesday’s news

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond on Thursday sent a letter to the state’s superintendents advising them how to handle the State Board’s Tuesday votes on testing waivers and parent opt-outs.

“Districts should continue preparations for the administration of the upcoming assessments,” Hammond wrote.

On the question of opt outs, he advised, “The effect of this motion is that districts will not be penalized by a lowering of their accreditation rating should their student participation rates fall below 95 percent on the PARCC assessments due to parental refusal of their students to take the PARCC assessments. Districts still need to engage in good faith efforts to test all students in accordance with state and federal law and maintain documentation of parent refusals.”

See the full letter below.

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Categories: Urban School News

New push to quantify, prevent preschool expulsions in Colorado

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 18:21

When Sarah Davidon’s son was in preschool in Douglas County, he would often bite or hit other kids. Once he pinched a teacher on the arm. Another time he punched her in the stomach.

Although the teachers tried to be patient with his outbursts, Davidon worried that the center’s director would ask that the boy be removed from care—what many might call an expulsion.

“There was a period when we were getting calls almost daily,” Davidon said. “[The director] was getting increasingly frustrated…She would say, ‘Other parents are getting upset and I have to decide if this can continue.’”

The irony is that Davidon is a faculty member of the University of Colorado School of Medicine who studies preschool expulsions and early childhood mental health. She’s also board president of the Colorado Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.

In those roles, she’s well aware that the odds of getting expelled from preschool are higher than the odds of getting expelled from the K-12 system. A 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education also revealed that minorities and boys are disproportionately expelled from preschool.

It’s statistics like these that prompted a recent federal push for states to address the issue, a process now unfolding in Colorado. Last fall, a letter from two top federal officials was sent to states urging the development of preschool expulsion policies, analysis of expulsion data, and scaling of preventive practices.

In addition, the recently reauthorized federal Child Care and Development Block Grant—the main source of funding for the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program—includes a requirement for states to publish preschool expulsion policies, and permits some grant funds to be used for teacher training around the issue.

Currently, that there are no statewide policies on preschool expulsion in Colorado or mechanisms to collect expulsion data from childcare providers. The two state studies conducted over the past decade show a decreasing rate of preschool expulsions—suggesting that preventive strategies may be working.

Still, advocates say two data sets with relatively low response rates aren’t enough to provide a full picture of the preschool expulsion landscape or make firm conclusions about the impact of prevention strategies.

“When it comes to data, we are in the dark and that’s one of the concerns,” said Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

“We want to be able to advocate for strategies that mitigate the use of suspensions and expulsions. We want to be able to evaluate those,” but that’s difficult without baseline data, he said.

But Noel Nelson, CEO and president of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, said requiring providers to report expulsions could add a new layer of unnecessary regulation and lead to state interference in a provider’s carefully considered decision.

“The decision to disenroll a child…is not taken lightly by owners, managers, teachers,” he said. “There’s just this assumption that providers are quick to disenroll and move on.”

Naming the problem

Preschool expulsions and the events leading up to them are worrisome for several reasons. For parents and providers, they are stressful, time-consuming, and potentially expensive. For children, expulsions can delay needed mental health services, threaten continuity of care and hinder positive social-emotional development.

Some experts say expulsions may also foretell a future of school struggles. Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Clayton Early Learning, said it’s likely that many of the children suspended or expelled from preschool will be the ones later suspended and expelled during the K-12 years.

“There’s bound to be a thread,” she said.

Despite disagreement among the state’s early childhood players about whether statewide expulsion reporting is needed and how much state oversight is necessary on preschool expulsions generally, most agree that any strategy should include training and other resources for early childhood teachers.

“You can have all the expectations in the world and if you don’t support early child care settings…you won’t necessarily get the results you’re after,” said Brantley.

State officials, child advocates, and provider representatives also agree that whatever happens around preschool expulsions in 2015 will rely on input from all quarters of the early childhood world.

“We’re naming a problem and we want to bring everyone to the table to think about what to do about it,” said Jaeger.

Limited data

Despite the lack of routinely collected state-specific data on preschool suspensions and expulsions, there are a few sources of information that help provide general outlines of the problem.

  • The 2014 data snapshot from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights found that nationally black students make up 18 percent of the preschool population but 42 percent of those suspended once and 48 percent of those suspended multiple times.
  • The same report found that boys make up 54 percent of the preschool population but 79 percent of those suspended once and 82 percent of those suspended multiple times.
  • A 2006 study co-authored by Davidon found that 10 of every 1,000 children were removed from licensed Colorado child care settings, compared to a K-12 expulsion rate of nearly three per 1,000 students. (The provider response rate to the study survey was 17 percent.)
  • The 2006 study found that home-based providers had higher rates of expulsion (35 per 1,000) than child care centers (six per 1,000).
  • A follow-up study in 2011 (not yet published) found a significant drop in removal rates from licensed child care—four per 1,000. (The provider response rate to the study survey was 17.9 percent.)

Davidon, director of community education with JFK Partners in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, called the reduction found in the 2011 survey good news. Still, she said, “What we still don’t do is collect information on this every year…We can’t stop expulsions from happening if we don’t know when and where they’re happening.”

There has been some talk about adding an expulsion category to the state’s electronic incident reporting system currently used to report when a child is injured at preschool or day care. But officials from the state’s Office of Early Childhood, which is housed in the Colorado Department of Human Services, aren’t sure that’s the way to go.

Jordana Ash, director of early childhood mental health for the Office of Early Childhood, said she’d like to focus on collecting “lead measures” that anticipate the possibility of expulsion rather than “lag measures” such as the expulsion itself.

“We’re very invested in understanding this phenomenon and understanding really what leads to a child being at risk of expulsion,” she said. “Our efforts will be capturing the right data.”

In terms of what lead measures the state might collect, Ash said the department’s data team and other stakeholders will need to consider that issue.

“That’s the work in front of us,” she said.

Tools for heading off expulsions

While the current spotlight on preschool expulsions is relatively new, some advocates have been working to address it for years. There are several strategies that seem to be effective, including teacher trainings focusing on children’s social-emotional development. These include programs like Pyramid Plus, The Incredible Years and “Expanding Quality for Infants and Toddlers.”

Ash, who studied preschool expulsion rates in Boulder County in her previous position, said the creation of a “warm line” that providers and parents could call to seek phone or on-site help with difficult child behaviors seemed to have an impact in the Boulder area.

Another option for providers is bringing in early childhood mental health consultants. The state funds the equivalent of 17 full-time positions. Such consultants observe classroom dynamics and help teachers adjust schedules, change room lay-outs, and otherwise tweak instruction to better handle challenging children.

That’s what helped in Davidon’s case. Her son, now a first-grader in the Jeffco school district, didn’t end up getting expelled from preschool. Instead, as things deteriorated during his four-year-old year, she called in a friend who worked as an early childhood mental health consultant in Douglas County.

The friend observed Davidon’s son in his classroom several times over a month and then provided the teachers and Davidon with input and suggestions. Some, like a smaller class size, weren’t doable, but others, like better preparing the children for transitions and taking a different tack when the boy got physical, were implemented.

Davidon’s son still had moments of bad behavior after that but the frequency and duration of incidents decreased, said Davidon. Part of it, was helping the teachers frame his physically hurtful behavior not as a personal attack but an issue that would deescalate with calm correction.

“I’m not sure if [he] changed…what I do think changed is that the teachers felt a little more confident in how we addressed things when they came up,” she said.

While research suggests that mental health consultation can help reduce expulsions, there’s concern that the state’s cadre of consultants is too small to help all the providers who could use support. Davidon added that most parents can’t be expected to know about, much less arrange such interventions as she did.

“I can’t imagine if I weren’t working in the field and I didn’t know some of these people, who I would have called,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

University Prep on tap to run Pioneer charter in 2016-17

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 17:01

The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer Charter School’s decision not to renew its contract, which means the school would close in May of 2016.

But the resolution also fast-tracks a proposal for University Prep, a nearby charter elementary school, to operate at Pioneer. That resolution has drawn concerns from some people about the district’s process for placing new schools.

After Pioneer’s board voted to not seek a renewal of its contract in December, Denver Public Schools announced that it was looking for at least one school operator to replace Pioneer in its annual search for quality schools.

Tonight’s new resolution says that DPS will inform applicants that “the District has identified a potential replacement provider of high quality [sic] for Pioneer Charter School for the 2016-17 school year.” It says that DPS will approve University Prep’s application to operate Pioneer starting in 2016-17 as long as it has a quality plan and as long as its existing school continues to show strong academic results.

At a meeting of the DPS board earlier this week, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that “a voluntary transition where parties have ample time to plan, prepare, share expertise, and work together is a good thing.”

But this unusual arrangement has drawn concern from some in the school community.

Laurie Thompson, a business director at Pioneer, wrote in an email to the board, “Parents were informed after the decision was made and were told that there would be a role for parents and community members to have a voice during the Call for Quality Schools process.”

However, she added,  the new resolution “effectively [takes] Pioneer off the table for other…applicants and [negates] input from Pioneer parents and others in this community regarding this important transition.”

Other individuals and groups have considered applying to run schools in the Pioneer building. One is a dual language program that would be a district-run school.

But University Prep has already begun a consulting relationship with Pioneer intended to last through the next school year. The Pioneer board will vote on its contract with University Prep tonight, according to board member Anna Nicotera, but school staff from the two buildings have already started working together.

University Prep leaders plan to submit a letter of intent to apply and a proposal for their plan to run Pioneer starting in the 2016-17 school year. David Singer, the founder and head of school at University Prep, emphasized that University Prep’s proposal will go through DPS’s vetting process.

Running Pioneer would be a new task for University Prep staff. University Prep began as a new elementary school, gradually phasing in new grade levels K-5. If the school is awarded operation of Pioneer, it would be taking on a K-5 school all at once.

Pioneer also has a higher proportion of English language learners than University Prep. Singer said University Prep would include a plan for working with those students in its charter proposal.

Nicotera said the board knew that some parents felt they had been excluded from the board’s decision-making about surrendering the contract and bringing in University Prep.

“While we value community and family, when you have these tough decisions and things aren’t getting better, sometimes a board has to make that hard decision,” she said.

She said she was hopeful the partnership with University Prep would help the school’s students.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora names new school for prominent black couple

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 15:28

Aurora Public Schools’ newest school, which will serve students in preschool through eighth grade, will be named after a prominent African American family, a first for the school district, which has long served a large population of students of color.

The new school at East 6th Avenue and Airport Boulevard will be named the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school, the city’s school board decided Tuesday night. The mascot will be a Red-Tailed Hawk.

The late Edna Mosley was Aurora’s first African-American city council member. She was first elected in 1991 and served on the council for 12 years.

John Mosley, now 93, has received wide recognition for his pioneering achievements as an athlete and in the military.

According to the district:

During her tenure [on city council], she was influential in anti-gang programs, local gun control legislation and civil rights issues. She was also instrumental in the redevelopment of the former Fitzsimons Army Base into the Anschutz Medical Campus and in the transformation of the former Lowry Air Force Base into a vital new community. Edna Mosley also held positions with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and as director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the University of Denver. She was a founder of the Women’s Bank, created in 1978 to provide women equal access to financial services.

As an African-American student, [John Mosley, in 1939,] was barred from living at the [Colorado State University] residence halls, denied service in local restaurants, and experienced racial discrimination on campus. Despite these obstacles, Mosley became the first black student to play on the CSU football team and in the Mountain States Conference. He subsequently worked as special assistant to the undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, D.C. and for the Department of Health and Human Services in Denver.

The school is developing a model that will teach students to tap their own strengths and how to bounce back from challenges. It will open in the fall.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: A venture capital gusher for ed tech companies

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 09:42

Tick tock

Aurora Central High School is close to running out the accountability clock, so the school district is devising a plan to turn things around at the struggling school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Never a dull moment

The State Board of Education delays action on testing waivers and moves to lift punishments for schools with sub-par test participation rates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Big bucks

Venture capitalists pumped a record $2 billion into education technology companies in 2014. ( TechCrunch )

Testing tizzy

Citing over-testing as a problem, Florida's education commissioner is recommending elimination of some of the state's new assessments. ( StateImpact )

Easing up

A new Colorado bill takes aim at the practice of jailing students who defy court orders in truancy cases. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

farm to school table

A Colorado bill to spend about $5 million to put more local produce in school cafeterias passed its first test Wednesday at the Legislature. ( Coloradoan )

Busted

It's not something you think would happen that often, high school students in Colorado Springs getting arrested while on campus grounds, but it may happen more than you think. ( Fox21 News )

Two cents

A Denver Post editorial chides the State Board of Education for "using its scant power to cause as much trouble as possible." ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Bill seeks to end jailing for truancy

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 21:15

A new bill takes aim at the practice of jailing students who defy court orders in truancy cases.

A key change proposed by Senate Bill 15-184 would take truancy cases out of the juvenile courts and place them with state administrative law judges.

Under the bill, school districts that wanted to compel a student to attend school would file a petition with an administrative judge, who could issue an order compelling attendance, require dependency or neglect evaluations,and specify sanctions. But an administrative judge couldn’t order detention for students or jailing of parents.

Parents and students could appeal administrative decisions to juvenile court, and cases would have to be transferred to juvenile court if a student were involved in dependency or neglect proceedings.

Finally, according to the bill summary, the measure “prohibits a juvenile detention facility from receiving a juvenile who violates a court order to attend school unless the juvenile is also adjudicated for committing a delinquent act.”

The bill is as bipartisan as can be, given that it’s sponsored by conservative Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker and liberal Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora.

Fields has long been concerned about truancy, and was the prime sponsor of a 2013 law that limits jailing of truant students to no more than five days at a stretch and encourages school districts to improve their services for “chronically absent” students so that they don’t end up in court.

During a committee hearing on that bill, Fields and witnesses said about 500 students a year were detained for truancy violations, and that in at least one case a youth was held for more than 100 days.

Read the text of SB 15-184 here.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora chief will propose changes for struggling Central high school

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 17:59

AURORA — Superintendent Rico Munn told the city’s school board Tuesday night that his leadership team will develop a plan this spring for a chronically low performing high school that is quickly approaching the end of the state’s accountability timeline.

Munn’s announcement came after the school board heard from officials at the Colorado Department of Education about sanctions the state may impose on the district if it fails to improve academic performance at Aurora Central High School.

The district’s goal: come up with a local solution that will improve student outcomes before a possible state intervention in 2016.

Aurora Central has been considered a low-performing school by the state for five years. If the school, which has made some slight improvements, doesn’t dramatically boost student tests scores and its graduation rate this year, the State Board of Education will likely ask the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education to take “dramatic and disruptive” action, the state officials said.

Among the possible actions: turn over the school to a charter operator; apply for innovation status that would give the school more autonomy from district policies and state law; or close it.

“As much as there are challenges, there are opportunities,” said Peter Sherman, executive director of the state’s school improvement office.

Data Center
Find your school’s state rating here.

State officials urged the school district and its board to take the long view. Nearly a third of Aurora’s 60 schools are considered low-performing. And the district itself is also at risk of losing its accreditation if it doesn’t improve as a whole within two years. That means the district, which is sits on Denver’s eastern border, could lose out on some federal funds, and students’ diplomas would be put in jeopardy.

Aurora is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list for chronically poor student achievement. Created in 2009, the state’s accountability system ranks schools and districts based mostly on student test scores and graduation rates. Schools and districts that fall in the bottom two categories of the state’s rankings are given five years to improve or face state penalty.

Aurora Central is one of 30 schools that is nearing the state’s deadline. The only other high school on that list is Adams City High School run by the Adams 14 school district.

“I think this is a lot to take in,” said board president JulieMarie Shepherd.

While the school board has had ongoing conversations with its struggling schools, the discussion Tuesday night between the board, state officials, and the district’s leadership seemed more frank given that the deadline for Aurora Central is drawing near.

Board members questioned the state’s motives and practices, how the district leadership team will engage teachers and parents in developing a plan for the high school, and wondered if the district shouldn’t take multiple actions simultaneously.

“It’s — scary isn’t the right word — I’m still looking for the partnership piece,” said board member Mary Lewis said, eyeing the state officials. “I’m looking for [you to say] we’re here to help.”

Aurora Central has about 2,100 students, most of whom are poor and black or Hispanic. It won a three-year, $2.3 million school improvement grant from the state and federal government in 2013. And state officials have been working directly in Aurora Central and with APS officials.

Lewis was also concerned that the district’s leadership team might act unilaterally without listening to the ideas of teachers.

“Teachers, all the staff, need to be included,” Lewis said.

Board member Amber Drevon said parents also needed to be consulted.

District officials said they are engaging with all community members. A survey was already sent to Aurora Central teachers. And the district will host community meetings in the near future.

Board member Dan Jorgensen urged the district to bring well-researched solutions to the table for teachers and parents to discuss. That would make for a better community engagement process, he said.

And while some board members were pointed about making sure adults outside of the district’s headquarters were listened to, Jorgensen refocused the conversation on students.

“Our decision shouldn’t be based on the clock, but on what’s best for kids,” Jorgensen said. “The rest is just gibberish. …  It’s about kids.”

Some audience members whispered “yes,” and “about time,” after Jorgensen’s comments.

Jorgensen also suggested the district seek bids for high-quality charter schools while it comes up with its own plan for the school.

About 30 members of the Aurora Central staff attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’re invested and truly care about the future custody of the school,” said Corey Price, a social studies and psychology teacher. “Our plea is that we’re part of the process is determining the future of Aurora Central High.”

In an interview after the board meeting, Price said he believes high teacher and leadership turnover coupled with multiple initiatives from various levels of district bureaucracy have prevented Aurora Central from propelling student achievement forward.  He said he hopes the school board gives the high school more autonomy and supports the building’s principal, Mark Roberts.

Munn told the board it can expect a proposal by the end of the school year.

“Whatever the option is — we need to start now,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

UPDATED: State Board delays action on testing waivers

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:51

Updated at noon to include information about a new motion to eliminate penalties to districts with low testing participation rates.

The State Board of Education voted 5-1 Wednesday to delay action on testing waiver requests it has received from 20 districts. The board also voted to end penalties for districts whose test participation rates fall below required levels because of parents opting out.

The practical effect of the first vote is that those districts will have no legal justification not to give tests as scheduled in March. The motion specified that the board will reconsider the waiver issue at either its next regular meeting in March, or a special meeting if members decide to call one.

Today’s delay keeps alive controversy and the confusion kicked off when the board voted 4-3 in January to allow districts to seek waivers from the first part of the state’s new language arts and math tests, due to be given next month.

That January motion, made by new Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, directed education Commissioner Robert Hammond to grant waivers that applied for such exemptions. The motion passed despite cautions from Hammond and Department of Education staff that the two portions of the tests can’t be separated.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl also told the board in January it didn’t have the authority to grant waivers. Hammond said then he wouldn’t issue waivers until he’d received formal advice from the attorney general’s office. That advice came last week, when Attorney General Cynthia Coffman issued her formal opinion concluding that neither the board nor the department have the legal authority to grant testing waivers. Such an opinion has the force of law, unlike Dyl’s informal advice.

Second resolution adds more complications

The board also created a new element of uncertainty Wednesday by passing a separate motion that seeks to exempt districts from any penalty if fewer than 95 percent of students participate in testing this spring because of parents opting out. The vote was 4-2.

As with the board’s original waiver vote in January, the vote’s legal effect is unclear. “This motion probably would violate the terms” in the state’s accountability agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, said Dyl.

“That does cause us a problem with the feds,” said Hammond, an issue that could “force me to ask for another opinion from the attorney general’s office.”

The federal NCLB law requires that all students in specified grades undergo annual testing in language arts and math. The federal government requires 95 percent participation and requires states to impose penalties on districts that fail to meet that threshold in two or more tests.

Colorado’s current penalty is a reduction in accreditation ratings for districts that don’t comply.

Explaining what would happen in light of the board vote, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen said, “You’d have to submit an amendment to the feds … negotiate that amendment and see if they would approve it.” A possible amendment would propose a different penalty than loss of accreditation status.

Board members Durham and Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver argued for the motion. “We can’t hold districts liable for what parents want,” said Flores, hinting at the possibility of increased numbers of parents opting students out of tests this spring.

Durham argued that eliminating the current penalty is needed “so that pressure on parents hopefully will be eliminated.” He alleged that some districts and administrators put inappropriate pressure on parents to have students take tests.

The board’s one-hour discussion of testing waivers and the participation penalty was marked by some confusion.

Durham originally included the two ideas in a single motion. But chair Marcia Neal objected to that, as well as to voting on a motion that wasn’t available to members in writing.

Neal, participating by phone from Grand Junction because of a medical issue, was in and out of the conversation and didn’t participate in the two votes.

The discussion was marked by some tension, particularly between Durham and members of the attorney general’s staff.

At one point, after not getting the answer he wanted, Durham said to Dyl, “I’ll try one more time. It’s a yes or no question.”

Durham also complained that Colorado has become “bogged down in a regimen of testing” and criticized the attorney general’s office for not laying out a strategy for dealing with federal requirements.

He also scoffed at concerns that Colorado would lose federal education funding if it violates various requirements.

“I’ve yet to see” the federal government pull funding in such cases, he said.

Board is one voice in larger testing debate

The board’s January action was part of a broader backlash against state standardized testing that has united groups ranging from the Colorado Education Association to suburban parent activists to legislators from both parties.

There’s been rising concern about the amount of testing, particularly after 11th grade language arts and math tests were added, along with science and social studies tests for high school seniors.

Do your homework

Many teachers and administrators complain the new state school readiness and early-literacy assessments consume too much classroom time, and that giving this spring’s tests online will cut instruction time as students are shuttled back and forth to school computer labs to take tests.

And conservative critics object to the fact that the new tests are based on the Common Core State Standards, which they see as an infringement on state and local control of education.

Six testing bills already have been introduced in the 2015 legislative session. They range from a fairly simple reduction in testing to wide-ranging measures that propose to reduce testing and withdraw from the Common Core and the PARCC testing group.

Lawmakers face the same problem as the state board – current federal requirements leave states with limited options to reduce testing beyond a certain level or to give districts assessment flexibility.

The full legislative testing debate isn’t expected to develop until next month, but it’s widely assumed at the Capitol that lawmakers will approve some reduction in the amount of testing.

This spring’s tests

Here’s the rundown on the testing schools and students face this spring.

The first window – Districts can start giving the first parts of language arts and math tests in grades 3-11 on March 2. The so-called “testing window” remains open until April 3. An individual district has four weeks within which to schedule tests to accommodate computer availability and other needs.

The first part – The initial section of the language arts and math tests emphasize essay questions and other “constructed response” items that take longer to score. That’s why they’re given earlier.

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

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

Other tests – Social studies tests will be given to 4th and 7th graders, and 8th graders will take science tests, between April 13 and May 1. High school juniors will take the ACT test on April 28.

Technology – Paper-and-pencil tests are available for math tests in all grades and for 3rd grade language arts. CDE estimates about 15 percent of Colorado students will take paper tests this spring.

Time on task – CDE estimates the two sets of language arts and math tests will take a combined 9 ¾ hours for 3rd graders, 10 hours in grades 4-5, a little under 11 hours for middle school students and about 11 hours in high school.

Who wanted a waiver

As of Wednesday, 20 districts had applied for waivers. Most are small, but the list includes two larger suburban systems: Douglas and Jefferson counties. Many smaller districts used a sample resolution that had been circulated by the Rural Alliance, a group that advocates for the interests of small districts. Most districts asked for exemption from the first set of tests, but a few asked for broader waivers. They enroll more than 174,000 students, nearly 20 percent of the 889,006 students statewide.

Buffalo, Byers, Dolores, Dougco, Eaton, Elizabeth, Haxtun, Hayden, Jeffco, Julesburg, Kit Carson, Lone Star, Montrose, Steamboat Springs, Weld RE-7 (Platte Valley), Weld RE-9 (Ault), Weld RE-10J (Briggsdale), Weldon, Wiggins and Wiley.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools won’t get as much money from pot sales

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:46

Pot problems

WATCH: Two Aurora Public Schools students share their experience with pot in middle school. ( I-News via Chalkbeat Colorado )

As drug related incidents rise on campuses across Colorado, we want to know: How should schools talk to kids about marijuana? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Colorado voters in 2012 were promised sales tax revenue for pot would raise nearly $40 million for schools. But as the state tallies up the sales from the first year, campuses across Colorado will get only about $17 million. ( 9News )

Testing madness

Testing on the new Common Core State Standards is a little less than a month away in Colorado, but in states like Ohio, students are "PARCC-ing" it in front of computers to the take the exams this week. ( AP via the Aurora Sentinel )

Meanwhile, Indiana lawmakers are pushing a bill that would effectively create a new — and much shorter — standardized exam for students to take this year. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

And ICYMI: Here's our preview of today's State Board of Education meeting. The board will pick up the issue of testing waivers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Talking it out

Colorado lawmakers may expand a state-run restorative justice program that is being piloted by a few school districts. ( KOAA )

No room at the Inn

The St. Vrain Valley school board will get an update Wednesday on the district's plans to accommodate continued growth. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

State Sen. Nancy Todd: partisan politics killed my merit-based scholarship bill. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

How should Colorado schools talk to students about legalized marijuana?

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 20:04

A new report from our partners at Rocky Mountain PBS I-News has found drug suspensions in Colorado schools are up since the legalization of recreational marijuana.

From the investigation:

The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-’13.

The I-News analysis found:

  • Middle schools had the highest percentage increase in drug violations, rising 24 percent in the school year ending last spring. This led to a decade-high 951 drug incidents in middle schools.
  • Drug incidents reported by all public schools reached a decade high last school year, rising 7.4 percent to 5,377 incidents. There are more drug violations in high schools, but those numbers stayed flat during the first year of legalization.
  • Statewide, since medical marijuana stores opened widely in 2010, drug incidents are the only major category of conduct violations that rose in Colorado school districts, according to the data.

That brings us to our question of the week: What should Colorado schools do to address the issue of legalized marijuana? 

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

Drug incidents in schools rise, but uneven state data doesn’t reflect legal marijuana factor

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 19:40

The first months of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado saw a jump in drug policy violations in the state’s public schools, a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis of Department of Education data has found.

Alarmingly, the biggest spike in violations came in the state’s middle schools, according to the analysis. The first months of legal recreational marijuana coincided with the winter and spring of the 2013-14 school year.

“Middle schoolers are most vulnerable to being confused about marijuana,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, attending physician for the Denver Health Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment program. “They think, ‘Well, it’s legal so it must not be a problem.’”

In many cases, marijuana is simply more available to younger teens, officials say.

“We have seen parents come in and say, ‘Oh that’s mine, they just took it out of my room,’ and that sort of thing,” said school resource officer Judy Lutkin of the Aurora Police Department. “Parents have it in their houses more often, and the kids just can take it from home.”

The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-13.

The I-News analysis found:

  • Middle schools had the highest percentage increase in drug violations, rising 24 percent in the school year ending last spring. This lead to a decade high of 951 drug incidents in middle schools.
  • Drug incidents reported by all public schools hit a decade high last school year, rising 7.4 percent to 5,377 incidents. There are more drug violations in high schools, but those numbers stayed flat during the first year of legalization.
  • Statewide, since medical marijuana stores opened widely in 2010, drug incidents are the only major category of conduct violations that rose in Colorado school districts, according to the data.

Still, it’s hard to discern the specific types of drugs involved in the increased number of reports as statewide policies to measure and extrapolate teen use of marijuana and other drugs are often inconsistent and unreliable.

In fact, the data collected by the Colorado Department of Education does not identify any specific drugs. Instead, this data lumps prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine and marijuana all into the same category of disciplinary cases.

“I would say that at any given time, any day of the week, there are probably about 10 percent of kids in the high school that are under the influence of something,” said school resource officer Susan Condreay of the Aurora Police Department.

Marijuana is second only to alcohol in teen substance abuse, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an annual survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

“Alcohol is by far and away the most used substance by middle schoolers, then it goes down for marijuana and tobacco is just below that,” said Dr. Thurstone. “Prescription drug use is number four, and it’s increasing, so that’s been an alarming increase, as well, that we need to pay attention to.”

The Department of Education wants to address the lack of specificity in its drug reporting, according to Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton. She said she was asked to carry a bill that would require schools to be more transparent with their drug reporting, particularly about marijuana.

“We are still continuing with stakeholder meetings, but I am hoping to have a bill drafted and ready to go (this month),” Rep. Lawrence said. “If we don’t start now, we are not going to have a baseline to compare to in the future.”

She hopes that potential new requirements will not only show how legal marijuana is impacting students, but also provide more data on other potentially harmful drugs.

“Colorado ranks I think second in prescription drug abuse in the country and that is something we need to keep a constant eye on,” Lawrence said. “And I think starting to monitor the marijuana use is very important so we need to make sure that we are collecting the best data we can.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health ranked Colorado as the second worst state in the country for prescription drug abuse in 2013. That year, 598 people of all ages in the state died from unintentional drug poisoning, according to the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. That’s nearly four times the number of deaths that were caused by drunk driving during the same period.

Still, marijuana remains a top priority for school resource officers and treatment providers, especially in middle schools.

Denver Public Schools hired a district substance abuse treatment coordinator this school year, who will focus greater attention on middle schools.

“According to our data, middle schools are where most people begin to experiment,” said John Simmons, DPS executive director of student services. “It’s much easier to stop someone from using in the first place than it is to stop it once it’s started.”

The Denver district saw a 7 percent increase in drug incidents, from 452 in 2012-13 to 482 in the 2013-14 year. Simmons says that marijuana accounts for almost every drug incident.

But legalization supporters point out that kids aren’t coming in and buying from stores, and packages that leave the stores do not market to children.

“We have gone above and beyond to make sure that we are not marketing to children,” said Meg Sanders, owner of MiNDFUL, a cannabis company that operates in several cities in Colorado. “We feel it’s our responsibility as a responsible business to card not just once but twice for any recreational customer, and medical patients have to show several documents before they can purchase marijuana.”

Some say that legalization might help provide resources for addressing underage consumption of marijuana using tax revenue generated through legal sales.

“The fact is that we had a significant number using marijuana then and now (before and after legalization),” Simmons said of public schools in Denver. “We are hopeful that these changes will provide more resources.”

The Colorado legislature set aside $2.5 million in grants for schools from marijuana tax revenue. As of November 2014, the Department of Education had awarded $975,000 to 11 districts to hire more health professionals to help address student behavior regarding marijuana, sometimes as an alternative to traditional punishment like expulsion or suspension.

But alternative or non-punitive methods currently dealing with drug incidents by districts or individual schools are not tracked by state data.

“We have a lot of different things that we will do for kids who have gotten involved in drug incidents in school,” said Kenlyn Newman, the student engagement initiatives director for Adams 12 Five Star School District. She says that different behaviors require different responses and schools will try to intervene and work with parents to address inappropriate behaviors.

Adams 12 schools are in five different municipalities, and each of those schools have different agreements with the local government. This means that police involvement can vary from school to school, with similar incidents being reported differently to the state. But the Department of Education has no means to measure these differences in reporting.

“There is no manpower to audit the data; we can’t go back to the districts to check what they say,” said Annette Severson from the Colorado Department of Education. “We just have to trust that what they report to us is accurate and then they have to sign off and say that it is accurate.”

Even as Colorado has been launched into the national spotlight as the first state to legalize and commercialize the sale of marijuana for adult use, the state has yet to begin collecting comprehensive and consistent data to describe how it is impacting Colorado’s teens.

“I was against legalization,” said Doris Cooper, while waiting to pick up her 7th grade granddaughter from North Middle School in Aurora. “If you legalize it, you know it’s just going to make them want to use it that much more, that’s what I figure.”

Chalkbeat Colorado brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at katiekuntz@rmpbs.org. I-News reporter Burt Hubbard contributed to this story.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Drug incidents in Colorado schools are on the rise

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 11:04

Laundry List

The agenda of for a two-day State Board of Education meeting includes a laundry list of hot-button education issues, including opt-outs, No Child Left Behind, and graduation guidelines. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Marijuana

Drug incidents in school, especially middle school, are on the rise, according to an I-News investigation. ( Post Independent )

Grading Grading Systems

Colorado Springs parents say Falcon High School's grading system is overly complicated. ( Gazette )

Dance Dance Dance

Students at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont are learning science in dance classes. ( Times Call )

vaccinations

Many Colorado schools have vaccination opt-out rates high enough to threaten kids' health. Chalkbeat reporters discuss their findings on Colorado Public Radio. ( CPR )

MindWorks

A principal in Yuma writes about his efforts to break down perceptions about how students learn. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Post-secondary

Students say universities should do a better job welcoming first-generation students. ( KUNC )

Drugs in School

Thornton police are investigating a claim that a teacher gave students pot. ( Denver Post )

Transformation

A theater in Aurora has rolled out a new youth program. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Blended Learning

When 14-year-olds can control their school days... ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

State Board agenda packed with hot-button issues

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 07:12

It seems that every contentious education issue of the day has a spot on the State Board of Education’s agenda for the two-day meeting that starts Wednesday.

The seven-member board is known for full agendas at its monthly sessions. But the February meeting is especially crowded, including such issues as testing, the state’s waiver from NCLB requirements, opting out of the Common Core State Standards, future state graduation guidelines, and parents’ rights to opt out of testing. There’s even a briefing on math standards, which have been a sore point for some Common Core critics.

Most of the issues are labeled as “information items,” meaning the board will be briefed and likely have a discussion but won’t take any action.

But the two new members who joined the board last month have added an element of unpredictability to the group’s deliberations, heightening interest in what individual members have to say on key issues.

The new board produced a surprise at its Jan. 8 meeting when it voted 4-3 for a resolution instructing education Commissioner Robert Hammond to grant waivers to districts that requested exemptions from the first part of CMAS/PARCC language arts and math tests, due to be given starting next month.

The motion was made by new GOP member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and supported by two other Republicans plus Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver, the other new member (see story).

Since then 18 districts, including Douglas and Jefferson counties, have applied for waivers. But more important, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has issued a formal opinion concluding that neither the board nor the Department of Education have legal authority to grant such waivers.

Deciding what to do about the waiver applications is on the agenda for Wednesday morning. In light of the attorney general’s opinion, the department is recommending the requests be denied.

“I don’t have a lot of answers about how it’s going to go,”said board chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction.. “What the response will be from individual board members is unknown.”

The rest of the agenda

Here’s a look at the other issues the board will be talking about this week.

More testing – Significant numbers of seniors in some districts boycotted science and math tests last fall, raising concerns about opting out during the main testing season this spring. Under federal and state requirements districts face reductions in accreditation ratings if fewer than 95 percent of students are tested. The board will be briefed on that issue Thursday (see the slide show members will view).

Proposed resolutions on parents’ rights to withdraw from testing and in support of teaching social studies (testing isn’t mentioned) will be presented. Votes, if any, won’t come until March.

Common Core withdrawal – A majority of the board supports pulling out of the Common Core standards. But, like testing waivers, that may be easier talked about than accomplished. On Thursday the board will be briefed on the issue. An informal opinion from one member of the attorney general’s staff outlines the procedure, and the document basically concludes it can’t be done without legislative action.

NCLB waiver – Colorado currently has a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that gives it flexibility in rating districts and schools and in use of federal funds for the most struggling schools. That waiver needs to be renewed, and the state has to file its paperwork by March 31. The board will get an update Wednesday; see this document for details.

Graduation guidelines – Since 2008 the state has been working on high school graduation guidelines, a system that won’t go into effect until 2017-18. (The state can’t impose graduation requirements because the Colorado constitution gives local school boards final control of instruction.) A recent story in The Denver Post raised the issue of possibly watering down the proposed guidelines, so the issue has taken a higher profile. The board will have a study session on the guidelines Thursday, using this document.

New math – The board will have a “learning session” Wednesday on Colorado’s math standards, with CDE staff trying to explain how and why the standards seek to teach kids how to both get the right answers and also understand why those answers are correct. (Here’s the staff presentation.)

On top of all these issues, the board has the usual long list of other business, including a charter school appeal, rule-making hearings, and various procedural matters – plus time for public comment. Over the last year public comment sessions have been a lively forum, primarily for critics of testing and Common Core.

If board members were paid – and they’re not – they’d earn their money this week.

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