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Rise & Shine: Colorado lawmakers to study school violence

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 09:49

School violence

Colorado lawmakers will study how to prevent school violence and support students' mental health. ( 9News )


A new study indicates that changing Colorado's teacher pension system could be costly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Teachers from the Pikes Peak region took part in AVID, a summer training institute focused on closing achievement gaps. ( Gazette )

District 1

Denver school board candidate Anne Rowe says that now that the district has plans and goals in place for student achievement, she wants to focus on reaching them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Limiting rough play in soccer may help prevent concussions in young people. ( 9News )

St. Vrain

Amory Siscoe, a school volunteer, will run for St. Vrain's school board. ( Daily Camera )


Textbooks sometimes teach different versions of history, which has been highlighted as the Confederate Flag has been in the spotlight this spring. ( KUNC )

Two cents

The Denver Post writes that the Denver school board is rewarding success by expanding the DSST charter network. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board incumbent Anne Rowe: “Now comes the hard part”

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 01:25

The beginning of the race for Denver Public Schools board opens up three seats on the seven-member board — and a set of questions about how DPS should approach school improvement, district management, testing, teacher evaluations, and more.

In southeast Denver, incumbent Anne Rowe, who has represented District 1 since 2011, is being challenged by Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

In the first in a series of interviews with each of the candidates for Denver board, Chalkbeat chatted with Rowe about why she is running for re-election and about education issues in DPS and District 1.

Rowe says that while the Denver Plan laid out ambitious goals, the district still has to figure out how to reach them. 

DPS Board member Anne Rowe

Chalkbeat: Why did you decide to seek re-election?

Rowe: Looking back at materials and outreach from four years ago, I had two broad statements that I believed firmly in. In 2011, what was I saying – as a person who hadn’t been in this – was that when I make policy, I’ll base it on what’s in the best interest of students and their families and what will dramatically drive student achievement.

I’ve tried to do that to the best of my ability and still believe those are the fundamental questions.

I’m running for a second term because I think DPS is making progress and we’re at a time right now where we can accelerate and actually make even more significant progress. The Board of Education and the district and community have set up a framework, the Denver Plan 2020, that sets a really focused, clear path forward. We have our five goals, and what really drives us all is the concept of great schools in every neighborhood. If we truly believe every child should succeed, every child has to have access to a high-performing school, and one that is in their neighborhood – they can choose to go somewhere else, but they shouldn’t have to to get a good education.

So now we have the framework. Now comes the hard part — we have to implement it with integrity and transparency to actually achieve our really ambitious goals. I think we’re making progress, but we have to focus on the policies to actually achieve the goals. That’s how I want to spend the next four years, if voters decide, so when 2020 comes along we can say, look what we’ve done for our kids.

Rowe says that a policy that determines which schools get placed in which building and a plan to give school principals more control over their curriculum have been some of the most significant policy achievements of her term.

Chalkbeat: What are some of the most significant policy changes that have happened in your time as a board member?

Rowe: One major thing was the facility allocation policy…Five or six years ago, we had tons of building space. But because of folks coming back to DPS, because they’re seeing schools that will benefit their children, we no longer have excess space. We’re looking to a 2016 bond now because we need more.

I’m also thinking about situations like turnaround: What does that look like and what’s the best way to do that? What the policy does is say, we need to have principles that guide us to put the best schools in communities based on what the communities want as well as the highest-performing options.

The other thing I think is incredibly significant is some of the changes we’ve made to push more decision-making and allowing for more autonomy at the school level…if you invest in strong leadership and then give them the flexibility to make the best decisions for the students in their community, that level of flexibility can accelerate growth for all the kids in their school communities. That in itself is quite transformational. It changes the culture of how you move forward in the school district.

Rowe says that standardized assessments were a major concern in schools in her district.

Chalkbeat: What are some of the biggest issues in southeast?

Rowe: I visited every school in the district over a five-week period this winter. One theme I thought was incredibly important: School leaders all believe in the value of assessment and testing, but they also have great concerns about the amount of time spent testing. They know that data about their students is incredibly important, and they have a right to know how their child is doing, but with regard to the amount of testing, it was a common theme that there is too much.

The legislature pared down PARCC, and we’re looking hard at how do we have valuable assessments to provide information for educators, students, and parents, and how not to overload them.

Chalkbeat: How does the new flexibility for schools in DPS that you were describing earlier affect this, if at all? Will principals get to decide how much testing happens in their schools?

Rowe: There are still a lot of unknowns. The one thing that will still be there is standards, and you have to meet the standards. But the question is what does a school community feel are the best tools to help them grow their kids and see where they really need to focus.

Chalkbeat: What’s your stance on opting out?

Rowe: I respect an individual’s decisions to make whatever decisions they want. There’s value in assessments, from knowing how schools are doing to knowing how child is doing. Also, we’ve taken tests forever and that’s part of what we do. I think it’s a right for folks to know. In thinking about testing, rather than opting out — I don’t think that’s necessarily a great decision for folks to make. I’d rather talk about how do we make these useful and not onerous.

Rowe says that the district’s trying to improve retention among teachers and leaders — but that it can still do more. 

Chalkbeat: We’ve heard that turnover among teachers and leaders is a problem in Denver. What do you think the district should do to address this?

Rowe: It’s clearly something we need to look at and address. You want to bring in the highest-quality teachers and then keep them. You want to provide cultures where they want to be and the support they need to do. You want to think about compensation and what that means and how do you continue to incentivize folks. We’re doing a lot to address this: There’s our differentiated roles program, which allows for some career growth. That said, we do have turnover, especially in the early years…but if you look at our budget, we’re actually investing more in supporting teachers better in those years.

Over last few years, I believe with all the changes that have come about, teachers have felt like everything’s been put on them. And I understand why they’re feeling that way. We need to treat teachers like the professionals they are and provide them with support and tools. All professionals are evaluated and held accountability, but you can’t have evaluation and accountability without support. I think we’ve done that, but I think we can do a better job.

Rowe says that while it’s a good thing that southeast schools are drawing in more students, overcrowding is a growing problem — and achievement gaps within schools linger. 

Rowe: In southeast, and in any of our districts that have a large border with another school district, a lot of families send their children to other districts. But more and more people people are coming back to SE Denver schools. We had elementary schools that were 75 percent full or less. Now we have waitlists. That’s because they think the schools are good places for their kids.

But class sizes are getting very big, particularly in elementary school, so I’ve heard some concerns from parents that that needs to be addressed.

And, while all our schools are green and blue, we also have 20 percent of the population that are currently performing in the opportunity quartile (in the bottom 25 percent of students). How do we see these high-performing schools be that way for all kids?

Rowe is agnostic about the role of charter and district schools — that is, she thinks charter schools can serve the same purpose as district-run schools.

Chalkbeat: You mentioned that the district values having a good neighborhood school for all students. How do you balance policies like shared enrollment zones, which means kids aren’t automatically assigned to a neighborhood school, and the growth of the charter sector with that goal?

Rowe: When I refer to great schools in every neighborhood, I’m more agnostic to the kind of school. I care about what’s happening within the school, whether it’s a traditional district-run school or an innovation school or a charter school. It’s got a to be a public school, a DPS school, but the idea is to have schools in neighborhoods that serve the community well.

Having different kinds of schools — I’m probably stating the obvious, but not only do kids not fit in a box, we can throw the box away. I believe if folks want a very traditional school, they should have that option. They should also have other options.

Northwest Denver is a great example of that. The idea behind shared enrollment zone was to give people the option to go to high-quality schools and have the option to select school that best suits kids’ needs.

Chalkbeat: The DPS board recently approved an expansion plan from charter network DSST that means it will eventually educate a significant number of secondary students in the district. That growth is likely to affect other schools. Is that something you’re concerned about?

Rowe: That’s part of how we’re going to move forward rapidly. That doesn’t mean that other schools aren’t part of the solution, but there has to be significant change if we’re going to be successful.

On her role as a board member:

Chalkbeat: What else should we know about you?  

Rowe: I’ve committed to and invested deeply in the last three years. It’s an incredibly consuming opportunity. I’ve been honored to support District 1, and I’d like the opportunity to again. I believe deeply in public education and believe DPS can be the greatest urban district in this country, and I’m really proud of what SE Denver has done. I want to continue supporting and pushing for that to be true.

Categories: Urban School News

Study: Pension system shift could be costly in more ways than one

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 20:53

Converting the current pension plan for teachers and state employees to a defined contribution system could cost up to $15.9 billion over four decades, according to a new study.

And a replacement system likely would be more expensive for the state and school districts to operate if current levels of retiree benefits are maintained, according to the new study by the actuarial firm of Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co. It was presented to the Legislative Audit Committee Monday.

The 211-page report, one of three commissioned by a 2014 law, provides the first-ever detailed projections about the cost of converting the Public Employees’ Retirement Association and also gives new details about what it costs government employers to maintain current levels of retiree benefits as compared to other types of retirement plans.

The PERA system is primarily a defined-benefit plan, meaning retirees are paid monthly pensions based on years of work and an average of their three highest-salaried years. (PERA actually is called a “hybrid” plan because it also has a feature that allows people who leave the system before retirement to keep their contributions in PERA, earn interest on those and receive benefits when they do retire.)

Defined contribution plans are similar to 401(k) savings plans in that retirees receive benefits based on what they and their employers deposited into their plans, plus any investment earnings.

The PERA system’s pension obligations currently are only about 62 percent funded. The division that covers about more than 295,000 retired, active and inactive school employees is about 61 percent funded, while another division covering 30,000 Denver Public Schools members is 82 percent funded. Closing those gaps is expected to take 30 to 40 years in some cases.

That gap has sparked years of debate in the legislature, with many Republicans, worried about the unfunded liability, arguing that PERA should be converted to a defined contribution plan.

Do your homework

The problem is that vested PERA members and retirees have a legal right to current benefits so can’t be forced into a new system. “The state cannot eliminate the unfunded liability by moving new hires to an alternative plan, but must develop a plan to address the existing unfunded accrued liability,” the study concluded.

The Gabriel report provided the first estimates that have been made of what it would cost to switch PERA to a type of defined contribution plan. A scenario involving an accelerated pay-down of the unfunded liability from now through 2053 would cost $8.8 billion.

The study estimates it would cost $15.9 billion through 2053 if the pay-down wasn’t accelerated.

Another key aspect of the Gabriel study was a review of what it costs PERA employers to maintain the system’s current average retiree benefit, which provides an estimated 72 percent of preretirement salary for civil servants and teachers who enter the system at age 35 and work for 30 years. (PERA members are not eligible for Social Security.)

“This study found that the current PERA Hybrid Plan is more efficient and uses dollars more effectively than the other types of plans in use today,” the report concluded.

Leslie Thompson, the actuary who was the senior consultant on the project for Gabriel, told the committee, “There was no alternative plan that was as cost-effective at delivering the retirement benefit as PERA. … There is no alternative plan for which you could pay the same cost and get a higher benefit.”

Greg Smith, PERA executive director, said the Gabriel report “allows policymakers to see the efficiency of the plan we have in place. … What we learned from the report today is the most efficient way to address that is within the hybrid defined benefit plan.”

Smith said he believes the Gabriel study also demonstrates the advantages of PERA for employees such as teachers who leave the system after several years but allow their funds to remain within PERA to grow and be taken upon retirement.

“Our plan provides greater retirement security for even the short-term employee,” he said.

Some education reform groups have argued that pension systems like PERA don’t provide adequate incentives for young teachers (see story).

The PERA system was more than 100 percent funded as recently as the turn of the century, but its position has slipped because of legislative expansion of benefits and reduction of contributions early in the century. And stock markets drops in 2001 and 2008 damaged PERA’s investment portfolio.

The legislature raised employer contributions in the mid-2000s, and in 2010 lawmakers passed a comprehensive PERA overall that tightened benefits for new employees and reduced cost-of-living increases for retirees, among other changes.

Despite passage of that law, PERA has remained a popular target for Republican-sponsored bill in recent sessions, none of which have passed. The 2014 law that required the Gabriel study also commissioned a separate study of how to improve tracking of PERA’s financial health at intervals over the coming decades. (See this story for more details on the thinking behind the studies.)

And PERA is scheduled to issue a report at the end of the year on the impact of the 2010 reforms.

All of the studies will give the upcoming legislative session plenty of information to work with, although major pension charges may be unlikely, given that Democrats control the House and Republicans run the Senate and that 2016 is an election year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Voucher case could reach highest court in the land

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 03:15

One more round

The Douglas County School District's plea for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the voucher case has a slim chance of making it to that level, but both sides are optimistic. ( Douglas-County News Press )

Negotiation time

With an ongoing lawsuit looming, Greeley Education Association representatives and Greeley-Evans School District 6 officials are set to resume contract negotiations Tuesday. ( Greeley Tribune )

Walk in their shoes

Teachers from Colorado Springs School District 11 experienced a taste of what life is like for homeless students through the program Urban Experience. ( The Gazette )

Supply and demand

Several school supply drives are underway to help Colorado students prepare for the upcoming academic year. ( Daily Camera )

Dirty laundry begone

A seventh grader at The Classical Academy was named one of 35 state merit winners in the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for his invention- "Laundrobot." ( The Gazette )

Weird science

High schoolers are gaining lab experience with the help of mentors at the University of Colorado Boulder through the Photo-Origami Research Experience and Mentorship Program. ( Longmont Times )

College affordability

Colorado Mountain College was just named the nation’s third-most-affordable college for obtaining a bachelor’s degree, in a report from the U.S. Department of Education. ( Post Independent )


Aboard the space mission scheduled to rendezvous with Pluto on Tuesday is an instrument built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students. ( The Gazette )

Not horsing around

The state’s first vesicular stomatitis cases of 2015 have been detected in horses, and Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories have gained special certification to test for the highly contagious virus. ( Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How far is too far when preventing students from failing?

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 18:11
  • A focus on keeping students on track in ninth grade is driving Chicago’s graduation rate up — and raising questions about the lengths schools should go to prevent failing grades. (The Atlantic)
  • A Silicon Valley foundation has produced a digital curriculum to prevent students from falling behind in math. (Hechinger Report
  • The path that led a student from Paraguay to a large high school in New York City highlights how hard it is for immigrant families to make good use of school choice. (Pacific Standard Magazine)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s children are leaving their Virginia public school for the Chicago private school where their mom will teach. (Politico)
  • A new approach to discipline called “Collaborative and Proactive Solutions” could reshape the way schools think about students who misbehave. (Mother Jones)
  • Few textbooks meet criteria that would define them as “Common Core-aligned,” but districts are buying them anyway. (The Daily Beast)
  • PARCC, the Common Core test that many states pledged to adopt but fewer are actually using, is a big loser in the backlash against top-down education policy making. (Boston Globe)
  • Here are three reasons why schools are unlikely to offer inclusive LGBT curriculums even after the Supreme Court’s historic marriage ruling. (EdWeek
  • To help them learn coding, every seventh-grader in the United Kingdom will get a credit card-sized computer. (Wired)
  • The world’s oldest man until he died this week was a retired teacher from Japan. (AP)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Lunch lady strikes back in firing dispute

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 09:27

Getting results

The early-literacy programs created by a 2012 law have reduced the percentages of young students reading below grade level, according to a study by an advocacy group. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Board politics

When Denver voters elect three candidates to the school board this November, there’s a chance that the city’s 90,000-student school district will, for the first time in recent memory, be governed by a school board whose members are totally united in their support for the district’s approach to school reform. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Lunch lady strikes back

Della Curry, a Cherry Creek Schools kitchen manager who said she was fired for feeding hungry children in violation of school regulations, has made public documents that she says back her claims. ( Denver Post )

Testing Wars

New York has ditched Pearson as its state testing provider. Colorado uses Pearson for both PARCC and other statewide tests. ( Chalkbeat New York )

ESEA debate

As the U.S. Senate continued debate on a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, senators rejected an amendment that would have let states opt out of federal accountability requirements. ( EdWeek )

Warm weather learning

Summer school has shed its negative connotations to become a favorite time for teachers and students to work more closely on reading and writing. ( Colorado Community Media )

College online

The University of Colorado is moving ahead on its new online education initiative, with a name and a website set to launch next month. With the initiative, for now called University of Colorado On Demand, the university hopes to be able to compete with other, well-established online programs such as those run by Colorado State University and Arizona State University. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver elections could lead to unified school board during time of change

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 18:21

When Denver voters elect three candidates to the school board this November, there’s a chance that the city’s 90,000-student school district will, for the first time in recent memory, be governed by a school board whose members are mostly united in their support for the district’s approach to school reform.

The board’s majority already tends to back district proposals, but a consistently unanimous board could have implications for decision-making and debate at a time when DPS is making significant changes to how it works with schools, planning to renegotiate its teachers’ compensation, and setting the stage to open a number of new charter and district schools even as it runs out of open building space.

The current board is significantly less fractious than previous iterations. Since 2013, the DPS board has approved every agenda item presented by district officials. When items have not passed unanimously, District 5 board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, has been the sole dissenting vote in every instance since late 2014. The seat is term-limited and Jimenez will leave his seat this year.

Experts say that more-harmonious boards can be effective and well-received by the public, especially after times of dispute. But there is also a risk that members engage in less robust discussions at public meetings.

More than a month before final declarations for the 2015 election are due, campaigning has begun in northwest and southeast Denver.

Michael Kiley, a candidate for DPS’s District 5 board seat, and family.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and leader of several local nonprofits, and Michael Kiley, a project manager at Kronos, a medical software company, have declared their intentions to run for the District 5 seat currently held by Jimenez.

Plans for schools in District 5 were a hot topic this past school year: The board recently approved a shared enrollment zone for some middle schoolers and plans to temporarily place several schools in northwest buildings after a series of tense community meetings that surfaced questions about school quality and culture, the role of charter schools, and diversity in a fast-changing neighborhood. Jimenez voted against the district’s plan.

Kiley, who ran for an at-large seat on the board in 2013, has been a vocal critic of some district proposals and community engagement in recent months. He is centering his campaign on his leadership in a community effort to bring new resources and attention to Skinner Middle School and North High School. Kiley says he is focused on creating a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

Lisa Flores, a candidate for DPS District 5 board seat.

Flores says she hopes to bring attention to schools throughout District 5, where many schools are ranked in the bottom two categories on DPS’s school scorecard. She said she is also committed to improving services for and raising awareness of issues related to special education students, and to training and supporting school leaders. Flores says she supports high-quality schools regardless of governance model.

Meanwhile, in District 1, which encompasses southeast Denver, Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, and incumbent Anne Rowe have declared that they are running for office.

Candidate for DPS District 1, Anne Bye Rowe

Butkovich’s campaign announcement says she is focused on “fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning…That promise is under attack by those who demand and pursue austerity, polarization, privatization and DEprofessionalization.” [Emphasis in original email.] Butkovich says she hopes to improve public engagement with the district.

Kristi Butkovich, a candidate for Denver school board’s District 1 seat.

Rowe said she is focused on making decisions in the best interest of students and their families and in improving student achievement. She said plans to focus on implementing a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020, a set of goals for the city’s schools, which have been developed during her tenure on the board.

At-large board member Happy Haynes, who is the board’s president, is also up for re-election. No other candidates have yet declared for that seat.

Candidates for Denver’s school board must declare by August 30. Candidates must file 50 valid petition signatures, but those petitions aren’t circulated until August 6. Denver Public Schools board members are not paid.

Keep your eyes out next week for a series of Q&A’s with each of the four candidates for a contested seat.


Categories: Urban School News

Early literacy effort having impact, advocacy group reports

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 14:58

The early-literacy programs created by a 2012 law have reduced the percentages of young students reading below grade level, according to a study by an advocacy group.

The report, the READ Act Implementation Study, found that the statewide percentage of kindergarten through third grade students identified with a “significant reading deficiency” dropped from 16 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2014. That amounted to about 5,000 students.

The study was commissioned by Colorado Succeeds, a business-oriented education reform group, in cooperation with several other local advocacy groups and foundations.

“It is abundantly clear from the information collected and analyzed from assessment data, surveys of successful districts and schools, and case studies that schools in Colorado have made a measurable difference in just one year of implementation of the READ Act,” the study concluded.

The goal of the READ Act is to have all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. It requires literacy evaluations of K-3 students at the beginning of each school year plus periodic progress assessments. Schools must create individual reading plans for students identified with significant deficiencies.

The program rolled out in the 2013-14 school year, so results from 2014-15 provided data for comparison.

The report also found that all demographic subgroups showed declines in the percentage of students with significant deficiencies, with the exception of special education students.

“The READ Act appears to be having the greatest positive impact for students who are often identified as being most at-risk for reading difficulties,” the report said. “As an example, 35 percent of ELL students had an SRD before the READ Act, and 27 percent of ELL students had an SRD after one year of implementation. The number of free and reduced lunch students with an SRD fell from 26 percent to 23 percent. Though these reductions are to be celebrated, the number of students in various at-risk categories with an SRD is still significantly higher than their peers.”

The study said 59 percent of districts reduced their percentages of students with significant deficiencies, 30 percent showed increases and 11 percent saw no change.

Only two larger districts, Adams 14 and Adams 50 (Westminster), were among the 15 districts with reductions of at least 8 percentage points.

The report concluded, “Four primary factors were identified as having contributed to the success of so many schools in just one year: (1) the systematic use of student performance data, (2) professional development of teachers and staff that aligned to the READ Act, (3) the use of high-quality instructional materials from the recommended list provided by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and (4) following the goals and mandates of the READ Act.”

But the study cautioned, “Colorado’s most recent third grade reading results show that literacy continues to be an area in dire need of improvement. Third grade reading results went down statewide in 2014, with just over 71 percent of students scoring proficient or above.”

(See full report at the bottom of this article.)

The report, conducted by two professional researchers, used assessment data, surveyed 120 districts that had reductions and did case studies of four successful schools and one district.

The READ Act was the most recent piece of major reform legislation passed by the legislature. Education debates in the three sessions since then have been dominated by school finance and testing.

A major point of contention during the 2012 READ Act debates were provisions that allowed lagging 3rd grade students to be held back. Those provisions were significantly limited in the final version of the bill, leading to the compromise that made passage possible. The new study doesn’t address the issue of holding students back. (See this Chalkbeat story for the history of the READ Act.)

As part of an omnibus testing bill, the 2015 legislature eased some READ Act requirements, including a provision that students who are reading at grade level don’t need to be tested later in the school year. Lawmakers also eliminated some overlaps between the READ Act and school readiness assessments. (Learn more about the new testing law in this story.)

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: A new online charter academy is slated to open this fall

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:09

Jeffco Interrupted

Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed the local fairgrounds Wednesday night to learn what they could do to recall three members of their school board whom they believe are wasting taxpayer dollars, skirting open meeting laws, and disrespecting teachers and community members. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Earn your wings

The Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum is partnering with Elevate Academy to open the Wings Aerospace Academy, an online charter school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. ( Denver Post )


The Boulder Valley School District is installing new hardware and increasing its bandwidth to four times its current capacity, a move district officials say is necessary to keep up with the increase in technology use in schools. ( Daily Camera )

back to school

Even though it's early July, hundreds of students at two elementary schools in Harrison School District 2 headed back to school due to a new schedule. ( The Gazette )


HomeDenver and the WestStory DENVER AND THE WEST University of Colorado study links education to lower mortality rates CU study finds that lack of education is as deadly as smoking By Electa Draper The Denver Post POSTED: 07/08/2015 02:33:01 PM MDT4 COMMENTS| UPDATED: ABOUT 5 HOURS AGO Green Valley Ranch High School in Denver Green Valley Ranch High School in Denver (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post ) Lack of education might be as bad for your health as smoking, according to a study by the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ( KUNC )

( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Thousands pack rally to launch Jeffco school board recall effort

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 23:24

GOLDEN — Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed the local fairgrounds Wednesday night to learn what they could do to recall three members of their school board whom they believe are wasting taxpayer dollars, skirting open meeting laws, and disrespecting teachers and community members.

The mood in the barn ranged from curious to outright giddy, with some recall advocates jumping up and down, hugging each other, and dancing to a galvanizing playlist that included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ and Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

“There’s been a lot of hard work leading up to this moment,” said recall organizer Wendy McCord. “But the fight has just begun.”

Critics of the three board members — Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — began exploring the possibility of a recall almost as soon as the board majority was elected in 2013. The trio was bent on pushing a conservative free-market education reform agenda in Jefferson County, the critics charged.

The intervening 18 months have only solidified their concerns, as some board members sought to censor an Advanced Placement class, approved a charter school linked to a Christian university, and changed the way teachers are paid.

Now, if all goes according to the recall organizers’ plan, Jefferson County voters will get the option to recall Witt, Williams, and Newkirk on this November’s ballot. But as opponents of the recall have pointed out, that plan is far from assured.

Organizers have only a short time to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. In the coming weeks, volunteers will canvass neighborhoods, parks, and businesses to round up support, organizers said.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed a barn at the local fairgrounds to learn about an effort to recall three of the county’s school board members.

If Wednesday night’s event was any indication, they are likely to find traction.

The crowd of approximately 2,000 included plenty of teachers and parents familiar with the ongoing dustup in Jefferson County, as well as fresh faces and political figures.

It also included many students, who have been a powerful force in lobbying against the board members. Before recall organizers took the stage, students from Jeffco Students for Change led the crowd in chants of “Recall! Recall!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Not everyone in Jefferson County is excited about the prospect of a recall.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First and a supporter of the board majority, said she believes the recall campaign will end up as a waste of time and money.

“For right now, I’m just focusing on highlighting all the great things this board has done,” she said when asked what role her organization might play in defending Witt, Williams, and Newkirk if voters do face a recall choice in November. Atwell raised money for the board majority during the 2013 campaign.

There are signs that the recall effort is mobilizing families who more typically would stay on the sidelines.

Back at the barn, Jeffco Public School parent Loreli Bratton, who will organize petition gathering in Wheat Ridge, said she was initially reluctant to join the recall effort.

“I would much rather be in my garden or reading a book,” she said amid mud and the scent of wet cow manure. “But when people start messing with my child’s education, I’m forced to get involved.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Dozens of young Jefferson County residents ran through the barn and climbed on rails during a campaign rally July 8.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco recall campaign kicks off today

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 09:54

No Waiver Left Behind

Colorado should be cautiously optimistic about having key changes in its testing system approved by the U.S. Department of Education, according to education policy experts surveyed by Chalkbeat Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Recall Nation

The Jefferson County Clerk on Tuesday OK'd a petition for signatures to launch a recall effort for three conservative board members. ( Denver Post )

The group behind the recall effort, Jeffco United for Action, will hold a kick off campaign today. ( 9News )

Leading the way

Utah could learn a thing or two about public education from Colorado, a foundation report suggests. ( Salt Lake City Tribune )

dollars and sense

The Adams 12 school district has approved a budget that will eliminate a $15 bus fee for students. ( Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel )

Modeling success

As Native American students across the country continue to lag behind their non-Native peers in educational achievement, a small charter school in New Mexico, has found remarkable success in making sure its students graduate. ( Santa Fe New Mexican via The Durango Herald )

Human Resources

Thompson Valley High School's former assistant principal, Tom Texeira, is the district's new head of human resources. ( Reporter Herald )

Two cents

Federal safeguards for disadvantaged students must be part of the rewrite of federal education laws — otherwise children will indeed continue to be left behind, The Denver Post opines. ( Denver Post )

Colorado should adopt more aggressive school choice options so students can have access to high performing private schools like Denver's Arrupe Jesuit, suggests education policy analyst Ross Izard. ( Complete Colorado )

Copy cats

As the Achievement School District in Tennessee completes its third year of operation, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arkansas all appear poised to launch state-run turnaround school districts, with Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Nevada even seeking to copy Tennessee’s “ASD” moniker. ( Chalkbeat Tenessee )

Straight to the top

Here is how one Israeli educator turned around on of the nation's lowest performing schools into one of its top performing. ( NPR via KUNC )

Testing madness

The nation's largest teachers union will support opt-out rights and oppose tests linked to the Common Core standards after a member vote at its national convention. ( Ed Week (Paywall) )

Categories: Urban School News

Experts handicap Colorado’s odds on assessment, accountability changes

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 16:09

Colorado should be cautiously optimistic about having key changes in its testing system approved by the U.S. Department of Education, according to education policy experts surveyed by Chalkbeat Colorado.

The testing law passed by the 2015 legislature contains several changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system, including a shift in high school standardized testing and a one-year timeout in the rating system for districts and schools.

Such changes require signoff by the U.S. Department of Education as part of Colorado’s overall ESEA Flexibility Request, a state-federal agreement that allows some state practices to vary from those required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as long as Colorado meets the overall goals of that federal law.

The state’s current flexibility agreement is expiring, and state and federal officials are negotiating a new one. Theoretically, federal rejection of Colorado proposals could threaten the state’s overall flexibility plan or could require the legislature to go back to the drawing board on testing in 2016.

“The department is going to be open to listening,” said Michelle Exstrom, a program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But, “It’s hard to know what the department will do,” cautions Kirsten Carr, director of accountability at the Council of Chief State School Officers, a group that represents the nation’s education commissioners.

Since the new state testing law (House Bill 15-1323) passed in May, officials at the Colorado Department of Education have been discussing those changes with their Washington counterparts, trying to get a sense of what will pass muster.

The department will prepare amendment language based on those discussions and present those amendments to the State Board of Education for approval in August, according to Alyssa Pearson, CDE interim associate commissioner of accountability, performance and support.

In an effort to handicap Colorado’s chances, Chalkbeat interviewed several education policy experts around the nation. While cautioning that it’s hard to predict what the federal department will decide, all believe the issues involved are open to negotiation. Here’s what they had to say on the key changes in state testing law.

High school testing

What’s proposed – Federal law requires language arts and math tests be given once in high school, which has been interpreted as during 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Colorado long has given the tests in ninth grade, which isn’t required, and in 10th grade as well. The new law proposes to continue 9th grade testing but to switch to a college and career readiness test like the Accuplacer in 10th grade.

“I don’t think the year of the test would be a sticking point,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president for policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group that focuses on high school improvement.

But, Lovell said, Colorado will need to demonstrate that new 10th grade tests are properly aligned with state academic standards.

Chad Aldeman, associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, agrees that the U.S. DOE will want to know the details of how new tests align with standards and college admissions.

He said “ninth grade tests are potentially a problem.” Bellwether is a Massachusetts-based consulting group.

“I think there are policy arguments Colorado could make here,” said Lee Posey, education committee director in NCSL’s Washington office. “Those are the kind of things the [federal] department might look at.”

Exstrom, who works in NCSL’s Denver headquarters, said, “I think that will be a point where they [state officials] are really going to be negotiating with the Department of Education. She added that “states [like Colorado] that are showing good-faith efforts” on school improvement might be able to make the case for such a testing change.

While optimistic about Colorado’s chances, Lovell did say, “From a policy point of view I find it interesting that the tests would given at the beginning of high school,” when students have just begun their academic careers at that level.

The accountability timeout

What’s proposed – The coming school year will serve as a time-out for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this autumn, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014. The rating system won’t full kick back into operation until the 2017-18 school year.

The experts don’t expect Colorado will have a problem on this issue, given previous statements by Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the need for a time out after states switch tests, which Colorado did last spring.

“The department has shown openness to that in the past,” Exstrom said. “A number of states are in similar situations,” said Lovell. “It’s a logical request.”

Carr and Aldeman agreed, although Aldeman said the department will want assurances that improvement efforts at the lowest-performing schools will continue during the time-out year.

Other issues

Another element of the testing law allows pilot programs through which districts and groups of districts can try out new ways of testing students and holding schools accountable. The goal is that two programs will be chosen from the first group of pilots, and that one of those might eventually become the new state testing and accountability system. This plan will require multiple levels of federal approval.

A limited pilot program is underway in New Hampshire, and “A number of states have been looking” to that state, Exstrom said.

If a program is closely modeled on New Hampshire, and if alternative tests measure the same skills as statewide assessments, “The U.S. Department of Education would be open to that,” she said.

“This certainly will be an important part of negotiations,” said Lovell. “Given the department’s work with New Hampshire, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that Colorado and the department can work something out so that the pilot could be part of the plan.”

Aldeman noted that the department set “a pretty high bar” for New Hampshire and that “Colorado would have to meet a similarly high bar.”

Colorado also is proposing changes in testing of some English language learners and not using English language arts scores of ELL students who have been in the U.S. for fewer than two years as part of school and district accountability calculations.

“This is an area a number of states are exploring,” Exstrom said. “I don’t have a good sense of what their reaction will be,” said added, referring to federal officials.

(See this Chalkbeat story to learn more about these issues and about additional parts of the testing law that don’t require federal sign-off.)

Will Colorado get points for good behavior?

Some of the experts cited Colorado’s record on education reform as a point in its favor.

“Colorado has been a leader,” said Carr, adding that the department may lean toward proposals from states that are being “thoughtful” about their accountability systems.

“I think there’s room aroind the edges for a state that is really trying to make a good faith effort,” said Exstrom. “The department is going to open to listening.”

Congress may change the rules

The flexibility agreements held by Colorado and many other states are commonly called “waivers” because they are DOE-approved exemptions from some provisions of the ESEA.

The department started issuing waivers in 2011 because of congressional failure to update ESEA. But the issue is back on the front burner in Congress, where both the House and Senate are debating bills this week.

Increased flexibility for states is part of the measures before Congress, so the landscape could change significantly if lawmakers come to agreement.

“A lot of these questions could be answered by passage of the ESEA reauthorization,” Lovell said. “There’s a decent likelihood of that happening,” he added. “It may not be this calendar year, but there’s a decent possibility of it happening early into next year. … It has the best chance of passing that it has in a really long time.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado teen pregnancy reduction effort has notable effect

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 10:06

Accountability countdown

Colorado's school accountability timeline has changed since the legislature passed a bill that also adjusts standardized testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


A study suggests that young people with very involved parents are more likely to struggle with certain mental health issues in college. ( Slate )

School violence

Research finds that school shootings can be "contagious": That is, one shooting is often followed by several more. ( KSL )

Teen Pregnancy

A Colorado program aimed at stemming teen pregnancies was more successful than anyone forecasted. ( New York Times )


A supply drive for schools in the Boulder and St. Vrain school districts is seeking volunteers. ( Times-Call )

Making a Mark

A Colorado College alumna and geophysicist is on track to be the next president of the National Academy of Sciences. ( The Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

How Colorado’s school accountability timeline has changed since the testing bill went into effect

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 16:41

When Colorado lawmakers took up the issue of testing in the spring, they also took up the issue of how to adjust the state’s school accountability system.

Created by law in 2010, the system requires the state to rate every school and school district based mostly on how well students perform on annual standardized tests. Schools and districts that are considered failing and don’t improve within five years are supposed to face sanctions.

But because of a shift in assessments, lawmakers in the spring gave about 30 schools and eight school districts that were facing such sanctions a reprieve.

In effect, the accountability clock, as some call it, is on hold until the fall of 2016. That’s the next time the state will issue its ratings. And that’s when the State Board of Education will start to decide what to do with schools and districts that haven’t improved since the clock started ticking.

Until the testing bill passed, the Colorado Department of Education was prepared to move forward with preliminary ratings in the fall that would have been finalized in early 2016 when test results from the spring were released.

Schools and districts, especially those at the end of the clock, would have had an extra burden to prove their students grew academically by using local assessments.

And whatever the state board would have decided in regards to the state’s chronically under performing schools would have gone into effect a year from now.

Instead, the earliest state sanctions can take effect is July 2017.

We’ve updated our timeline to reflect these changes. You can scroll through the timeline and click on links for previous coverage.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Douglas County voucher supporters want to take fight to U.S. Supreme Court

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 10:19

Dougco Vouchers

For supporters of Douglas County schools' pioneering voucher program, the fight goes beyond the district as they seek to challenge constitutional provisions in 37 states that restrict public funding of religious organizations. ( Denver Post )

Limited space

Kids in Greeley-Evans School District 6 who need summer school to catch up may not get the help they need due to low federal funding for summer school programs. ( Greeley Tribune )

Not adding up

In Roaring Fork School District, above-average turnover rates may be the result of the cost of living. ( Post Indepedent )

Pot drop

Fewer marijuana-related expulsions occurred in Grand Junction schools last year and school officials credit this to counseling and a campus security officer. ( Denver Post via AP )


Boulder Valley parents are gathering support for a Hebrew charter school, hoping to open its doors by fall 2016. ( Daily Camera )

First in class

English language learners from across the world will be the first to graduate from Denver Public School's summer academy hosted with the University of Denver. ( Denver Post )

Out of this world

High-schoolers are tracking near-earth asteroids as part of the Summer Science Program at the University of Colorado. ( Daily Camera )

New digs

Colorado College is planning a $45 million expansion and library renovation. ( The Gazette )

Full slate

Nine Republican candidates have applied for the 3rd District vacancy on the State Board of Education created when board chair Marcia Neal announced her resignation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Time crunch

For teachers, time is the biggest challenge as they try to balance longer school days, training sessions, grading and planning. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Nine Republicans vying for State Board vacancy

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 21:55

Nine candidates have applied for the 3rd District vacancy on the State Board of Education created when board chair Marcia Neal announced her resignation.

Frieda Wallison, chair of the GOP 3rd District Central Committee, announced the candidate list Thursday after the deadline for applications closed.

The hopefuls include six applicants who surfaced earlier (see this Chalkbeat Colorado story) plus three additional names.

The new candidates include:

  • Andy Burns of Durango, director of admissions at Fort Lewis College and a member of the Durango school board
  • Joyce Rankin of Carbondale, a former teacher and principal who currently works as legislative aide to her husband, GOP state Rep. Bob Rankin
  • Bryan Whiting of Garfield County, a recently retired high school teacher who worked for 33 years at Glenwood Springs High School

The other six applicants, who confirmed their interest earlier to Chalkbeat, include:

  • Jake Aubert, principal of Holy Family Catholic High School in Grand Junction
  • Roger Good, a businessman who serves on the Steamboat Springs school board
  • Michael Lobato, a San Luis Valley rancher and member of the Center School board
  • Debbie Rose, a Beulah businesswoman who formerly served on the Pueblo 70 school board
  • Barbara Ann Smith, a retired teacher from Grand Junction who lost to Neal in the 2014 primary for the State Board seat
  • Anita Stapleton, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo

Wallison also announced the members of the vacancy committee, who were chosen based on party rules. They are:

  • U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton
  • Linda Sorenson of Delta County, vice chair of the 3rd District central committee
  • Jennifer Woolley of Eagle County, secretary of the central committee
  • Kraig Andrews of Mesa County, representing the state GOP executive committee
  • Marilyn Harris of Archuleta County, representing the Colorado Federation of Republican Women
  • Ruth Ehlers, representing Mesa County Republicans
  • Normagene Ricci, representing Pueblo County Republicans
  • Brandi Meek of Moffat County, representing four northwestern counties
  • Dave Merritt of Garfield County, representing four counties in the central mountains
  • Dave Laursen of Montrose County, representing six counties in the northern San Juan Mountains
  • Travis Oliger of La Plata County, representing four counties in southwestern Colorado
  • Dennis Hoyt of Huerfano County, representing nine counties around the San Luis Valley
  • Wallison of Snowmass, chair of the vacancy committee

The committee is expected to meet this month, but a date and location haven’t been chosen. The panel expects to interview all candidates and take a vote at that meeting.

There could be multiple ballots, given that state law requires the winner to be selected by a majority of committee members present and voting.

Neal’s resignation is effective July 31. The State Board doesn’t meet this month, so the new member is expected to be sworn in at the group’s August meeting. A new board chair and vice chair also will be elected. The board’s other members include three Democrats and three Republicans, so Neal’s replacement will maintain the 4-3 GOP majority.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How Denver students are analyzing the gentrification in their own neighborhoods

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 18:25

Editor’s note: Weekend reads is coming to you a day early this week. That’s because the Chalkbeat offices are going to be closed Friday in observance of the July 4 holiday. Have a safe and happy holiday. We’ll see you back here on Monday! 

  • Hillary Clinton will likely depart significantly from the Obama administration on education policy, but it’s still difficult to predict what concrete policy solutions she might propose. (New Republic)
  • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan remembers Ron Thorpe, the president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, who died this week of lung cancer. (USDOE)
  • After 44 years, Sonia Manzano — better known as Maria on “Sesame Street” — is retiring. (NYMag)
  • Students at a Denver high school (that has already seen a lot of change) are using their AP Human Geography class to examine the gentrification that is taking hold in their own neighborhood. (Westword)
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to a 40-year old precedent that allows unions to charge non-members service fees, a case that could have big implications for teachers unions. (EdWeek
  • Here’s how one Michigan elementary school not only brought its English language learners to read on grade level, but is now competing with its district’s more affluent schools. (The Bridge)
  • An interview with Morgan Polikoff, the education policy researcher who is becoming a prolific commenter not just on policy but also on how journalists cover policy. (The Grade)
  • A radio reporting project to cover education in the Southeast is starting again after a rocky first round. (Current)
  • An argument against “D” grades, which signify almost-failure but don’t require students to try harder. (Atlantic)
  • Children’s books that celebrate the Confederacy are out there. Here’s what they’re like. (Slate)
  • An aspiring teacher considers the ways that educators can speed up or slow down time in the classroom through the theory of Flow. (Magnifying Minds)
  • Imprisoned gangster Whitey Bulger confessed his life of crime to high school students who wrote to him for a class project. (Boston Globe)
  • Although both have measurably positive effects, careful study shows often-cut music programs have far greater long-term impact for students than rarely-cut football programs. (EdWeek)
  • It might be the end for for-profit colleges (Talking Points Memo)
  • A former clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsberg tells what the Supreme Court justice taught him about the relationship between gender equity and being a stay-at-home dad. (The Atlantic)
Categories: Urban School News

One challenge in expanding student learning time: giving teachers time to plan

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 12:47

Michelle Gunderson used to look forward to her weekly training sessions about how to work with struggling readers.

One morning per week, she and her fellow first-grade teachers at Nettelhorst Elementary School in Chicago would cycle through each other’s classrooms to discuss useful strategies and to see the visual aids others were using up close.

But then Mayor Rahm Emanuel mandated a seven-hour school day for all students, pointing to research tying more time in school to better academic outcomes. Under pressure to spend more time in front of students, teachers had to abandon the training sessions.

With 840 students to instruct, the school’s hectic schedule hasn’t allowed for shared planning time to serve as a replacement. And teachers also have less time during the school day to complete essential responsibilities such as writing lessons and grading tests.

“The nature of teaching is that you have to pace yourself so you have enough energy to get up and do it the next day,” Gunderson said, a veteran with 20 years of experience in the classroom. “If you spent all night planning and grading papers, what do you have to give the children the next day? We have to be able to reserve our energies so our instruction is effective.”

Gunderson’s experience reflects a fundamental tension in schools with expanded learning time for students: Research suggests that more time in school boosts students’ skills and long-term prospects, but adding productive time to students’ days often means cutting time from their teachers’. And that lost teacher planning and training time, research shows, also matters.

“It really is a balance. More time is only as good as it’s being used,” said Scott Barton, the principal of a California charter school whose model includes additional time for students and teachers alike. “To use that time wisely, we have to make sure that our teachers are prepared.”

New York City’s recent experience highlights the tug of war that can play out around learning time.

The city’s 2005 contract with its teachers union added 150 minutes per week of small-group instruction for struggling students, in keeping with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Children First” education agenda. “We are taking 300,000 children who are performing below average, and as of today they are going to have an extra period, four days a week in classes of 10 or less,” he said at the time.

But when Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, negotiated a new contract with the union in 2013, he took a different approach and rolled most of that time back to make way for teacher training and collaboration.

The teachers union hailed the change. “We have to train teachers so that the time they’re spending with students is much more effective and valuable,” union chief Michael Mulgrew said at the time. “Versus doing, once again, this political punch line — more time with the student. Let’s make it better time with the student.”

But the tradeoff left some educators scratching their heads. “I honestly have never met one teacher who thinks the solution to the educational crisis is less time with students and more time in PD,” one teacher wrote on his blog.

The same balancing act is playing out in thousands of schools across the country that have extended the school day, according to Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the National Center on Time and Learning, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded learning time.

Davis said schools that are strategic about how to allocate time can optimize their schedules to meet both student and teacher needs. About half of the 2,000 schools her group tracks offer additional time for students and teachers alike, she said.

“I’m not saying it’s easy,” Davis said. “There are hard trade-offs, but there are ways to work it out.”

The Preuss School, the charter secondary school in La Jolla, Calif., that Barton runs, is one school where managing those tradeoffs has been a goal from the beginning. Founded in 1999 with more time for students and teachers as a key part of its model, Preuss requires students to be in school for 198 days a year, rather than the more typical 180 days.

In addition, Preuss teachers teach for six of the eight class periods per day. A teacher’s two free periods are blocked together for a daily 90-minute prep period, which is frequently used as collaborative planning time across departments or grade levels.

And the school has a later student start-time each Friday, providing all teachers with 105 minutes to collaborate and learn from one another every week.

“We felt from the beginning that there has to be time for teachers if we have more time for students,” Barton said. “Teachers need time and we need to build it in — not make it after school.”

Janis Gabay, an English teacher at Preuss and the 1991 National Teacher of the Year, serves as her department’s chair and said the Friday professional development sessions are unlike anywhere else she’s worked.

“When I worked in the large school district, staff development was kind of a monthly thing, if that, where you trotted out a speaker and you had people who sat in the back and wanted to grade papers,” she said. “Here, it’s a way to stay connected with one another. It’s where we’re encouraging the reflective teacher and asking things like ‘What have you struggled with? What are you curious about?’”

Charter schools like Preuss tend not to be bound by union contracts and so have the most flexibility in reworking schedules to balance the needs of students and teachers.

But traditional schools are finding ways to split the difference, as well.

Oakland, Calif., has found a way to resolve the tension by combining expanded learning time offerings in the summer for both.

Typically, summer school is a time for bare-bones instruction to ensure that students get the basics that they did not pick up during the school year. But last summer, Oakland hired coaches to work with English and math teachers as they worked to tie their teaching to the Common Core standards for the first time.

Tamrya Walker, who is a math teacher and instructional coach in Oakland, said one of the benefits of training during the summer is the smaller class size and fewer requirements placed on the teachers.

“There’s not as much stress in terms of assessment,” she said. “Teachers can focus on helping kids.”

A new program in Denver is taking the same approach. The district recently launched a three-week laboratory summer program for teachers to try out new strategies, particularly around how to tailoring instruction to individual students.

Signs of balance are even emerging in contracts between districts and their teachers union, traditionally an arena for tugs of war over time because they set parameters for how teachers’ days are spent. In December, Boston negotiated a new contract that added 40 minutes a day at dozens of schools and also doubled teachers’ planning and training time.

“Boston public schools have been saying for many years that we need a longer school day,” said Michael O’Neill, chairman of the city’s school governing board, said when announcing the contract terms. “But a longer day isn’t effective unless you also transform the quality of the education.”

Boston teachers at participating schools saw nearly $5,000 raises as a result of the added time.

In districts with less fiscal flexibility, figuring out how to balance teacher and student time has been more of a challenge.

In Philadelphia, School Reform Commissioner Bill Green is advocating for a longer school day in the district’s next teacher contract. “It’s fairly simple,” he said. “All of the research indicates that longer school days or years have a positive impact on the achievement of urban students.”

Green is also arguing that state law requires Philadelphia to increase instructional time by nearly half an hour a day — an interpretation of the law that the teachers union is contesting. But he has said the cash-strapped district cannot pay teachers any more.

“To expect that the district is going to be able to attract and retain teachers as long as they totally disrespect them as professionals is unconscionable,” Philadelphia teachers union president Jerry Jordan said earlier this year, reacting to Green’s longer-day push. “It’s not going to happen.”

Back in Chicago, where the 2012 contract resulted in the city’s first teachers union strike in 25 years, teachers hope a new contract will better balance time for students and time for teachers.

Time isn’t the biggest issue in ongoing negotiations, which appear likely to extend beyond the June 30 contract expiration. Instead, the city and teachers union are locked in conflict about how teachers should be evaluated and how likely layoffs will happen.

Still, Gunderson said she hopes an eventual contract adds resources so that teachers can work together to make the longer school day effective.

“Without the time we have together, I don’t have as much of a chance to connect with my fellow teachers in terms of mentoring,” she said. “Here I am with years of craft knowledge that I would love to be able to give to my fellow teachers, but I’m not afforded the time to anymore.”

This story was produced as a collaboration among all news organizations participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: CU-Boulder student groups could lose close to 75 percent of funding

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 09:53

Money woes

Student organizations at the University of Colorado Boulder may lose about 75 percent of their funding compared to last year's funds due to a new proposal. ( Daily Camera )

Chief fundraising officer at CU-Boulder leaves position after less than a year. ( Daily Camera )

Hunger pains

Summer food programs scarce for Garfield County students. ( Post Independent )

The great outdoors

Thanks to an environmental learning program, Jeffco students get hands-on in outdoor class. ( Denver Post )

On the job

Students with disabilities learn job skills through Summer Works Academy. ( 9News )

Game changer

Game-based learning gives students a chance to learn in a non-traditional way. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Game-based learning give students a challenge outside of textbooks

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 12:55

Aiden Alexander is stranded in the middle of nowhere and armed only with a few items, including a cinch sack and machete, after his car runs out of gas. The rain makes the situation more difficult — it’s a lot to handle for an eighth grader.

Luckily for Alexander, it’s just a game at a workshop meant to teach him how to think on his feet as a sticky situation changes.

Using games to teach students isn’t a new concept. But some hope this classroom technique can be revamped to focus on “21st century skills,” such as critical thinking and creativity, as Alexander learned about in his game.

Game-based learning might also soon make its most substantial debut in Colorado in the fall of 2016 as the basis of a new school in the Aurora Public Schools system.

Game-like learning is exactly what it sounds like: Teachers use games to teach. Engaging with hands-on activities allows students to learn both specific lesson and a broader concepts, like how to collaborate as a team or how to solve problems, simultaneously.

“Games are really good at helping players achieve a goal,” said Ilena Parker, senior communications manager for Institute of Play, a nonprofit organization that promotes using games to teach students. “They help you learn the skills you need to achieve that goal. They give you feedback on how you’re doing and they let you try again when you fail.”

Earlier this month, the institute held a workshop in Denver, where students and teachers could sample educational games. This was a joint event with William Smith High School and the Hive Denver learning community.

According to some research on game-based learning, students who use games to learn work harder voluntarily. Studies have also shown students who use games to learn will retain more factual knowledge and skill-based knowledge than their non-game playing peers.

While the games are fictional, the lessons are not, Parker said.

“Games are really awesome at developing 21st century skills, things like creativity, collaboration, communication, problem solving, critical thinking,” Parker said. “Teachers can kind of incorporate learning goals into a game and it makes it more engaging and more memorable for students.”

The Institute of Play, which also operates a school in New York City, is working with leaders at William Smith High School, an expeditionary learning school in Aurora, to give game-like learning a permanent home. If the district’s school board approves, The Studio School, as it’s being called, will open in the fall of 2016 and use game design and student input to shape curriculum.

“Educators spend so much time trying to develop ourselves and design curriculum, thinking about ‘what would be great for students to do? How do we want them to learn? Let’s create this amazing experience for students,'” said Jackson Westenskow, who is helping lead the push for The Studio School. “And the one group we never ask for help with that is the students.”

But introducing more games into classrooms does not come without its challenges. A 2014 survey of teachers found that finding money to pay for the game materials and technology, identifying games that fit with instruction, and creating professional development programs so teachers are trained to use games effectively in classrooms, are potential barriers.

Back at the institute’s summer workshop, Alexander said he wouldn’t mind learning this way regularly. While the game was mentally tough, he enjoyed the challenge.

“I liked the freedom it had. It helps with critical thinking because I had to think of a way to go along with the situation,” said Alexander, who attends Excel Academy in Denver. “I would love to play this in school.”

Categories: Urban School News

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