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Updated: 13 min 38 sec ago

Famous people of influence have been saying it for centuries: physical education is key

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 15:00

Colorado parents need to take a more active role in these so called education reforms occurring in our schools. Last November, Colorado failed to pass Amendment 66, which was supposed to put nearly a billion dollars directly into our classrooms, bypassing the school administrators. Supporters even provided commercials stating we could bring “gym class” back for a mere $133 a year per household!

Quality “physical education” is a valuable content area which educates our children on the concepts required to live an active and healthy lifestyle. This is Colorado! Go outside and go for a walk! Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” President Thomas Jefferson said, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”

In 2004, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation found that 92 percent of parents consider P.E. and health as important as English, math and science. Although core content areas are expected to provide evidence of student growth, due to local control issues or values, Colorado does not assess nor evaluate physical education programs. Many school administrators expect physical education teachers to demonstrate growth in math and literacy rather than physical education content.

President Harry S. Truman said, “We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation.” According to the CDC and Health Policy Solutions, Colorado’s childhood obesity rates have increased by the second fastest rate at 23 percent in three years. One could assume this is due to Colorado having one of the least funded education systems in the country and the influx of education reforms, which focus on the “core” content areas in order to achieve higher scores on state assessments.

President John F. Kennedy stated, “Intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong.” Colorado is one of only two states in the country that does not require any physical education from kindergarten to 12th grade. High school graduation requirements in Colorado vary from ZERO to three credits, with the average being one and a half credits.

Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” What type of physical education program did you have in high school? There are basically two types of a secondary physical education program in our schools: “new school” and “old school.”

“New school” physical education programs are standards-based and include lifetime fitness and active and healthy lifestyle. These programs include a large variety of mainly individual fitness/sport type activities, where students benefit from the knowledge and concepts to participate for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, there are very few “new school” physical education programs in Colorado that offer a comprehensive variety of activities due to funding and lack of priority.

“Old school” physical education programs include very large class sizes that include: roll out the ball (weight), athletic centric, power lifting, and represent what many adults had when they were growing up. Team sport skill development is the featured goal of an “old school” program. But how much do baby-boomers bench press these days? When less than three percent of high school athletes continue to play their sport after they graduate, and only three in ten thousand high school boys’ basketball players actually get drafted to play professionally, why are team sports still the focus of many of the secondary physical education programs across the country? In short, these “gym” classes with fifty to seventy students in them are easier to manage. All a student has to do is show up appropriately dressed and simply participate without causing problems.

President Thomas Jefferson said, “Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” One of the most alarming trends occurring around the nation is the practice of waiving or exempting students from physical education because they are in some other EXTRA curricular activity; they do not take into account the actual content being taught or the physical and mental benefits provided through brain research in a quality physical education class. Don’t get me wrong, extracurricular activities are very important and teach some important concepts that assist with the education of the whole child, but they are extra. Colorado also allows for extracurricular coaches to be hired without any kind of teaching certification. They may have gained their experience playing the particular sport they are hired to coach but are not provided with the professional development required for quality physical education.

Physical education was created in order to develop our young men for military service. President John F. Kennedy said, “A country is as strong as its citizens, and I think mental and physical health, mental and physical vigor go hand in hand.” It was President Kennedy that renamed the President’s Council for Physical Fitness to include ALL Americans. Currently, 75 percent of high school students that would like to enter a career in a service profession do not qualify physically and military and policy academies are forced to reduce the physical requirements because of this.

As far back as 300 BC, Herophilis said, “When health is absent, Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be executed, Wealth is useless, and Reason is powerless.” Colorado’s school children are in school for seven hours a day; with all this knowledge and the resources available, shouldn’t our schools assist students by teaching them how to live a healthy lifestyle?

Parents: if you would like for your children to develop healthy lifestyle habits, you should ask the important questions around how these habits are being developed in their school. If more parents would ask the important questions concerning their priorities for their children, then our local control school administrators, school boards and legislators would have to focus on improving the system towards educating the whole child.

Categories: Urban School News

Cyberbullying advances, student data privacy stalls, board executive session bill dies on hectic day

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 21:35

The 2014 student data privacy bill was delayed, a cyberbullying measure advanced and a contentious bill on school board executive sessions was killed Wednesday as both houses and three separate committees worked through a big stack of education bills.

It was one of the longest daily calendars of education bills so far this session. Also advanced were a bill that would allow Colorado State University Global Campus to expand its reach, and the measure that would give the state’s district and school rating system more flexibility to handle the “data gap” that will occur after Colorado launches new tests in 2015.

That measure, House Bill 14-1182, sailed out of the House March 3 on a 59-0 bipartisan vote. But all three Republicans on the Senate Education Committee voted against it on Wednesday, indicating that the bill may get more debate in the Senate.

Here’s a look at the day’s developments in education.

Data privacy bill held over until next week

Common Core Standards, state testing and student data privacy have emerged as hot issues this year. A bill to delay standards implementation has been killed, and it looks like the only action on testing may be creation of a task force to study the issue.

A data security proposal, House 14-1294, had its first hearing Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, the bill would impose eight data security requirements on the Department of Education – all things the department says it’s doing already. The bill wouldn’t impose any new requirements on school districts and only would require CDE to create a “data security template” that districts could use.

Several witnesses argued that the bill doesn’t go far enough and urged addition of requirements for districts.

“The focus should be expanded to the local district and student level,” testified Paula Noonan, a former Jefferson County school board member. Other witnesses included several Jeffco parents who were active in the campaign against the inBloom data system that Jeffco was using but since has junked.

“The technology has simply gotten ahead of the leadership of our state and our schools,” Flynn said. “This has caused parents to lose trust in the public education system.”

Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, noted that the bill can’t be expanded to cover local districts because its formal title, which restricts what can be included in the bill, is limited to data administered by CDE.

Murray said she was sympathetic to what the witnesses said but that felt data security requirements for districts need “a much bigger and longer discussion” than is possible this year. “At some point we need a mandate,” she said.

She and other committee members do have some amendments for the bill, but the committee didn’t get to those because the hearing ran past the lunch hour, and another panel had the meeting room reserved starting at 1:30 p.m.

Hamner laid the bill over for amendments and a vote at the committee’s meeting next Monday.

Read a legislative staff summary of the bill here, and the full text here.

Cyberbullying bill passes – with complaints

The House gave 54-10 final approval to House Bill 14-1131, the measure that would make cyberbullying a separate misdemeanor in state law.

The bill prompted emotional testimony during House Education Committee consideration and was the focus of a partisan fight during preliminary floor debate last Monday.

The measure sets a two-tier penalty system. Cyberbullying would be a class 2 misdemeanor, but the crime would be a more serious class 1 offense if bullying took place because of “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

A class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by 6-18 months in the jail and/or a $500-$5,000 fine while a class 2 misdemeanor can get 3-12 months in the jail and/or a $250-$1,000 fine.

On Monday Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, proposed an amendment making all cyber bullying a class 1 offense. He lost that fight, voted for the bill Wednesday but said he still doesn’t like the two-tier language.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, also voted yes but complained, “this bill does not provide equal protection of all children.”

Both said they hope Senate colleagues will try to amend the bill. The final vote was 54 in favor and 10 other Republicans voting no.

Read the bill here.

School board executive sessions bill killed — for now

House Bill 14-1110 has emerged in recent weeks as one of 2014’s more controversial education measures.

The bill would have imposed new requirements for recording of school board executive sessions and required boards to keep logs generally describing issues discussed behind closed doors and how much time was spent on each subject.

The bill was prompted partly by the extensive use of executive sessions by the Douglas County board and the suspicion by board critics that members were using closed meetings to discussion policy issues that aren’t supposed to be discussed in private.

But the legislative debate focused on the broader issue of whether the bill would compromise the long-standing legal doctrine of attorney-client confidentiality.

The bill survived such criticism in the House and passed 34-31.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on the bill March 3 and was supposed to vote Wednesday. Sponsor Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, cut the session short by asking the committee to kill the bill, which the panel did.

Hodge explained after the meeting that she didn’t have enough votes on the floor to pass the bill but might try a new version later this session – if she can come up with language to assuage opponents. Asked about the opposition, she said, “Those darn lawyers,” and smiled.

Republicans have questions about accreditation “data gap” bill

One of 2014’s more important – if technical – measures is House Bill 14-1182. The proposal, developed by the Department of Education, proposes that district and school accreditation ratings issued next fall, which will be based on 2013-14 test results, apply to both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The department feels the bill is necessary because results from the new 2015 CMAS tests won’t be available in time for the department to calculate ratings in the fall of 2015 and because student growth data, which requires more than a year of test results, also won’t be available. (Get more details in this story.)

The bill would allow districts that feel their ratings should be changed in 2015 to appeal to CDE and provide additional data. The bill also would give the State Board of Education additional flexibility in choosing intervention measures for schools that reach the end of the five-year “accountability clock.” (The board already has such flexibility for low-performing districts.)

The flexibility measures would be in effect for only a year.

Unlike their House colleagues, GOP members of the Senate Education Committee had questions during Wednesday’s hearing, and all voted no. Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley suspects such flexibility might be needed for more than a year. Sen. Mark Scheffel of Parker was worried the bill gives the State Board too much power. Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins explained – at length – that she opposes the bill because it’s part of the whole standards-testing-reform education system that she’s against in general.

So the 4-3 committee vote indicates the bill may see more floor debate in the Senate than it did in the House.

Expansion of CSU Global gets committee approval

Witnesses supporting Senate Bill 14-114 gave an encore performance of testimony presented in the Senate, and the House Education Committee responded by passing the measure 11-1 on Wednesday.

The measure would give Colorado State University Global Campus authority to enroll freshman and sophomore-level students in its online-only programs. The bill is a carefully crafted compromise with the community college system, which feared expansion of Global would poach its own online and campus students.

So the bill has several restrictions, including one that prevents Global from enrolling Colorado freshmen students younger than age 23.

Murray thought Global should be given free rein and proposed an amendment to eliminate the age restriction. That would have unraveled the compromise that has kept the community colleges neutral on the bill and unleashed a lobbying firefight.

The committee apparently wanted to avoid that, and the amendment failed 2-10.

Five other mostly technical education bills were on Wednesday’s calendars. Check the Education Bill Tracker for what happened to them.

Categories: Urban School News

State board hints at different paths forward for two very different struggling districts

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 17:21

The two low-performing districts that presented their improvement efforts to the State Board of Education on Wednesday offered a study in contrast: Adams 50 is a Denver metro-area district serving nearly 10,000 students. Vilas RE-5, a rural district in the southeastern part of the state, serves fewer than 140 students, half of whom attend school online.

The differences between the two school districts, both of which face a looming deadline to dramatically improve their student outcomes or face state intervention, are forcing state officials to grapple with how they will tailor turnaround efforts to meet divergent district needs.

Wednesday’s state board meeting was an opportunity for  officials to hear directly from districts about their efforts to improve before the state’s so-called “accountability clock” runs out. Officials hope the talks will inform state board members’ thinking when they make decision about accreditation and potential interventions when districts’ time runs out.

Vilas, whose students are divided roughly evenly between a K-8 online school and a K-12 brick and mortar campus, could face a state decision regarding its accreditation as soon as next fall. Westminster, which adopted a district-wide competency-based learning program, has an additional year to show considerable progress.

During Westminster’s presentation, nearly a dozen district and school officials clustered around the table separating them from board members to present their case. They showed the progress the district has made, showing that none of the district’s schools are ranked in the state’s lowest tier, down from seven of the district’s 18 schools that received the ranking four years ago.

Westminster leaders also pointed out their efforts to improve early childhood education access and overhaul data systems that state and district officials said were lacking.

Board members praised those efforts and several, including Debora Scheffel, appeared sympathetic to Westminster officials’ point that their efforts were showing success that state accountability systems could not capture.

“How can CDE support your efforts?” Scheffel asked.

“Cut back on tests and stick to one model” was the refrain from Westminster officials.

Both district presentations are available here, along with additional documents provided by CDE.

What to do about the online school?

When state board members returned to their seats following a short recess, they faced a very different group of district officials, including Vilas’ superintendent Joe Shields and the district’s two other administrators who lead the online and brick and mortar campuses.

Robert Hammond, the state commissioner of education, set the tone for much of the discussion around Vilas’ future as he introduced the district to the board.

“One of the biggest challenges for Vilas is the online school,” Hammond said. “If the online school was not part of district, it would probably jump out of improvement.”

Last year, the district, with the help of the state, shut down its online high school and helped its students, few of whom came from the area, transition to other schools.

Vilas’ new online coordinator also highlighted other efforts to overhaul the online program for elementary and middle school, including hiring an interventionist for struggling students and overhauling the reading curriculum.

“Sometimes you have to slow down and go back to grow,” said Carrie Veatch, who joined the district last fall. “I wish we were in year one because now we are getting somewhere.”

Before, Veatch said, the approach was “if they had a pulse, [we would say,] ‘come on and enroll.’” Now the district screens students to make sure they are a good fit.

Veatch has also introduced more structure to classes, including requiring students to turn in homework on a deadline rather than by the end of the quarter. Struggling students are required to participate in weekly intervention classes, a change which has driven some families from the district.

“Some families have said, ‘we came to online because of the flexibility,’” said Veatch. She hopes families will adjust to the added structure. “This will become part of the status quo.”

Veatch said the district was seeing positive trends, including rising student achievement, higher grades and more participation.

“We’re doing things right,” she said.

But questions lingered about the viability of the Vilas online program. State board member Elaine Berman raised the possibility of closing the district’s K-8 online school.

“I am going to be very optimistic that online students are going to do better,” said Berman. “But if they don’t, are you prepared to have the online school separate from the brick and mortar school?”

Shields said they would make that decision based on this spring’s test results.

“We don’t want to do it if we don’t have to,” he told Chalkbeat in an interview following the board meeting. He plans to look at end-of-year internal testing data and make a recommendation to the school board in May.

But the final decision will be made in August when TCAP scores are released.

The challenges of rural turnarounds

Vilas’ presentation also raised questions about what the possibilities are for rural turnaround efforts. Board members probed the inner workings of small rural districts, asking about Vilas’ financial viability and how staff copes with state reforms.

“I’m always curious how small districts manage to make it financially,” said Berman. She and others commented on the burden of systems like educator evaluations on small districts.

Board member Angelika Schroeder asked Vilas officials about their work with the local BOCES, which are collaborative regional systems that provide services to many rural districts.

“What kind of work are you doing together?” Schroeder asked.

Shields said they worked with the BOCES and nearby districts more than in the past.

“There used to be a great deal of animosity,” Shields said.

While rivalry between districts has prevented collaboration through the BOCES system in the past, they are becoming a tool for many rural districts to adapt to state standards.

State board members praised the district for its efforts and discussed the difficulty of overhauling rural districts.

“In other states, if a district falls below 500 [students], they close them down or force consolidation,” said board member Marcia Neal. “You can’t do that in rural Colorado.”

She said distances were too great and in many areas, “the rural school is a driving economic factor in community.”

Categories: Urban School News

Bill could liven up higher ed discussions

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 23:10

This year was supposed to be a legislative session of sweetness, light and more money for Colorado’s colleges and universities.

Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a $100 million increase for higher ed, both for institutions and financial aid, a significantly higher percentage increase than he suggested for K-12. (Total state dollar spending on school districts, of course, dwarfs higher ed budgets.)

Democratic lawmakers liked the idea so much they plucked it out of the governor’s budget and put it in its own bill, Senate Bill 14-001. That measure also includes a 6 percent cap on tuition increases in 2014-15.

A key part of the proposal is that all colleges will receive an 11 percent increase based on the current formula for distributing money to institutions. That formula is a combination of various old factors. Policymakers have been reluctant to tinker with that formula, which tends to disadvantage faster growing institutions, for fear of reigniting old intercollegiate battles over money.

While colleges are likely to get their money next year, those old feuds could be stirred by a bill being floated by House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. The speaker, a genuine budget wonk, is serving his last term.

A draft of that bill was circulated to colleges on Monday evening, and it could stir old disagreements about funding shares.

State aid comes to colleges and universities in two forms. One is called the College Opportunity Fund (COF), and it’s supposed to represent stipends paid to resident undergraduate students to reduce college costs. The second is called fees for service, and it’s supposed to represent money the state pays to institutions for such “services” as graduate education, providing remote areas of the state and enrolling underserved students.

In practice, the dual system is primarily a way for the state to avoid having to count tuition payments as revenue that would be subject to limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Ferrandino’s proposal would more tightly define fees for service, and weight those payments based on such factors as institution size, research activity, graduate education, retention of students and degree completion. And it would set higher COF stipends for lower-income students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

There’s a lot of other complicated math in the bill, which wouldn’t go into effect until 2015-16, if it’s introduced and passed.

There isn’t much reaction yet to the bill draft. State colleges and universities, ever vigilant about protecting their financial interests, employ squads of analysts and lobbyists to scrutinize proposals like this, and you can be certain those folks are doing just that. A period of negotiation over the bill’s provisions is the likely next step.

The higher education system, which doesn’t have the same constitutional cushions as K-12, has been hit with two periods of significant budget cuts since 2000. But colleges, unlike public schools, can charge tuition, and those rates have steadily risen in recent years as institutions have tried to stay afloat. Tuition now provides roughly 75 percent of revenues.

Read the draft bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

State board chair drops a little PARCC surprise

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 21:39

Paul Lundeen, chair of the State Board of Education, informed his colleagues Tuesday that he plans to ask them to vote next month on a resolution calling on the legislature to repeal a 2012 law that required Colorado to sign up with a multistate testing group.

Lundeen’s surprise (at least to some board members) came at the end of a daylong meeting, “I respectfully call for action by the General Assembly and the governor during this legislative session,” he said. “It is time to demand action from the General Assembly to repeal the statute” that led to Colorado committing to use of language arts and math tests being prepared by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

He said he’d ask the board to consider such a resolution during its April 9-10 meeting.

Lundeen made the announcement near the end of a 10-minute speech in which he criticized the Common Core Standards (“Colorado must remain true to its independent standards”) as “an increasing burden of standardized assessments.”

The 2012 “PARCC law” (only 14 lines of text in an education laws cleanup bill) was controversial then because lawmakers – led by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver – basically forced the board to join the multistate testing group. Earlier that session lawmakers rejected the board’s request for $26 million to develop new Colorado-only tests.

Testing and the Common Core have become even more controversial since then.

The effect of a board resolution – if Lundeen gets one passed – might be minimal. The board historically doesn’t have a lot of sway with lawmakers, particularly when the board is divided, as it would be on this issue. Johnston would be expected to oppose any change in the state testing system. And lawmakers likely would be reluctant to take up such a controversial issue with less than a month to go in the session. (They have to adjourn by May 7.)

Lundeen, a Republican, is likely a short-timer on the board. He’s a candidate for the state House from a safely GOP seat in El Paso County and has been endorsed by the incumbent.

Testing also came in for criticism at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, when Keith King, a Republican former legislator from Colorado Springs, appeared before the board to complain about testing – “there are just really too many mandated tests” – and warn that new standardized tests are threatening the autonomy of charter schools. King, an influential figure on education issues while in the legislature, operates an early college charter.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the board’s public comment session was taken up by the usual assortment of citizen witnesses complaining about or praising the Common Core. (This has become a fixture at board meetings since last summer.)

Sonja Semion, who heads Stand for Children Colorado, brought along a unique visual aid to show that group’s support for the standards – a printout containing more than 7,000 signatures from citizens who signed a Stand online petition supporting the standards.

PHOTO: Chalkbeat ColoradoPetition submitted to State Board of Education by Stand for Children.
Categories: Urban School News

Community input, teacher voice drive overhaul at a struggling elementary school

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 20:36

When district officials threatened to replace the entire staff of Ashley Elementary, Donna Simms went with other parents to the school board to protest.

“The way they came in and said, ‘this is what’s happening and this is what’s going on’” angered parents, said Simms.

But unlike some situations in which the district moved ahead on its plans without community consensus, in this case the district backed down. They replaced the principal but agreed to work with the current staff and teachers to come up with a plan for the school’s principal.

That decision, Simms said, helped save the school, which has over 95 percent of students below the poverty line and has struggled with low performance for years.

“Had we not spoken up, I think a lot of the families that have been with the school for years and years would have left,” said Simms. “We agreed as a community to stay for this year to see what’s happening and see if what they said was going to happen really did happen.”

The result is a plan that would give the school what is known as a innovation status, meaning it is freed from a number of district mandates. The plan, which observers say is unusual in the amount of community input that shaped it, includes cutting class sizes, incorporating technology and adding time for non-core subjects.

It received the go-ahead from the state board Tuesday morning and has garnered praise even from critics of Denver’s innovation schools process.

The full plan, clocking in at over 160 pages, is available here.

Innovation schools

Denver’s innovation schools have proved to be controversial, with critics saying that the plans schools submit often lack rigor or specificity and often fail to produce results. But Ashley’s plan has garnered praise even from those critics.

“Their’s was the only proposal that seem to have buy-in and be substantive in some way,” said Van Schoales, who heads education advocacy group A+ Denver. “A lot of these proposals are superficial. You can tell they’re going through the motions, that they haven’t had conversations with their staff about how they want the school to get better.”

A recent report produced by A+ Denver, CU-Denver and local unions showed that innovation schools produce mixed results, often failing to outperform similar traditional schools and falling below state averages.

Schoales says that’s because of the relative lack of scrutiny in the innovation schools process.

“Almost everyone gets innovation status,” said Van Schoales. In fact, a 2013 lawsuit alleged that Denver’s school board inappropriately approved innovation plans for two new schools, which were not allowed for under the 2008 innovation schools law.

Innovation schools should be required to submit a comprehensive vision for their school, says Schoales.

“If the proposal was a disaster, then [the school's] probably going to be a disaster,” he said.

How to have a conversation

District officials, school leaders and community members agree that the decision to have the school community lead the transformation is part of the reason for how strong Ashley’s plan is.

“That was a brilliant idea,” said Jennifer Keel, Ashley’s parent liaison who has been with the school for 30 years. “We were able to take our strengths from the past and bridge them into our goals and our aspirations for the future.”

It’s an example of a successful outreach strategy in a district that in other cases has been accused of alienating parents, teachers and community members.

At Ashley, parents and teachers were initially suspicious of the process, believing the district would go ahead with predetermined plans. But the principal’s openness to their ideas brought them around.

“I was one of those that was very, very, very hesitant,” said Simms. She participated in the principal selection process and in the subsequent school design.

For one, the candidate the district selected, current principal Zachary Rahn, raised red flags for Simms.

“We had a feeling that because he came through the DPS system and the DPS training, we were going to get cut under the table,” said Simms. Rahn arrived in the district as a Teach for America teacher and went through a district principal training program last year.

Instead, she said, “he’s been receptive to the input of the staff and the community. He has been upholding what he said he would do and what we wanted to see in the building.”

Innovation status as an afterthought

Paradoxically, the strength of the plan may come from the fact that it was an afterthought, rather than the end goal of the process.

Starting at the end of last spring, the district convened a committee including Rahn, the school’s teachers and a group of parents to begin discussions about what the school should look like.

“The question that we opened it with was, ‘what does your dream school look like?’” said Rahn. “Innovation was never a thought until after.”

Instead, becoming an innovation school was a tool for doing what the community wanted.

“If this is what we want to do, [innovation] is the way to do it,” said Rahn.

The committee also had plenty of time to complete their work, a component district officials say was crucial to having a successful process.

“They started last winter and didn’t finish until September and October,” said Joe Amundsen, a senior manager of innovation schools for the district. He worked with the committee on the school’s design. “Our hope that is schools do go through the similar process of starting in the spring and working over the summer and putting together the plan in the fall.”

He said two other schools going through a similar process, Isabella Bird Community School and the Oakland elementary campus, are on a similar timeline.

Let’s try that again

For many schools, improving means replacing the entire staff and starting at zero. That’s what happened last time Ashley faced an overhaul, in the 1990s.

Keel, who was at the school at the time, said that the staff was called to an emergency meeting and told they would have to reapply. At the time, she thought it was hard on the school but the intense conversations of the past year have made her wonder if that approach was simpler.

“Going through it twice makes me see how important it is to start all over,” said Keel.

With Ashley’s less drastic approach, both Keel and Rahn say they expect the outcome will be the same, with large-scale turnover of the teaching staff. But the timeline will be more gradual, giving people time adjust to the new way of doing things.

“Change is hard for adults,” Rahn said.

The slower process means many teachers have decided for themselves that the school’s new direction won’t work for them, rather than being fired or pushed out.

“There’s a chunk of people who voted for the plan who think it’s right for the school but for themselves it wasn’t right,” said Rahn.

Rahn says the key was to balance making big picture changes with easing community fears.

“Turnaround fails because change is incremental” said Rahn, a message he drove home for teachers starting at the first committee meeting. On the other hand, he understands why school closings and mass firings can be hard on school communities.

For him, it’s still an open question of whether this approach will work.

“Will we get the same results without getting blown up?” said Rahn, but he’s hopeful. “We’re bound to prove the stats wrong.”

Categories: Urban School News

State board denies Sheridan Schools’ accreditation appeal

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 18:50

A struggling school district’s quest to become the first to successfully appeal its low state accountability rating ended today when the State Board of Education voted 6-1 to deny their request.

Despite evidence of a continued effort to improve academic performance of its students, members of the board said the statewide consequences would be too great if they agreed to lift Sheridan Schools’ accreditation rating.

Sheridan officials argued a bump in accreditation would more accurately capture the fruits of the intense turnaround efforts schools have undergone including lowering its dropout rate from 5 percent to 0.9 percent.

Officials from the Colorado Department of Education countered: If the board approved Sheridan’s appeal it would put the state’s accountability framework and processes of collecting and analyzing data into question.

The board agreed with the department.

“It’s clear you’re on the right track … In concept, I’m in support of you,” the board’s chairman, Paul Lundeen, told Sheridan officials. “But, in practicality, I can’t.”

State officials argued in order to bump Sheridan’s rating, the department would have had to allow the district to resubmit graduation rates after a statewide deadline for all schools. Allowing Sheridan to amend its data as it’s convenient to the district would create a precedent that would throw off careful timelines and procedures.

More importantly, state officials argued it would allow districts to retroactively manipulate their data if they weren’t happy with their school accountability rating.

“Sheridan is asking for CDE to create a unique framework that fits their needs,” said Keith Owen, the department’s deputy commissioner. “The state board has responsibility to safeguard the accountability measure.”

Debora Scheffel was the lone dissenting board member. She said she believes the district is supporting its students to the best of its ability.

“I feel [Sheridan] is doing a great job serving a very needy population,” Scheffel said. “The fact they could remove a service and increase their accreditation means they’re trying to serve their students.”

The crux of Sheridan’s argument was that it has more than a dozen students enrolled for a fifth, sixth or seventh year of high school who are concurrently enrolled at both its high school and Arapahoe Community College. Those students have met the qualifications for a standard diploma, but they are seeking an advanced “21st Century Diploma” that requires college courses.

Sheridan officials believes the state should not only track graduation rates, but should acknowledge the “success rate” of Sheridan students who are now taking college courses in pursuit of an advanced degree.

Districts, not the state, set the parameters for graduation requirements. It is also the local board of education and superintendent who certify those numbers to the state. Those numbers are then factored into the school’s annual rating. It is Sheridan’s policies, not the state’s, that have determined the district’s rating, department officials said.

The state board, at times, had trouble following the numbers and logic from both Sheridan and department officials. Questions during the two hour hearing ranged from exactly how many students Sheridan has concurrently enrolled — those numbers ranged from 19 to 24 — to the intricacies of school finance law.

“This is a case of ‘is or is-you-aint,’” said board member Angelika Schroeder. “And I think you’re saying they’re both.”

Sheridan Schools serves about 1,500 students, most of whom qualify for free- or reduced-lunch. The district earned a “priority improvement” ranking from the state’s department of education. The district believes it should be rated as an “improvement” district.

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. But Sheridan Schools is one of 11 districts entering either year four or five of the accountability timeline. Sheridan will enter year four of the clock in July when state accreditation ratings take effect.

Sheridan Superintendent Michael Clough said while he’s disappointed, he understands the board’s decision.

“I guess that’s what happens when you have 178 districts — and not just one — to worry about,” Clough said after the hearing.

Sheridan’s failed appeal was the second of its kind. Mapleton Public Schools unsuccessfully pleaded with the state board to raise its accreditation rating last year.

Categories: Urban School News

District leaders ask for trust amid elementary principal change

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 13:32

Officials from Denver Public Schools asked parents and teachers at a North City Park elementary school to trust them as they introduced the campus’ new principal Monday night.

Jason Krause, described by the district as a “proven school leader,” will become Columbine Elementary School’s fifth principal in seven years when he takes over in the fall.

Columbine is one of the district’s lowest performing elementary schools. Parents pointed to the lack of consistency in the principal’s office as a fundamental reason the school is struggling.

“I don’t want to be the guinea pig school anymore,” said Melissa Skrbic-Huss, Columbine’s PTA president. “I don’t know if I can trust you guys.”

District officials said they’ve heard the community’s concern and have a longterm commitment from Krause.

“Our goal now is to create a stable community with your help,” said Erin McMahon, a DPS instructional superintendent. “I’m OK if you don’t believe us right now. But let’s give it some time and figure [Columbine's future] out together.”

Krause will replace Beth Yates, who is currently leading Columbine for her second year. Some parents and teachers were shocked to learn of the district’s decision to swap leaders — again. Despite inheriting a school in free-fall, Yates has rallied her staff and the school was showing progress in both its culture and test scores, they said.

District officials agreed and acknowledged Yate’s successes Monday night. But those changes weren’t happening fast enough, Ivan Duran, assistant superintendent for elementary education, told Monday’s crowd of about three dozen.

“We really can’t experiment anymore,” Duran said, introducing Krause, who in three years as principal at Smith Renaissance Elementary School saw double-digit gains in proficiency scores. Smith’s enrollment, which determines a school’s budget, is also up, Duran said. (The district will launch a full principal search, including community input, to replace Krause at Smith.)

At Columbine, the district is trying to combat declining enrollment, Duran said. Moreover, the leadership change was also a requirement for the school to receive a school improvement grant from the state.

For Krause, who began his teaching career at Columbine, it was a bit of a homecoming. A college philosophy major, who speaks Spanish, he joined the school through an alternative teacher-licensing program in the late 1990s.

Krause was also among the last generation of DPS students who were bused under a court mandate to integrate the urban schools. He said, in retrospect, the experience was the foundation of his yearning to be in the classroom.

“It made me value diversity,” he said.

Krause said he hopes to be a part of the Columbine community for years to come.

“I am not the kind of person who wants to put a band-aid on the school and leave,” he said. “It’s really special to be back.”

As part of the transition, the district will form a steering committee at Columbine made up of teachers, parents and community members. There will be a two and a half day “vision” retreat at the end of May. Additionally, Krause and district officials will survey families living inside of Columbine’s attendance boundaries but have decided to send their children to other schools.

Fourth grade teacher Blake Hammond said he hopes the school will develop a culture of grit and celebrate thinking outside the box.

“Let’s do something exciting,” he said.

One parent, who said three generations of her family have attended Columbine, said she hopes the school can be returned to its glory days when more than 500 students filled the halls. Next year’s enrollment is projected at 172 students.

Other requests from parents included art and music classes.

One parent who said his family was committed to the northeast Denver neighborhood wondered aloud if DPS was as well.

“The concern of a lot of parents — what we talk about on the weekends — is not just Columbine,” Jonathan Hammond said. “It’s Columbine, Barrett [Elementary School], Manual [High School].  We want to know DPS’s plan for northeast Denver. … The schools are dismal. Our hope, our dream is beyond Columbine, a quality middle school and high school. We want to make sure all of the northeast Denver schools do well — that our schools are not just the armpit of DPS.”

Instructional superintendent McMahon said DPS shared his concern.

“Our longterm goal is to see kids through college,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: A revolution is brewing

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 12:52
Categories: Urban School News

Bill would give charters a say in override elections

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 21:16

A bill introduced Monday would give charter schools a greater voice in planning of tax override ballot measures proposed by their districts.

House Bill 14-1314, which — significantly — has bipartisan sponsorship, would require school districts to include charters in the planning for ballot measures that propose raising taxes to meet operating expenses. In additional to a variety of other requirements, if a district decided not include a charter in a ballot proposal, it would have to provide reasons in writing to the charter. The bill also would authorize districts to propose ballot measures just for charter schools. (Read the bill text here.)

A law passed several years ago requires similar consultation with charters on district bond proposals.

There are other charter finance bills floating around this session, although they deal with charter facilities costs. (See the Education Bill Tracker for information on House Bill 14-1187 and Senate Bill 14-139.)

There’s also money for charter facilities in House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, the “big bill” that’s on hold pending release next week of updated state revenue forecasts. (See this story on all that details on that bill and this year’s school finance battle.)

In other developments Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave 5-0 approval to House Bill 14-1152, which would set deadlines for government agencies to erase video recordings taken by “passive” surveillance cameras. (Thinks of cameras mounted on ceilings that record video continuously, or cameras on parking lot light poles.)

The bill would apply to local governments, including school districts. But districts contacted by Chalkbeat Colorado – and the Colorado School Safety Resource Center – indicated the bill wouldn’t have much effect on schools.

That’s because cameras have limited data storage capacity, and new video is recorded over old video after a relatively short period of time. For instance, the Denver Public Schools keeps 30 days’ worth of video, and because of overwriting video generally isn’t kept more than 120 days, according to spokeswoman Kristy Armstrong. DPS has about 2,500 such cameras, she said.

Read the text of HB 14-1152, as amended by the House, here, and see the updated bill summary here.

Also Monday, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 14-112, which would give he legislature oversight over cash grants awarded by the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. The bill basically means that the General Assembly could set a ceiling on the amount of cash grants awarded annually. The measure, which now goes to Gov. John Hickenlooper, is one of several bills floating around this year that propose to tweak the BEST program.

Categories: Urban School News

School finance differences spark historic debate

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 19:27

The Capitol debate over school finance this year has reached a level of intensity not seen since 2010’s battle over teacher evaluations.

Facing off are school districts that want significant restoration of past budget cuts and lawmakers and education reform groups who are trying to save pieces of 2013’s comprehensive school finance overhaul. (That law isn’t in effect because voters rejected the tax increase needed to pay for it.)

Also looming over the debate is the tricky long-range financial question of whether putting more money into basic school funding this year will set the state up for budget problems in later years, and set school districts up for future cuts.

The battle is being fought over hard-to-read spreadsheets; an alphabet soup of acronyms like ADM, ELL and BEST and most of all over something called the “negative factor.”

At the eye of the storm is House Bill 14-1292, introduced late last month but in the works since last November after voters defeated Amendment 66. The bill went through lots of versions before it was introduced, and backers made significant concessions to critics before the 113-page measure surfaced officially.

But opposition to the bill and heavy pressure to amend it remain strong, and those voices were in full cry during a 6 ½-hour House Education Committee hearing March 3 (see story).

Dillon Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, chair of the panel and a prime sponsor of HB 14-1292, had announced ahead of time that the committee wouldn’t consider amendments nor vote on the bill at the meeting.

“We will do our very best to respond to what we heard tonight,” she said at the hearing’s close.

With most everyone’s views now on the public record, discussions about HB 14-1292 have returned to a long series of private meetings between lobbyists, interest group leaders and sponsors in an effort to find additional common ground before House Education again takes up the bill. Most observers expect that won’t happen until after March 18, when updated state revenue forecasts are issued.

What’s driving the arguments

Why has the school finance debate reached this level of intensity?

The causes lie in the interplay of major education bills passed and K-12 budget cuts imposed over the past six years. Here’s a review:

Reform measures: The 2008 legislature passed the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which required new content standards, new tests, greater coordination between K-12 and higher education and other reforms. That was followed in 2009 by a new accountability and rating system for schools and districts, the educator effectiveness and evaluation law in 2010 and the READ Act, the early literacy program, in 2012.

Because most of the laws had long rollout timelines, most of them really only hit schools this school year, creating a stiff implementation challenge for many districts, particularly because most of the new programs didn’t come with extra state funding.

Average per-pupil funding

  • High point – $7,078 in 2009-10
  • Low point – $6,474 in 2011-12
  • Current year – $6,652
  • Proposed 2014-15 – $6,839
  • Proposed + HB 14-1292 – $7,008

Budget cuts: The 2008 recession shrank state revenues significantly, forcing lawmakers to cut K-12 funding in order to balance annual budgets without excessive cuts to other programs. They accomplished that by using a narrower interpretation of school finance law that applies constitutionally required annual increases only to part of K-12 funding, not the entire amount. That’s what’s called the negative factor, which is applied after the theoretical total for K-12 funding is calculated, thereby reducing the amount to what lawmakers feel they can afford.

“What’s the negative factor? The state gives us money and then takes it away,” is how John McCleary puts it. He is the superintendent of the 69-student Liberty school district in the northeastern plains community of Joes.

Total program funding has declined from a high of $5.58 billion in 2009-10 and has returned to only $5.51 billion this year. Over the same period average per-pupil funding has dropped from $7,078 to $6,652. (The low point was $6,474 in 2011-12.) It’s estimated K-12 funding this year is about $1.1 billion below what it would have been if the negative factor hadn’t been used.

High hopes in 2013: The major education debate last year was over Senate Bill 13-213, an ambitious overhaul of school finance law drafted by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. (A key feature of that bill was a significant shift of funding from wealthier districts to those with the highest percentages of at-risk students. That idea isn’t on the table this year because of cost.) Many districts and interest groups weren’t wild about Johnston’s bill but joined the effort because of hopes voters would approve the accompanying $1 billion annual income tax increase. They didn’t, leaving SB 13-213 unimplemented and schools with no new state revenue.

Recovering revenues: State revenues started growing again a couple of years ago, and the legislature also has tucked surplus money into the State Education Fund (SEF), a dedicated account used to both supplement annual state school support and for special programs. The fund now contains more than $1 billion.

The bottom line is that school districts, squeezed by cuts and frustrated by the lack of new revenues, see rising state revenues and a big balance in the SEF as ways to start reducing the negative factor.

“There’s tremendous passion among the districts around the state,” Brett Ridgway, director of finance for the Falcon district, testified during the House Education hearing.

PHOTO: Boulder SchoolsBoulder Valley Supt. Bruce Messinger / File photo

“This touches every corner of the state,” Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger told a recent meeting of the Colorado School Finance Project, a research and advocacy group. “We aren’t going to allow this [the negative factor] to become the new normal.”

Messinger said that the effort has the support of every elected school board in the state. “If we don’t prevail it won’t be because we didn’t try,” Messinger said, calling on advocates of greater funding to “make people uncomfortable.”

Such feelings have forged unusual unanimity among mainline education lobbying groups and increased pressure on lawmakers from the squads of school board members, superintendents and teachers who’ve been descending on the Capitol weekly to buttonhole lawmakers on the issue.

“What’s remarkable is how superintendents in the state have come together to agree on some core principles,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

“I’ve never seen such uniformity of passion and interest,” notes Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

What they’re arguing about

The debate can be confusing, what with all the acronyms and the complicated math inherent in any school finance discussion. Here’s a look at the key elements of HB 14-1292 and the points of disagreement:

Do your homework

Negative factor and base funding: HB 14-1291 would trim the negative factor by $100 million. (Early discussions among sponsors didn’t include any negative factor reduction, and a pre-introduction draft of the measure proposed only $80 million, so lobbying has had some effect.) The Colorado Association of School Boards has called for elimination of the negative factor over five years (so, $200 million a year), and virtually all the state’s superintendents have signed a letter calling for a $275 million reduction this year (see story).

“We do appreciate how far that conversation has come in the last eight weeks,” Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of CASB told the education committee on March 3. “It doesn’t go far enough in our view.”

A really important – and really complicated – aspect of the discussion is the future impact of big reductions in the negative factor for 2014-15. Because such reductions would build base school funding, that would mean larger amounts of mandatory funding would be required in future years. (Amendment 23 in the state constitution requires base funding to increase annually by inflation and enrollment.)

Most of the growth in future K-12 spending would have to be borne by the state’s main General Fund, because budget experts assume the big balance in the SEF is a one-time phenomenon. Additional pressures also face the General Fund – other state programs like Medicaid and scheduled future transfers to transportation and even taxpayer refunds if future revenues hit certain trigger points.

Legislative leaders, budget experts in the Joint Budget Committee and the Hickenlooper administration are worried about those pressures – not to mention the next recession, whenever it hits. They fear too large a commitment to school funding would require – you guessed it – revival of the negative factor when times get tough.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver

“We don’t want to get into a place … where in two or three years we have to cut schools again,” House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, told reporters during a recent briefing.

He also called the superintendents’ $275 million request “not sustainable,” adding, “I hope when the fiscal realities set in we can come to agreement” on a reasonable reduction of the negative factor.

Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, sounded a similar note. Speaking of district leaders, she said, “It’s their job to push for more money for education.” She added, “I think they’re starting to understand” the implications of buying down the negative factor. “These dialogues are starting to go in the right direction.”

Reform implementation: The bill includes $40 million to be distributed to districts on a per-student basis to help cover the costs of rolling out new standards, tests and teacher evaluations. (SB 13-213 also included this feature – with a lot more money.) This year’s bill also would earmark $5 million in state school construction funds for technology grants to districts. (Distributed to every district, the one-time funding would amount to $47 per student.)

While districts have griped for years about lack of state financial help to pay for state-imposed programs, their desire this year is for more money with no strings.

“Continue to work on this bill to ensure that we have operating revenue that isn’t earmarked,” testified Kirk Banghart, superintendent of the Moffat district in the San Luis Valley. ”We need it without earmarks.”

English language learners: The bill proposes to use $35 million to upgrade the state’s programs for English learners, including extension of students’ eligibility to five years. Many Democrats and Republicans – and educators and advocacy groups – support this idea in concept. But, again, districts this year want money without strings. Some bill supporters argue the ELL money is a modest way to help some at-risk students. Leaders from districts with lots of at-risk students who aren’t English language learners aren’t impressed with that argument.

Early literacy: Another $20 million is in the bill to help districts pay cost for the READ Act, which requires individual literacy plans for K-3 students who lag in reading. (The READ Act was one of the few reform bills of recent years that had funding from the start, but costs have been greater than expected.)

Kindergarten construction: The state school construction fund is projected to receive $40 million in revenue from recreational marijuana taxes. HB 14-1292 proposes taking $30 million of that for kindergarten facilities construction, plus the $5 million for technology mentioned above and $5 million for charter school facilities. Supporters of the Building Excellent Schools Today program want the money for that program and argue the diversion may even be unconstitutional. This has become one of the more contentious parts of the bill.

Charter facilities: The bill also proposes a $13 million boost in the $7 million in annual funding charter schools now receive to help defray facilities costs. There’s agreement in many quarters that charters are squeezed on building costs, and this is a part of the bill strongly backed by legislative Republicans.

Enrollment and transparency: Two recycled proposals from SB 13-213 are sections of HB 14-1292 that propose converting the state’s one-day enrollment count system to what’s called average daily membership (which involves multiple counts) and creation of a state website that would provide school-level spending information. The total cost would be $15 million. Some legislative Republicans like these ideas, and they’re pet issues for some reform groups, who believe the current system doesn’t get funding to the students who need it most. District interests are pushing back hard on these two proposals, claiming they would impose more paperwork on districts and that the money would – again – be better used in reducing the negative factor.

(See this chart for more details on the cost of the bill’s elements.)

Undercurrents in the debate

While much of the rhetoric over HB 14-1292 is about adequate funding, there is a bit of tension about education reform in the debate.

Interestingly, that surfaced at the House Education hearing during an exchange between two Douglas County Republicans.

Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker was sympathetic to witnesses’ pleas for local flexibility, saying legislators “need to stop breaking what we can’t fix.”

That brought a quick retort from Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock, a leading GOP figure on education issues and a co-prime sponsor of HB 14-1292.

“I have to take exception, Rep. Holbert. There are many children that are failing in this state,” she said. Legislators and the state “definitely have a role. … I’m not ready to back off on those children who are being left behind.”

It’s not just about one bill Impacts of the negative factor The Colorado School Finance Project recently surveyed districts about how they would be affected by a $200 million buy down of the negative factor or by no change in the factor. Some 80 districts responded. Under the first scenario, some districts reported they could rehire teachers, unfreeze salaries, rely less on reserves and even buy buses and fix some buildings. Without a buy down, most districts predicted further cuts and continued use of reserves.Read the responses here.

It will take more than HB 14-1292 to set next year’s school funding.

The main state budget bill, not yet introduced, will carry the base funding for districts. A second measure, House Bill 14-1298, is a vehicle for additional funding. In its current form the most notable portions of that measure (also known as the school finance act) are:

  • A $17 million increase in spending on the Colorado Preschool Program, enough to fund an additional 5,000 students. Districts could use the money for that program or on kindergarten slots for at-risk students.
  • A declaration that the negative factor in 2015-16 has to be less than or equal to the level of the negative factor in 2014-15. (This is somewhat symbolic, given that the 2015 legislature can do what it wants with 2015-16 school spending.)
  • $2 million in additional funding for boards of cooperative educational services to assist districts with implementation of new laws and programs.

House Education is expected to consider HB 14-1298 at the same time it takes up the Student Success Act again.

What happens next

The two sets of revenue forecasts that will be issued by state economists on March 18 will be key for school finance (and the entire state budget) because they will give a more refined estimate of how much money lawmakers have to spend next year.

Ferrandino said, “It’s definitely possible” the negative factor buy down could be less than $100 million if the revenue estimates are down.

That will affect the negotiations over HB 14-1292 and how the bill may be amended in House Education.

The bill has wide – if perhaps superficial on the part of some members — support in the House, with 35 sponsors from both parties.

Some observers expect the bill could see significant changes in the Senate, whose members haven’t been as deeply involved in the discussions. So far the bill has only one Senate sponsor – Johnston.

Categories: Urban School News

An open letter to Manual stakeholders, the DPS Board of Education and DPS leaders

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 18:08

As a Manual High School alum and community member who has been deeply involved in Manual for years, I feel a sense of responsibility to share some insights based on past (and recent) experience as the community and district work to determine – yet again –  the future of Manual and its students.

While many may see this most recent round of problems at Manual as a déjà vu moment all over again, I know bold and right decisions can be made now that will chart a new course for the Manual community, one that will do right by the students today, and long into the future. After all, it is long past time that we finally get this right.

During the closing and reopening of Manual under Superintendent Michael Bennet, I had the privilege of working for Denver Public Schools as the liaison to Manual. We had high hopes about what the school could become, even in the wake and turmoil of the failure of the small schools initiative. Despite deep heartache and skepticism surrounding the closure, there was also a great deal of optimism about the future – because there was an abiding belief and obsessive optimism that Manual could be a great school.

There was progress for some years under Principal Rob Stein. However, after a  more recent round of failed strategy and leadership, many are shaking their heads and throwing up their hands, dubious as to whether anything can work, or searching for the next experiment to try, at Manual.

Neither route is right.

Because despite the failure of all the adults (including myself), the Manual community and students are capable and deserving, and resilient. And ready – and hungry – for success. We have already lost too much precious time – and failed far too many deserving students. We cannot wait any longer to get Manual right. This latest failure creates the chance for a fresh start. But this MUST be the last start.

In an effort to seed success and help inform the work of the Manual community, I offer a few insights:

  1. Select a proven leader OR a proven provider to run the school and give them autonomy to operate. The single most important decision for the future of Manual will be to either select an outstanding school leader who has a proven track record of successfully running a secondary school with a high free- and reduced- lunch population. Or it will be to select an excellent school provider with a proven track record of success working with a similar population. It should not matter one bit what the governance structure is – it could very well be a charter provider – so long as we keep the focus on the kids, versus the adults. A track record of success is key.
  2. TIME.  First, ensure there is enough time to properly select the right leader or school provider. Don’t rush into a hasty decision. By all accounts, it seems that Dr. Roy, the interim leader at Manual, is focused on student success. During his able and stable leadership, the district should take the time necessary to identify the appropriate long-term fit and vision that will enable permanent success. Second, once the new leader and/or provider has been identified, ensure that they have enough time to plan, hire, and execute on the vision. I was on the team who hired Dr. Rob Stein to guide Manual after its reopening; and one of our biggest mistakes prior to his hiring was not giving him (and his new team) enough lead planning time.
  3. A feeder program. As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results. Manual has been chronically failed by a lack of a feeder program. Manual should have either a strong middle school component in the new school or a high-quality guaranteed feeder. That was another lesson learned from the last re-opening of Manual; because we failed to incorporate it as a 6-12 school. Having more time with students when they are younger is key for academic success.
  4. The role of the district…  The role of the district and its relationship with the school needs to be crystal clear, and for too long, that relationship has been bipolar. We have vacillated between too little autonomy to too much autonomy, and that swinging pendulum has plagued past leaders. It is imperative – on the front end – to detail what specific resources, support, autonomies, to name a few, will be given when the new school leader takes over. And on the leadership and provider selection side, the district needs to work tirelessly (starting now) to court and identify truly capable individuals, teams, and organizations that can deliver on a quality school for this community. And, to rebuild trust and community-capital, the district needs to share weekly reports with the public in order to over-communicate their progress and clear processes for selecting and supporting the next leadership regime.  Accountability and transparency need to be the new norm.
  5. …And of a community board. If Manual becomes a charter school, there will be a governing board responsible for its success.   If Manual remains a district school (and it is possible that there could be more than one school housed in the facility), there will need to be a strong community board that can support the new leadership team and help advocate for the school and students. Like a charter board, it should focus on achievement, engagement, finances and ensuring the overall success of the school. Plus, this will help ensure continuity (should there be other leadership changes) and long term implementation of a vision.
  6. Move forward, not back. It is imperative to go forward, not back.  There were many great things about Manual when I, and so many in the city, attended. However, even then it was far from perfect. There was a staggering achievement gap (as was recently highlighted in Alan Gottlieb’s article about the history of the school) – similar to the one East High School has today. So, don’t let nostalgia guide any decision making. Let’s focus on the future, and what the community needs (and deserves) not just today, but tomorrow.  There are school leaders and providers with a track record of success committed to educating all students.  The students at Manual absolutely deserve that, and so much more.

The Manual Community Council (a group of over 30 leaders that was formed during the closure of Manual) produced a report that broadly represented what they wanted in the future of Manual. Although this is a new time, there are many core concepts in this document that could serve as a starting point for the current group tasked with the future of Manual.

There is an opportunity to do right by past, current, and future Manual students.  No more experiments.  Only proven leaders or proven providers.  It is way past time to get things right.  And that commitment should be a primary focus for all stakeholders.

Manual represents deserving and capable students, and is a beautiful facility in the heart of the city surrounded by a diverse and passionate community.  We can make it a cultural and educational centerpiece again.  And we must.

Categories: Urban School News

Identifying talented teachers: what is talent?

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 15:00

If I were to ask what made your favorite teacher stand out what would you say? She was intellectually gifted? He could explain anything clearly? Able to reach every kid? Master of classroom management? Made you want to work? Brought every lesson to life? Don’t worry if you don’t see your teacher on that list. Experts differ on this question, too. Teaching talent is hard to pin down.

This lack of certainty is why I worry that some reforms proposed for teacher preparation may box us into tight requirements with unintended consequences. While research shows that teaching quality is a big factor in whether students succeed there is less clarity on which characteristics constitute “quality.” So how do we make sure only the most talented teachers wind up in classrooms? Even harder, how do we identify which students in teacher preparation programs will be effective in the classroom five or 10 years down the road — and which will never have what it takes?

There’s been a lot of push lately for educator prep programs to limit admission to applicants (usually 18-year-olds) with strong high school GPAs. This recommendation troubles me because while I want teachers to be smart, many important skills of great teachers are not captured in grades. It’s a solution that appeals to logic but, unfortunately, research hasn’t found that it reliably produces better teachers. As Tim Daly, head of TNTP, a nonprofit that includes an alternative teacher prep program, wrote in a blog post last fall:

“Every year, many teachers who come to the classroom from selective programs turn out to be great teachers, but many others turn out to be middling or ineffective. The same is true about less selective programs.  Moreover, there is little reason to believe that any instances of outperformance among selective programs are due to selectivity.  They could be attributable to better pre-service training or better on-the-job coaching models.”

If Daly’s observations hold true more generally, increasing the selectivity of teacher prep programs would not improve the quality of the teaching profession. Further, it could have the unintended consequence of reducing the diversity of the teaching force. This is critically important as Colorado and the nation continue to diversify ethnically and socioeconomically while our teaching force remains disproportionately white and middle-class.

Daly doesn’t dispute that teacher prep can be improved. However, based on his experience, he points to more complex predictors of strong teaching: success during a teacher’s early years and a novice teacher’s ability to produce focused lessons, apply feedback from mentors, and take responsibility for her own success and continuous improvement.

Daly’s emphasis on characteristics shown by novice teachers led me to make a kind of crazy connection between what it takes to succeed in teaching and recent research about traits of successful athletes. As described by David Epstein in The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, an athlete’s capacity to improve with training is more important than traits we traditionally associate with athletic success, such as great strength and speed. Perhaps the same principle applies in teaching. Maybe how much a teacher—even before being placed in front of students— is willing and able to change in response to training and feedback is a good predictor of future success.

A few caveats: After railing about the lack of firm empirical evidence behind some reforms I realize the line of thought I’m proposing is not even on research agendas. I also realize we must be careful comparing physiological changes in athletics with the behaviors and dispositions important in teaching. But bear with me. I think the connection I’m drawing in this limited case merits discussion.

Let’s define “baseline” as someone’s performance level at the point they enter formal training – say, when an athlete joins a varsity team or a teacher candidate starts a preparation program. Obviously, athletes and future teachers have many skills and talents at that point; the trick is to identify which are most important for future success. Some advocates argue that one measure of a teacher candidate’s baseline skill level, high school GPA, should be the prime determinant entry to traditional teacher preparation programs.

However, a key theme of Epstein’s book is that the amount of effort and growth in response to training is as important for identifying talent as the skill level an athlete has before formal training, a point consistent with Daly’s blog post. Epstein talks about the hidden potential of people to grow at explosive rates when exposed to training as “an idea that muddles the notion of innate talent as something that appears strictly prior to training.”  Perhaps we should focus more attention on developing such “trainability” measures so that we can better identify talent, regardless of a teacher candidate’s age or stage in life.

It seems to me quite possible that there are such “trainability bombs”—people with tremendous potential for explosive growth once exposed to training—among entering college students with unimpressive high school GPAs who could become great teachers. And I’m sure there are also a lot of students with relatively high GPAs who, regardless of their training, will never become great teachers. The key is to figure out how to tell these two groups apart, which teacher trainability measures might provide. This is not an easy pursuit but one with potential value to the profession.

So how do we go about putting great teachers in every classroom without narrowing the criteria so tightly that they squeeze out those with untapped potential? I think we start by celebrating the complex interplay of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and practices that go into good teaching and accept that we need more nuanced measures of talent.

As Daly wrote:

“To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we should forego selection entirely or write off the importance of teacher preparation. But I think we need to admit that the impact of teacher preparation is tempered by a simple truth: Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and not everyone can do it well. It is not a matter of having a certain set of qualifications or completing basic training. It is more like quarterbacking: a job that presents a dizzying array of challenges in quick succession, which only a subset of skilled practitioners can negotiate successfully. Performance varies widely.”

Categories: Urban School News

New rating system on the way for preschools and child care

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 13:38

The three- and four-year-olds at Promise Christian Preschool in Lafayette were busy playing at the water table, painting letters, and pretend grocery shopping on a recent Tuesday morning.

Terri Stowell was just as busy, madly writing notes on a sheaf of papers as she examined toys and books, monitored hand-washing routines and observed teachers as they talked and played with students. Stowell, lead quality rating specialist for the non-profit Qualistar, spent more than three hours at the preschool collecting much of the information she would need to award the center a rating of one to four stars.

It was the first time the center had sought a Qualistar rating, which is a well-respected but voluntary program that costs providers about $1,000 per classroom. Director Leana Zlaten, who secured grant money to pay the fee, was hoping for at least two stars, and maybe three. In May, she will get her answer.

And then in July, everything will change.

That’s when the state is expected to launch a free mandatory rating program to replace Qualistar’s 14-year-old system. While Zlaten’s stars should transfer seamlessly into the new five-level rating system, the vast majority of the state’s preschool and child care providers will find themselves in a place they’ve never been before.

That is, with a public rating indicating their facility’s quality.

What’s the point?

Until now, child care providers, whether “centers” or “family child care homes,” were required to be licensed by the state but nothing else. Unless they pursued a Qualistar rating on their own or parents did a lot of legwork, there wasn’t much to distinguish one from another.

On a national level, “Quality Rating Improvement Systems,” often called QRIS, have been the trend over the last decade and experts herald them for improving the quality of early childhood programs and better informing parents how local child care facilities stack up. In Colorado, there is both excitement and confusion about the new system, which has been in the works since 2010.

Lead teacher Cristina Maginot squirts soap and water on the children’s hands so they can lather up before rinsing. Hand-washing procedures were one of the many items that will figure into the center’s Qualistar rating.

“We are all in favor of continuing to march toward quality,” said Bev Thurber, executive director of the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County.

Still, like other early childhood advocates interviewed, she said the new system represents a huge undertaking with an ambitious timeline.

“People are definitely concerned because there’s a lot of unknowns,” she said. “It’s still a system in flux.”

With less than three months to go before the launch, many questions remain. For example, it’s unclear whether the system’s name will change from its working title, “Next Generation Quality Rating Improvement System,” or whether child care providers will earn stars, numbers or something else.

Another unanswered question is which contractor—Qualistar or Inc. —the state will choose for a $2.5 million contract to conduct some of the new ratings. With these and several other decisions pending, there’s also a possibility the launch date could be pushed back.

While state officials at the Colorado Department of Human Services, which has authority over the new system, agree that there still many unknowns, they are taking an optimistic tone.

“I am feeling so excited at the moment,” said Karen Enboden, child care QRIS manager for CDHS. “I think this is absolutely the right step for Colorado.”

Racing to the top

The Next Generation system, which is being funded with part of a $44 million federal Race to the Top grant, will roll out in two phases. Starting in July, center-based programs will be the first group of providers to earn ratings. These programs, which include non-profit and for-profit preschools and child care centers as well as early childhood classrooms run by school districts, represent 86 percent of licensed capacity for children 0-5.

Learn more

Possible ratings: Level 1-5

Components: (for levels 3-5)

1. Workforce Qualifications and Professional Development

2. Family Partnerships

3. Leadership, Management & Administration

4. Learning Environment

5. Child Health

6. Optional (includes points for home language, additional professional staff, professional leadership)


Possible ratings: Provisional and 1-4 stars


1. Learning Environment

2. Family Partnerships

3. Training and Education

4. Adult-to-Child Ratios and Group Size

5. Program Accreditation

Family child care homes, defined as home-based sites serving two or more unrelated children at the same time, will have the option to participate in the new system this year, but it won’t become mandatory until July 2015.

While many experts laud Qualistar for being one of the pioneers of early childhood quality improvement, they also note that the organization never was able to capture a critical mass of the child care sector because its ratings are costly. Currently, less than 10 percent of licensed providers in Colorado have Qualistar ratings, according to Gladys Wilson, the organization’s executive director.

“They never reached that tipping point,” said Thurber.

Many providers with Qualistar ratings receive funding from foundations or other funders to cover the fees. Not many providers raise the money themselves.

It was clear from Stowell’s half-day visit, which she planned to follow with a return visit to meet with Zlaten the next day, why ratings aren’t cheap. They represent a complicated and time-consuming process, well beyond the more basic considerations of licensing. They weigh student-teacher ratios, teacher credentials, parent surveys and even questions like how the walls are decorated, whether toys reflect age, race and gender diversity and whether teachers use language to help children develop reasoning skills.

Terri Stowell, right, interviews lead teacher Cristina Maginot about the preschool’s schedule, materials and practices during her recent visit.

Enboden said ratings will be free under the new system, at least until the federal grant expires at the end of December 2016. In addition $7-8 million of the grant funds will be available to help providers improve their facilities and practices so they can obtain better ratings.

Under the current Qualistar system and perhaps under the new system as well, the motivation to improve often comes before the rating as well as after. For example, Zlaten and her staff made several changes before Stowell’s visit, which occurred unannounced during a one-month window. They moved furniture around the large classroom, opening up a sunny area near the windows for free play and circle time.

At the same time, there were some things they couldn’t easily improve. They knew the playround, which Stowell said is a problem area for many facilities, would cost them some points. While it appeared perfectly acceptable to a casual observer, Stowell found several issues as she measured equipment spacing and looked for hazards like easy-to-open gates, protruding bolts and wide gaps between rails.

“The inside, that’s what we focused on,” said lead teacher Cristina Maginot.

Overall, the facility, which provides scholarships to about a quarter of its students, had much to recommend it — small class sizes, conscientious teachers and a lots of engaging activities.

Enboden said the goal is for 20 percent of the state’s licensed child care facilities to earn a rating of three, four or five by the end of 2016. A state-run parent portal where families can look up Next Generation ratings could be up by January 2015.

Qualister rater Terri Stowell measures the slide height as part of her assessment of the playground.

“My hope is that parents will have more information so they can make informed decisions,” said Wilson.

Like many early childhood advocates, she said most parents decide where to send their children based on cost, convenience and word of mouth recommendations, not necessarily provider quality.

The City and County of Denver, which has hundreds of Qualistar-rated facilities, may be somewhat of an exception. That’s because the Denver Preschool Program, which provides preschool subsidies to families of four-year-olds, has put a premium on preschool quality and pays for Qualistar ratings as well as improvement measures.

“Denver’s far ahead of the rest of the state,” said Cheryl Caldwell, director of early education for Denver Public Schools.

Embedded in licensing

One of the biggest differences between Qualistar and the Next Generation QRIS is that the rating system will now be embedded in licensing. In other words, all center-based and family child carehome providers with a valid license, which requires basic health and safety measures, will automatically get a rating of one.

There will be no requirement to pursue a two, three, four or five, but some observers believe providers won’t want to settle for the lowest score once they see their competition attaining higher levels of quality.

“Peer pressure,” said Thurber.

Providers will be able to advance to a level two if their staff members complete state-approved online trainings and enroll in the state’s professional development information system. In addition, providers will have to complete a self-assessment of their program and create an improvement plan. The Department of Human Services will oversee awards of ones and twos.

The “ECERS” manual is the environmental rating scale that Qualistar raters use during preschool visits. A related tool, called the “ITERS,” is used during visits to facilities that care for infants and toddlers.

To earn a level three, four or five, providers will go through a process similar to the current Qualistar process, which includes a site visit like the one Stowell recently conducted. Depending on the outcome of the contract award, it’s possible that Qualistar’s ten rating specialists will continue to rate programs seeking one of the highest three ratings.

One differences between the Qualistar system and the Next Generation system will be the scoring methodology for the three higher ratings. In addition, while Qualistar raters look at every classroom in a facility, the new system will look at 50 percent of classrooms. Finally, Qualistar ratings typically last for two years while Next Generation ratings will extend for three.

 Grandfather me in

While some center directors are no doubt nervous about their new obligations under the Next Generation system, some can rest easy during the first year or two. That’s because providers with existing Qualistar ratings will keep their existing numerical rating under the new system. In addition, providers that are accredited by yet-to-be-determined national bodies, as well as Head Start sites that have undergone federal reviews, will also transition into the new system with scores of either three or four depending on whether they meet certain criteria.

Children play at the water table during free play at Promise Christian Preschool.

The grandfather provision, officially called “Alternative Pathways” in the new system, is part of the reason some providers are choosing to get Qualistar-rated this spring. Not only will they avoid the uncertainty of a new system in its roll-out phase, they have the opportunity to come in with high rating from day one.

Thurber said a number of providers in Larimer County have worked to get Qualistar ratings this year for that very reason. In Zlaten’s case, it helped that the Qualistar system was a known quantity.

“We know what Qualistar is like. We don’t know what the state’s [rating system] is like, so we thought, ‘Let’s do Qualistar,’” she said.



Categories: Urban School News

DPS names new leader for elementary school

Sat, 03/08/2014 - 19:50

Denver school officials have selected  a new leader for struggling Columbine Elementary School. Parents will be able to meet with the school’s new principal at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Jason Krause, who taught at Columbine before entering the district’s leadership pool, will return to the northeast Denver school next year as its principal, according to a letter to parents provided to Chalkbeat Colorado.  He will be the school’s fifth principal in seven years.

Krause will replace Beth Yates. The current principal’s supporters were shocked when she announced the district was going to replace Yates, whom teachers and parents described as “relentless.”

Erin McMahon, an instructional superintendent, noted, in her letter to parents, the improvements Yates has made at Columbine this year. But McHahon went on to say student achievement has not improved enough.

“There have been modest improvements in academic achievement this year, which are a great starting point,” McMahon wrote. “However, this work must be deepened and accelerated.”

Some parents argued the lack of consistency at Columbine has been the reason for low test scores.

Krause is a proven school leader that has boosted test scores at Smith Renaissance School, McMahon said.

As part of the transition process, Denver Public Schools will form a steering committee to work with Krause through the spring.

Here’s the letter that was sent to parents announcing the school’s new leader:


DPS_ColumbinePrincipalChange2014 (PDF)

DPS_ColumbinePrincipalChange2014 (Text)

Categories: Urban School News

Federal appeals panel rules TABOR lawsuit can proceed

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 21:02

A lawsuit that claims Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights violates federal constitutional guarantees of representative state government can proceed, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The suit, Kerr v. Hickenlooper, was filed in 2011, but the case has been focused on procedural issues up to now. The Friday ruling settles some of those.

The eventual outcomes of the case – which could be years away – could have important implications for state government operations and for school funding, the focus of intense debate during the current legislative session.

The TABOR amendment, passed by voters in 1992 and requires (among other things) voter approval for tax rate increases. The plaintiffs argue that violates provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the 19th century law making Colorado a state that guarantee a “republican” form of government, one in which elected representatives make legislative decisions, including on taxation.

The 32 plaintiffs include legislators, former lawmakers, other elected officials and private citizens. Some interesting names in the group include Lakewood Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee; influential former GOP lawmaker Norma Anderson of Jefferson County and State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver.

While the case has been pretty much below the public radar, it has drawn a lot of interest from public policy and advocacy groups on both the left and right. Among groups filing friend of the court briefs were the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado PTA.

Only two legal questions were at issue in the ruling – whether the plaintiffs have legal standing to file the suit and whether the case is a “political” matter that can’t be decided in court.

The appellate panel found the plaintiffs have standing and that the case isn’t automatically a political issue that should be thrown out at this point.

Read the ruling here.

Categories: Urban School News

State board, struggling districts to talk turnaround efforts next week as clock runs short

Fri, 03/07/2014 - 15:07

WESTMINSTER — When Pam Swanson learned the State Board of Education was interested in hearing directly from leaders of the state’s lowest-performing school districts, she volunteered to go first.

“We have some promising things to share,” said the superintendent of the Adams 50 school district.

So at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Swanson, her board of education president and other district officials will have a chat with the state board about Westminster schools’ successes and struggles as the northwest metro school district enters its fourth year on the state’s accountability clock.

Since 2010, the state has linked the accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

The conversation, scheduled for 40 minutes, will be the first of many for the state board. The seven member panel has plans to meet each of the 11 school districts nearing the end of the clock between now and June.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. What could happen if and when a district hits the end of the clock is still open to debate. The state board of education heard a list of possible consequences and remedies from the Colorado Department of Education in November, which spurred the idea for the forthcoming conversations.

The aim of these meetings, as well as other supports the state has offered the districts, is to help forestall those interventions. However, the state board is also trying to tease out what sort of ramifications these interventions would have on school districts.

State board chairman Paul Lundeen hopes these meetings will provide the governing body, which is responsible for approving a school district’s accreditation, more context about each individual school district’s rating and provide feedback on how the state can better assist the state’s neediest schools.

“It’s more than window dressing,” Lundeen said. “We really hope to seek out the nuances so we can be helpful.”

A qualitative view

The first thing the State Board of Education wants to hear from district leaders during their turnaround conversations is what’s working.

In the four years since the state began rating schools and districts, Adams 50 schools have done an almost entirely about-face.

During the 2009-2010 school year, nearly 75 percent of Adams 50 schools were ranked among the bottom two categories — “turnaround” or “priority improvement.” Today, none of the Adams 50′s schools are classified as “turnaround.” And less than 25 percent of its schools are considered “priority improvement.”

In fact, the Westminster school district has a smaller percentage of low performing schools than Denver Public Schools, which last year was rated as an improving school district and no longer has to fear state intervention.

Swanson, who was appointed to lead the district in 2012 after serving as interim-superintendent since April 2011, points to a systematic overhaul and consistency as key components of the district’s success.

In 2009, Adams 50 abandoned the traditional grade-level approach and adopted a competency-based system. The district has kept teacher and leadership turnover low. There’s a new online program and an innovation school. Parent-teacher conferences have also been overhauled in partnership with the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition. And this year the district adopted a new math program that allows teachers to analyze proficiency in real time.

Swanson’s presentation will kick off with a seven-minute video highlighting several of these changes with the hope it will give the state board a qualitative view of the district’s efforts, she said.

These changes, she said, take a long term commitment. “Probably longer than the five years the state’s accountability clock suggests,” she said.

Holding the momentum

Holding the momentum and staying focused is perhaps Adams 50′s greatest challenge, Swanson said.

And there are several obstacles the district will have to overcome to continue on its path toward better student achievement, she said.

First, the district is still tinkering with its districtwide model of competency-based learning. There’s a continued effort to streamline and benchmark its standards to the Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core State Standards. There’s also a greater need for better data management, which can be overwhelming to teachers and students alike.

The district is also expected to trim its budget as school improvement grant money runs out. Adams 50 did ask voters to approve a mill levy in the fall, but that effort failed.

“No matter how you slice it, it’s going to cost more money to educate students in poverty,” Swanson said. Adams 50 students overwhelmingly qualify for free- or reduced-lunch.

And there’s the matter of state- and federally-mandated tests. Swanson would like to reverse the trend of districts needing to plan instruction around assessments, not the other way around.

“We used to have an assessment window,” Swanson said. “Now we have an instructional window.”

Because nearly 50 percent of Westminster students are identified as English language learners, instructors are finding themselves having to administer more tests. More than 700 students at Westminster High School alone were required to take an individual oral exam in January.

Those assessments, coupled with other mandated tests, devour instructional time, Swanson said.

“We know the students who need the most instruction time have the least of it [because of the number of hours devoted to assessments],” she said.

“Something’s not right”

No one from Team Westminster plans to critique the state’s accountability rating system. But if the issue comes up, they’ll be prepared to share their concerns.

“Something’s not right” in the accountability system, Swanson said.

Swanson — along with officials in many other school districts — is concerned about the different measurements the state uses to hold individual schools and districts accountable. Another widely held criticism is that the accountability measurements are a “one-size fits all” approach in a local control state where school districts’ needs and challenges vary widely. And now, officials are concerned that a proposed bill that would freeze a portion of the state accountability framework for two years will make it more difficult for them to prove to the state that they are making progress.

Board chairman Lundeen said while the intent of the conversations isn’t to rewrite the law governing school accountability, he thinks districts meeting with the state board should air their concerns about the frameworks, which he said can be challenging.

He hopes to learn through the next three months how district-specific nuances are bouncing-off state mandates and measurements.

“There are some minimum lines — thresholds — we do not want to cross,” he said. But, if school districts are proving consistent achievement, he’d entertain certain “earned flexibility.”

Regardless of the merits of the school accountability framework, Swanson said she’s looking forward to going beyond the data with the state board. 

“We’re ready to share our story and get input from the board on how we can improve outcomes faster,” Swanson said.

Categories: Urban School News



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