Retiring Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson has a place to go after she leaves the district at the end of the school year – the Colorado Association of School Executives.
She will become director of the group’s Leadership Initiative, which seeks to help school leaders and districts in improving teaching and learning.
Stevenson announced her retirement last Nov. 7, two days after the 2013 election gave a conservative majority control of the Jeffco board. Stevenson, who spent her entire student and professional career in the district, has been one of Colorado’s highest profile and longest serving superintendents. Get more background on Stevenson and the political shift in Jeffco in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.
CASE is a statewide organization that represents a variety of school administrators, from superintendents to principals and other administrators.
Equity in K-12 education, closing the achievement gap, and preparing students for a variety of college and career pathways are familiar issues in education circles. But how do we truly determine postsecondary workforce readiness? How do we collectively foster this readiness in students prior to graduation? What “21st century skills” matter most?
If you’re curious, ask a recent high school graduate.
I reconnected with a former middle school student of mine over winter break. Feyone La, a Gates Scholar and 2013 graduate of Rangeview High School in Aurora, recently completed her first quarter of postsecondary studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia. A bio-medical engineering major, she dreams of traveling and interning abroad, learning as much as possible about health disparities around the world, and proactively addressing these disparities in the future.
Over a cup of coffee, I listened to Feyone speak about life after high school. She boasts a 3.47 GPA after her first term – accomplished while simultaneously pledging a sorority, balancing a variety of projects and classes, and adjusting to life hundreds of miles away from her Colorado home.
But perhaps what is most inspiring is the enthusiasm with which Feyone speaks about how she is learning to think in new and exciting ways. Feyone did not talk about the content (although admittedly, most of what she’s learning in her math and science courses is likely far beyond my comprehension) but she did talk about the context and expectations in her new learning environment.
Clearly, she is an exceptional scholar and human being. But I don’t believe she need be the exception.
According to the 2012 Remedial Education Report, 40 percent of Colorado high school graduates need remediation before college. The percentage is higher for students of color. We must (and can) do better by Colorado students.
Was Feyone prepared for life at Drexel? Yes. But she credits a high degree of motivation and her own advocacy in high school to ensure her schedule reflected rigorous coursework and exposure to a range of disciplines – from student government to theater set design to AP Chemistry.
Feyone ensured she was prepared by making the most of her K-12 education, something she admits many of her high school classmates did not know how to do.
She offers three pieces of advice for K-12 teachers and schools committed to creating a college and career ready culture for all students:1. More collaborative problem-solving
Feyone described multiple open-ended projects and assignments across disciplines that require a high degree of critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving with others.
Instead of reading and interpreting required texts in her English composition class, she was asked to design a problem and solution presentation on a topic of her choice. This project required the collection, analysis and evaluation of data, however, there were minimal parameters or requirements placed on the format of the final presentation. Students presented their findings verbally, in writing, through skits and other multi-media tools.2. Teach students how to think, not what to think
Feyone shared that the content that shows up on college assessments is often not material covered in lectures. Students are expected to learn from in-class discussions and read and think critically about the material outside of class.
She believes high school teachers could prepare students for this by providing students with resources, options and tools to organize their thinking and support study habits. On the flipside, she cautions K-12 teachers to not provide students with too much support, as this often takes away the thinking work and productive struggle (i.e. learning) from students. “In college I was asked to think about the meaning and larger purpose of writing, not to regurgitate an interpretation of a specific text published 200 years ago,” she states.3. Interdisciplinary thinking and extracurricular activities matter
Much of Feyone’s K-12 learning happened outside the classroom. Involvement in leadership, theater and student government helped her hone her relationship and advocacy skills. “Theater helped me to look at the world on a larger scale. The detail and level of study I put into set design helped me experience what life must have been like in other time periods and places.”
She intentionally connected to a diverse group of students through extracurricular activities and feels that if she only associated with the students in her honors classes, she would have graduated with a much more narrow perspective of the world. She believes strongly that separating honors students from other student populations does a disservice to both groups.
Her words give me hope and affirmation that education is moving in the right direction. If our K-12 classrooms make these three shifts and maintain a focus on thinking, collaboration, real world application and the essential learning outlined in the Colorado Academic Standards (including the Common Core), we’ll be closer to seeing the spark I saw in this college freshman’s eyes. The spark of learning and of being asked to think.
If we want our students to be college and career ready, we must tell them less and expect them to show us more. We must give them opportunities to wrestle with questions that don’t have a “right” answer and to solve problems that mirror the challenges we face in our own lives and respective fields.
Above all, we need to listen and learn from our past, present and future students.
After years of struggling, Adams 14 officials celebrated pulling itself out of the red zone on state accountability measures and turned to the task of re-establishing trust with parents and civic leaders Thursday night.
But more work still needs to be done, they said, to avert drastic intervention from the state.
The first step in that plan: holding a community-wide meeting of stakeholders for the first time in anyone’s memory that aimed to foster stronger relationships with members of those groups.
Commerce City school officials hope by proving they’ve put in the initial work to boost academic achievement, the community will follow. They want the community’s help in creating the necessary political and social environment to push the district over the finish line as it races to beat the Colorado “accountability clock.”
“There are so many wonderful groups doing great things in the community, but it feels fragmented,” said Deputy Superintendent Kandy Steel. “We wanted to bring everyone together to talk about how we can work together to help out children.”
Specifically, the district hopes to pass a bond override issue in order to build a new “super” middle school and finance other academic programs and support services it believes will be essential to complete the turnaround work. The district’s last middle school was built in 1953. While the district did pass a construction bond in 2006 for a new high school, the last override, or general tax increase on the Commerce City community was 1996.
In attendance at the meeting were about 100 teachers, parents and representatives from various nonprofits such as the Rotary Club, Community Health Services, Boys and Girls Club and the alumni committee.
The last year it posted any sort of academic growth worthy of praise was in 2007, before the state began rating schools.
Two years ago Adams 14, which serves mostly poor minority students and a large English language learning population, was among the five lowest performing school districts. Among districts of similar size and demographics, it was the lowest, said Superintendent Pat Sanchez.
But that all changed this year, when Adams 14 posted enough academic growth to climb out of “turnaround” status and be accredited by the state as a “priority improvement” district. Districts that are accredited as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” have five years to improve their students’ test scores or face the loss of accreditation from the state. Adams 14 is one of about a dozen districts nearing the end of that timeline.
“We’ll know in about 18 months whether we’ve beat the clock,” Sanchez said after the community forum. “I’m betting we’re going to be sliding sideways across the finish line.”
Both Sanchez and Steel were hired 18 months ago. Their vision is for the district to be accredited with distinction, the state’s highest recognition for school districts, by 2020.
“We’re no longer going to aim for the middle,” Sanchez said.
Since being hired, Sanchez’s work has been focused mostly on data-driven instruction and equity work. He’s also been an outspoken critic of the state’s accountability framework, but said he agrees with the state’s premise students deserve a quality education.
He told the audience the district rating mechanism is meant to hold adults accountable, but the loss of accreditation would only punish children.
“Why is this work critical? Because it doesn’t hurt the adults or the organization, it hurts our kids,” he said.
No school district has lost its accreditation, but at an October meeting of the State Board of Education, Colorado Department of Education officials said they believe students who graduate from an unaccredited district may face hurdles in applying for colleges and scholarships. Districts may also lose out in federal grants and aid.
Teachers union president and Dupont Elementary School teacher Barb McDowell said after the forum teachers are invested in the district’s future.
“The fact is, the teachers who have stayed here are committed to the children, to the community,” she said. “These are the kids we want to teach.”
A 17-year veteran of Adams 14, McDowell said the district of today is drastically different then when she started.
“You could get away with stuff [back then],” she said. “But expectations have grown. It’s night and day.”
Nearly every Commerce City elected official attended Thursday’s meeting including Mayor Sean Ford, an Adams City High School alum.
“How we support our schools, districts, our teachers and our students is critical to the long-term success of our community,” he said.
He vowed the city would “do what we can do,” to help Adams 14 meet its goals.
The meeting was just one of many the district plans to host through the next year, said Deputy Superintendent Steele. One parent, Renee Lovato, hopes future meetings will have more detail about the work the district is doing at individual schools. She considered most of the information surface details.
“It’s scary,” she said being a parent in a turnaround district. “You wonder if you should stick it out and hope things improve or send your child to a neighboring district. When it’s your kid, it’s takes things to a whole other level.”
Sanchez, whom Lovato praised for transparency and hardwork, said he’s excited to raise awareness of the district’s turnaround process and how it’s turned the tide and create an agreement with the community.
“At the end of the day, there is an urgency,” Sanchez said after the meeting. “We need to end the predictability [of low test scores] that comes with educating students of color. The education our kids have been getting is horrible.”
State Board of Education members — who work hard to bridge partisan and philosophical divisions — fractured dramatically Friday over a new bill that proposes to delay implementation of state academic content standards and new tests.
During the legislative session the board meets regularly to consider taking positions on bills. Top of the agenda Friday was Senate Bill 14-136, which was introduced last Monday by several Republican legislators (see this story for details).
The discussion accelerated quickly after a briefing by Jennifer Mello, board and Department of Education lobbyist.
Noting that state content standards (adopted in 2009) already are being rolled out in school districts, Democratic member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said, “I don’t know that we can support it when the standards are being implemented. It’s totally inconsistent with the work the department has done and is doing.”
Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, weighed in to say, “I have very little patience with this bill. We all know it is not going to pass. Why are we being dragged through this?”
She added that the bill seems “designed to make Republicans look bad.” Neal participated via speakerphone, as did three other members, giving the meeting an occasionally disjointed feel.
But Republican board chair Paul Lundeen of Monument, also on speakerphone, defended the bill, saying that public conversation only now is “catching up” with the issues of standards and testing. “Sometimes the fastest way to make progress is to turn around,” he said, adding the bill is “appropriate, in my opinion.”
Neal asked, “Are you taking this bill seriously?” to which Lundeen said, “This may be the first step in a long journey.”
Republican member Deb Scheffel of Parker described ideas behind the bill as “a grassroots effort on the part of parents … this bill addresses part of that concern.” Pam Mazanec, a Republican member from Larkspur, agreed, saying, “This bill is a response to a growing concern … and I don’t see anything ridiculous about it.”
Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder said SB 14-136 would undo the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which mandated new standards, new tests and better alignment of K-12 and higher education. “I don’t think our education system can stand the kind of change” that would be forced by moratoria on standards and testing.
Neal moved that the board take a “monitoring” position on the bill – taking no position. Berman, Schroeder and Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada supported the motion, while Lundeen, Scheffel and Mazanec voted no. (Neal said later she neither supports nor opposes the bill at this point.)
“The motion carries. We’ll monitor this bill,” Lundeen said, ending the discussion.
The board also had a split 5-2 vote on support of House Bill 14-1182, a measure that would tinker slightly with annual state ratings of districts and schools for one year during the transition between old and new tests (details in this story).
The bill wouldn’t affect possible board interventions in struggling districts that have reached the end of the five-year “accountability clock.” Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said failure to pass the bill would mean such districts “basically get a hold harmless year.”
Lundeen said, “I’ve got a little bit of heartburn with this” without elaborating, and he and Scheffel voted against the motion to support the bill.
Not on the board’s agenda was House Bill 14-1202, a measure introduced Thursday that would allow school districts to waive out of some state testing requirements. It’s backed by the Douglas County school board (see story here).
Testing will be on the board’s agenda later this month, when it’s scheduled to hold a study session on the topic.
Hammond also told Chalkbeat Colorado earlier this week that CDE is working with WestEd, an education consulting organization, to study the implementation of new Colorado tests both this school year and next.
The intent is to “really study the intended and unintended consequences,” said Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley. The research will include surveys of districts and focus groups.
During the interview both Hammond and Hawley noted that implementation of standards and tests is required by state law and that testing and student growth data are the foundation of the state’s performance rating system for schools and districts and an important part of teacher evaluations.
“There’s not a way to go back in time,” Hawley said. “Our duty and our obligation is to carry forward with” helping districts implement the law.
Board members, who are elected from congressional districts, represent a spectrum of educational views in addition to their partisan differences. Anxious to increase the body’s influence on education policy, members have worked hard to bridge differences and present a united front in recent years.
But that unity appeared to crack a bit on Friday.
At one point, Berman (in the board room) said to Lundeen (on the phone), “I personally think, Paul, that you are making a strong political statement and are being very partisan. … If this board is to be taken seriously … you are not the leader helping us get there.”
Lundeen said, “I do seek board unity” but encourage “robust, open and wide-ranging conversation.” He said standards and testing are not partisan issues for the general public.
Worries and confusion, but not anger, dominated the first meeting between Manual High School parents and the school’s new leader, former Hill Middle School principal Don Roy.
Roy joined the school two weeks ago, a day after district officials dismissed the school’s previous principal Brian Dale. Dale had led the school for two and half years, during which the Manual’s once promising academic performance plummeted. Manual has been at the center of Denver’s school improvement efforts for a decade. Its struggles with low performance and leadership turnover were detailed in a four-part series from Chalkbeat Colorado.
The school’s new district supervisor, Greta Martinez, who oversees Denver’s high schools, introduced Roy, saying his hiring is “an opportunity to increase this school year and next school year.”
She also tried to head off the touchiest question of the evening — why the change?
“As for the biggest question we’ve heard, why make this change mid-year?” said Martinez, who oversees the district’s high schools, including Manual. “All of our other schools are on an upward trend. [Here], things are not improving. Things are remaining persistently low.”
Roy addressed a crowd that included roughly thirty parents and alumni as well as two school board members, Happy Haynes and Landri Taylor. The new principal encouraged them to “hold us accountable but hold your kids accountable.”
On increasing Manual’s performance, he said “there are few things getting in the way, including school climate and attitudes towards learning and to being in class.”
Roy encouraged parents to get involved. ”It has to be a team effort,” he said.
But the leadership transition didn’t sit well with everyone.
“Trust hasn’t been expressed to parents,” said Pauletta Anderson, whose daughter attends the school. Denver Public Schools (DPS) needs to “trust in the parents.”
Anderson also objected to “strangers coming in trying to tell the community what to do.”
Others pushed for a focus on stability at the school.
“We need to have consistency for these kids because that’s what makes a change,” said a former Manual student, who attended the school in the year before it closed.
“Let’s make stability the biggest thing,” said Rick Jimmerson, parent of a Manual student. ‘
For him, Manual’s struggle went deeper than test scores; instead, he argued that the school’s challenges reflect the changing face of the neighborhood. “When I was a student, we went to church with our teachers,” he said. “But this is a changing neighborhood. If we were so smart, we wouldn’t be doing things like this. You’re not doing [anything] by smart people bouncing around.”
He said part of the solution lay in more discipline with students.
“It’s sad for kids to make the laws on us,” Jimmerson said. “It’s a shame to see all this education going up.”
The biggest worry on everyone’s mind actually had little to do with the transition — student safety and drug use were at the forefront of many parents’ minds.
One mother spoke through a translator about smelling marijuana in the halls when she picked her student up.
“She’s really concerned about after school programs,” translated Veronica Figoli, DPS’ director of community engagement. “She’s like to see a closer eye on students after school.”
Several parents asked Roy what he would be doing about students smoking in the park and strangers hanging out near the school.
“We have concerns about drugs that are here and people who hang around the perimeter of the school,” said one Manual mother.
According to Roy, the school was working on it but he encouraged parents to call the school if they saw anything suspicious. Vernon Jones, Manual’s longtime assistant principal, said they were in talks with city officials to develop a plan for patrolling the park.
The meeting was also the first opportunity many parents had had to ask some burning but basic questions about how the school was run.
“What is the bell time?” asked one father, who said his daughter told him she didn’t have to be there until after eight in the morning.
“The bell time is eight a.m.” confirmed Roy. “We have a lot of students walking in after eight. Now they’re getting caught up in the tardy net.”
Another parent, speaking in Spanish, worried that she didn’t hear about her daughter ditching class until late in the day.
“She drops off her daughter but she doesn’t know if she stays,” Figoli translated.
Roy emphasized that communicating more with parents was one of his top priorities.
“Our goal is to over communicate until you’re sick of hearing from us,” Roy said, getting chuckles from parents. He suggested calling parents earlier in the day and even twice a day. Roy also plans to host open office hours weekly for parents to come and raise concerns.
Jimmerson thanked Roy and the two board members for having the guts to listen to parent concerns.
“To take an open forum takes a lot of stuff,” he said. “Glad to have you back in the conversation the way you are.”
The recent release of Colorado PRE-12 enrollment for 2013-14 (details in this story) prompted the folks at the Colorado School Finance Project to dig a little deeper into the details of student demographics, and they came up with some interesting information.
Here are links to what they calculated:
A bill that would allow school districts to seek waivers from state standardized tests was introduced Thursday in the House.
The sole sponsor of House Bill 14-1202 is Republican Rep. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction businessman who hasn’t previously been involved in education issues. The bill covers the provisions the Douglas County school board has been talking about (see story). Doug Benevento, vice president of the Dougco board, said Thursday evening that the board had worked with Scott on the bill.
The bill would require the State Board of Education to grant a district a waiver from statewide testing requirements if the district submits its own testing system that meets certain standards. Waivers could be modified if a district failed to statewide academic performance targets for three consecutive years. Among other provisions, students might have to take state tests in subjects where the district hadn’t met state standards. (State tests in language arts and math are given in grades 3-10, and science tests are given each year to one grade in elementary, middle and high schools. The system is being expanded to include social science tests and additional grades.)
Under the bill, parents of students in waiver districts could choose to not participate in testing, and districts, teachers and students couldn’t be penalized for student non-participation. The current state accreditation system requires 95 percent student participation. Read the bill text here.
Although criticism of standardized testing is increasingly common, a bill like Scott’s has little chance of passage. The state’s school and district performance rating systems, the principal and teacher evaluation system and the state’s current waiver from federal NCLB requirements are all based on consistent statewide data about student academic achievement and growth. Waivers for individual districts could threaten the whole data system, many education leaders believe.
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond, speaking with Chalkbeat Colorado before HB 14-1202 was introduced, agreed that “There is a high degree of testing burden,” but he said the data produced by tests is “the only way we know” how schools and districts are performing.
Another recently introduced measure, Senate Bill 14-136, would delay the rollout of new statewide tests and require a study of the state’s academic standards, some of which include the Common Core Standards. (See this story for details.)
That measure has a lot more sponsors and support in both houses. But all 18 sponsors are Republicans, a handicap in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Thursday was a day for solo Republican bills.
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, introduced House Bill 14-1204, the expected rural flexibility bill. It would allow districts with fewer than 1,000 students to submit certain reports to the Department of Education every two years instead of every year. Exemption from one type of report would be based on a district’s performance rating.
The bill also would allow small districts to seek exemption from some READ Act requirements by submitting their own plans for achieving the goals of that early-ligteracy law, and exempted districts would remain eligible for state funding.
The has been developed with the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus. Rural districts have become increasingly restive about the administrative demands of new state standards and tests, the educator evaluation system and the READ Act.
More than 100 of the state’s 178 districts have 1,000 or fewer students.
Wilson on Thursday also introduced House Bill 14-1212, which would increase financial support for districts that offer full-day kindergarten to all families that choose it. Wilson’s bill likely won’t pass, but increased kindergarten funding is expected to be an element of a bill being assembled by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. Johnston is trying to salvage pieces of his Senate Bill 13-213, the massive school finance overhaul that didn’t go into effect because voters rejected Amendment 66, the tax increase needed to pay for Johnston’s plan.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.
Hinkley High School students Aurora Hernandez and Dearic You have been spreading rumors about one another.
Aurora told her friends Dearic smelled. Dearic fired back and told his friends Aurora was having inappropriate relationships with too many of their male classmates.
In a second floor classroom, Aurora and Dearic are gathered around a table with two student facilitators, Marco Dominguez and Nyece Smith. The goal is to help Aurora and Dearic resolve their conflict through a process known as restorative justice. If successful, the program will help the two isolate the root causes of their behavior, take ownership of their actions and build trust.
If the conference is successful, the conflict between Aurora and Dearic won’t escalate or happen again.
As it turns out, Aurora and Dearic’s argument was just a role-play. Aurora, Dearic, Marco and Nyece are among more than a dozen students enrolled in a peer mentoring class led by counselor Deanna Kline. Students learn life skills, conflict management and study social issues, like eating disorders and poverty.
Students who pass the class may move on to become restorative justice facilitators. Working alongside the high school’s dean, they’ll help their peers work through conflicts using the restorative justice model many Aurora Public Schools officials are celebrating as the reason suspensions and expulsions are dropping.
When the Obama administration released new guidelines on school discipline earlier this month, federal officials urged schools across the country to rid themselves of zero-tolerance polices. The federal Justice and Education departments, echoing years of a growing consensus of researchers and activists, believe these policies lead to a significant numbers of students missing class due to suspensions and expulsions, especially students of color.
APS won’t have to do much to comply with the new guidelines. The suburban district, east of Denver, trashed all but one of its zero-tolerance policies — bringing a firearm on a school campus is still an automatic expulsion.
Aurora officials replaced their zero-tolerance policies with multiple approaches, including restorative justice, that keep students in their seats while offering teachers and school leaders alternative paths to manage their classrooms and campuses, said Bonnie Lavinder, Aurora’s director of division and equity and engagement.
And the results APS has seen — a 2 percent drop in suspensions and expulsions each year during the last three — are exactly what the White House hopes to see across the nation as it crusades to break the “classroom-to-prison pipeline.”
APS is now embarking on an ambitious path to implement restorative justice in as many of its schools as possible. The expansion isn’t just to keep kids safe. When students spend more time in class and less time suspended academic outcomes improve, officials from Washington to Aurora believe.
While the district is seeing across the board dips in suspension and expulsion rates, APS is still struggling with racial disparity.
African-American students, especially boys, continue to be suspended and expelled at a higher rate than any other ethnicity group. During the 2012-2013 school year, one in every ten Aurora high school student was suspended. But one in every seven black high school student was suspended during the same time.
Even as suspension rates for black students is dropping, the expulsion rate has risen steadily during the same time.
During the last three years, one in roughly 100 Aurora students of all races were expelled. But, for example, during the 2010-2011 school year, one in every 62 black students was expelled. The following year: one in every 54 black students was expelled. And during the 2012-2013 year, one in every 46 African-American students was expelled.
Lavinder said she isn’t sure why black students are being suspended and expelled higher rates, but the district is reviewing its policies and, according to an APS spokeswoman, a districtwide survey will be conducted later this year exploring multiple issues including student-teacher relationships.
At Hinkley High School, where African-American suspension and expulsion rates slightly outpace the district’s, every black student has been provided a mentor, said the school’s dean Bonnie Martinez.
And that’s a good first step, said Greg Brown, a probation officer and spokesman for the Restorative Justice Council–Colorado.
But if Hinkley and APS want to see similar declines in suspensions and expulsions among African-American students, it would be behoove them, Brown said, to ensure each school has an equitable number of restorative justice leaders from the same population or bring family and those aforementioned mentors into the restorative justice conferences.
“What we know is the relationships we develop with kids and their families is the most important thing,” Brown said. “If you don’t have relationships and if there is a cultural barrier, it could be that much more difficult.”
And each restorative justice conference and outcome should be customized to each situation, Brown said.
Making it their own
A restorative justice conference takes a lot of time — about an hour, Martinez said. But she argues that it’s worth it.
While some critics of the program claim it takes away from too much instruction time, Martinez counters that “if we don’t front load, we’ll pay for it in the end.”
Martinez also points to fewer disciplinary referrals to her office. She believes students and teachers are finding ways through restorative justice to prevent classroom disruption. Teachers and student leaders who have embraced the program can hold shorter, less formal conferences in hallways or in between classes.
“Our teachers are doing the work, as well as the community,” Martinez said.
Hinkley High School has invited families to participate, Martinez said. And the program isn’t just for student conflicts. Conferences are held between students, teachers and staff. Even Hinkley principal Matt Willis, a former Marine, has led and been a participant in a restorative justice conference to resolve conflicts with his staff.
He said practicing restorative justice has made him more open to different voices and focused on how to repair broken relationships. “It’s been very transformative,” he said. “Just a total culture shift.”
That culture shift doesn’t happen overnight, said the Denver Foundation’s education director Sarah Park. “But it is deep and meaningful.”
The foundation is helping APS expand the program through grants and programing.
And students say they’re also taking the lessons of restorative justice outside of the classroom to their homes and part-time jobs.
“My dad doesn’t like to share his feelings that much,” Hinkley senior Cynthia Cisneros said. And that would lead to plenty of misunderstandings. “But I’ve learned I need to where he’s coming from. And when I did, he started to share. I have a better relationship with my dad now.”
A bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday launched a fast-track task force to study possible improvements in online education and report back by March 21.
Despite the tight timeline, the lawmakers said they believe there still will be time to craft online legislation if they feel it’s needed. The 2014 session has to adjourn no later than May 7.
Online education has been a controversial subject since 2006, when a state audit found low academic performance by online students and weak state oversight.
In subsequent years a variety of studies, Department of Education reports, an in-depth investigation by EdNews Colorado (now Chalkbeat Colorado) and low performance ratings for some online schools have continued to raise questions about online education. Key issues include low student performance, student turnover and cost to the state.Do your homework
In the meantime, online enrollment has mushroomed from just over 6,000 students when the 2006 audit was done to more than 17,000 now. There’s also a large variety of programs — full-time and part-time, district and charter, single district and multi-district and some programs run by schools and some by for-profit operators.
But while various lawmakers have considered legislation to more strongly regulate online schools in recent years, no lawmaker has pulled the trigger, partly because of political and lobbying pressure against additional rules.
Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said the seven-member task force will “look at all aspects on online learning … to help the four of us craft legislation.” Working with Young are Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida; Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Littleton, and Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango. Young and Kerr both have experience as online instructors.
“We need to make sure these are all high quality programs,” said Wilson, saying the task force has been asked to “find the good, bad and the ugly.”
“We plan to craft a bill if we find it necessary,” Kerr said. He said the timeline is tight but workable.
The task force is being coordinated by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which also supervised a 2007 study by what was called the Trujillo Commission. That four-member panel took only six weeks to do its work, Kerr noted.
Members of the task force include:
Kerr said the panel members were chosen because “they know what online education is.”
Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat Colorado.
Colorado’s policies on removing ineffective teachers from the classroom received high marks from the National Center for Teacher Quality, according to the organization’s annual review released Thursday.
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is a research and policy organization that advocates for tougher standards and evaluations for teachers. Their findings and recommendations — particularly around teacher preparation programs — have divided education observers. Its annual yearbook grades states on a variety of metrics, including degree requirements for teachers and teacher trainers, evaluations that are tied to student test scores and public reporting of teacher effectiveness.
Colorado received an overall grade of C+, an increase over last year’s C and higher that the nationwide average of C-. The increase can likely be attributed to the rollout of SB-191, which overhauled educator evaluations and tied evaluations to student test scores. (Part of the law is currently being challenged by the Denver teachers union.)
Colorado received an A for policies that remove “ineffective” teachers from the classroom but took a blow for failing to retain teachers deemed effective.
States that received high marks include Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee, all states where lawmakers have undertaken aggressive accountability-based education reform. Montana received an F, the lowest grade handed out.
Other local highlights from the report include:
Updated - Colorado’s largest teachers union Wednesday launched a two-pronged attack on part of the state educator effectiveness law, filing both a lawsuit and serving notice of a proposed bill in the legislature.
At issue is the mutual consent section of Senate Bill 10-191, which requires both principal and teacher agreement for placement of a teacher in a school. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and its statewide parent, the Colorado Education Association, claim the Denver Public Schools have misused the law by essentially firing teachers without due process.
The suit was filed Wednesday by five former Denver teachers and the DCTA. The filing, which had been expected for months, came in Denver District Court and names DPS and the State Board of Education as defendants. (The board is the default defendant in many suits involving education laws.)
Later in the day during a news conference at CEA headquarters, union leaders and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, announced plans to file a bill that would prohibit districts from putting teachers on unpaid leave if they can’t be placed in schools, but it wouldn’t repeal the full mutual consent portion of state law.
The bill will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.
“We have fought the good fight with the Denver Public Schools and avoided going to the courts and the legislature,” said Kerrie Dallman, CEA president. “We had great hopes that we would not get to this point,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, CEA vice president. Since negotiations with DPS didn’t work, the lawsuit and the proposed bill are needed, the two said.
Dallman and other CEA leaders repeatedly stressed that the two unions have no objections to the evaluation portions of SB 10-213. “This really is a surgical lawsuit,” she said. (Dallman and Oehlert both are members of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the advisory group that drew up recommendations for implementation of the law.)Sen. Johnston, others react to suit
Sen. Mike Johnston, author of SB 14-191, later in the day defended current mutual consent provisions and said of DPS, “I haven’t seen any evidence to see they are using it incorrectly.” He said he’d talked with CEA last summer about possible tweaks to the law but that no agreement was reached.
The Denver Democrat also agreed that the lawsuit “will change nothing about the evaluation process. … I don’t think this is going to be a big distraction.”
Johnston could end up being the deciding vote on the Salazar-Todd bill. If that measure passes the House and reaches the Senate floor, it’s unlikely any of the Senate’s 17 Republicans would vote for it. If Johnston also votes no, that would provide an 18-vote majority to kill the bill in the 35-member Senate.
A statement from the Department of Education sounded the same note, saying, “The filing of this lawsuit does not impact the ongoing work of schools and districts to implement the law.”
Separately, the SBE released a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” with the lawsuit and “will defend this lawsuit to the fullest extent of the law.”
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg defended SB 10-191′s current provisions, saying, “The practice of forced placement is wrong. It is wrong for our students, wrong for our teachers and wrong for our schools. It is particularly harmful because it disproportionately impacts our highest-poverty schools where our kids have the greatest need for excellent teachers.”
A coalition of business and education reform groups criticized the lawsuit. The suit “would turn back the clock for Colorado teachers and students,” said a news release from the Great Teachers and Leaders Law Coalition.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, commented, “This lawsuit should outrage every student, every parent, and every taxpayer in this state. The same union that tried to take another billion dollars from Colorado citizens with Amendment 66, is now trying to create a protected class of substandard workers.”Inside the lawsuit
The lawsuit argues that the mutual-consent provisions of the law and DPS’ actions are unconstitutional because they violate the state constitution’s ban on “impairment of contracts” and state laws on the firing of teachers. The suit also alleges that the district has violated teachers’ due-process rights.
The suit argues that non-probationary teachers have “a constitutionally protected property interest in … continued employment” that cannot lawfully be terminated without providing the procedural due process guaranteed by” the state constitution.
The class-action aspect of the suit seeks to include several different types of Colorado teachers, primarily those who held non-probationary status before May 20, 2010, when the mutual-consent provision went into effect.
The suit seeks a court ban on use of the mutual-consent provision for various kinds of non-probationay teachers and reinstatement and back pay for teachers who lost their jobs.
Based on the track record of prior public-policy lawsuits in Colorado, this case could take years to resolve if it goes up through the appeals process.
CEA lawyer Brad Bartels said, “I would be lying if I said that it would be short.” He said the first legal fight will be over whether the DCTA has made a proper claim for relief that can be adjudicated. If the suit passes that hurdle, there likely will be long proceedings over whether the case can proceed as a class action. The lawsuit makes claims for two main classes, a group of DPS teachers and all state teachers who were non-probationary before May 2010.
CEA leaders said they would pursue the lawsuit even if the Salazar-Todd bill passes because the suit seeks damages and reinstatement for those DPS teachers.
Individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit faced a filing deadline that was due to expire last summer. But the two unions, DPS and the State Board of Education agreed late last August to extend the deadline for filing a suit until Feb. 1 – Saturday.
The five teachers listed as plaintiffs are Cynthia Masters, Michele Montoya, Mildred Kolquist, Lawrence Garcia and Paul Scena.
The Great Teachers and Leaders Law Coalition is made up of civic, business and non-profit organizations including A+ Denver, Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Competitive Council, Colorado Concern, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Donnell‐Kay Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Piton Foundation and Stand for Children. Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Govs. Bill Owens and Bill Ritter are supporting the coalition’s criticism of the lawsuit.
The major elements of SB 10-191 are requirements for annual evaluations of principals and teachers, basing 50 percent of evaluations on student academic growth and the provision that teachers who have two consecutive ineffective or partially effective ratings lose their non-probationary status (commonly called tenure).
Read full text of the suit here.
Background on the issue from Chalkbeat:
A state audit released Tuesday found fault with the Department of Education for its administration of the School Meal Program, which oversees federally funded breakfast and lunch programs in Colorado schools.
Among other findings, the audit criticized the department for not spending all the federal funds available to it for administration of the program.
But the audit didn’t find any shortage in funds distributed to school districts for spending on meals. “No students were affected by this,” said CDE spokeswoman Janelle Asmus.
The audit, done by a private firm for the Office of the State Auditor, concluded CDE didn’t use $700,000 in federal funds available for administrative purposes and also didn’t apply for a $1.5 million federal grant that could have been used for administrative costs. Asmus noted that during the audit period the program was being reorganized and had several vacant positions.
But the audit, which covered 2008 to 2012, also found some CDE lapses in oversight of district meal programs. The state program “did not have an effective monitoring in process in place to ensure that school districts comply with School Meal Program requirements and that violations are corrected” in a timely way, the audit said.
Most of the auditor’s recommendations have been implemented or will be accomplished by the end of this year, according to the report.
During the 2012-13 school year, 61.6 million lunches and 24.8 million breakfasts were served in Colorado. The program spent about $175 million in that year, $171 million from federal funds.
Read the full audit here.
The state’s plan for performance funding of state colleges and universities is “not likely to work very well,” a staff analyst told the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.
JBC analysts are known for regular criticism of state agencies and provocative policy suggestions. But analyst Amanda Bickel’s analysis of the Department of Higher Education’s proposed performance funding plan was unusually harsh.
“Staff has significant concerns about the department’s proposal,” she wrote in a memo to the six-member committee. “Staff is dubious that the proposed performance system can provide a fair basis for comparing institutional performance or serve as a reasonable basis for funding.” She presented her memo and discussed the issue with the committee during a morning briefing.
“I’m really concerned about it,” she said. “As presently structured it’s not likely to work very well.”
A 2011 law required the Colorado Commission on Higher Education to develop a master plan for the state’s colleges and universities and to negotiate performance contacts with state colleges and universities. Those contracts are supposed to detail what each institution will do to move towards achievement of those goals, which include increasing the number of postsecondary credentials issued, improving student success in remedial education, reducing attainment gaps among demographic groups and improving the financial health of the higher education system.
A performance funding system is supposed to kick in later this decade, but only after direct state support of higher education reaches $706 million. (Even with the proposed $100 million increase in higher ed funding for 2014-15, total college support still would be about $100 million short of the performance funding threshold.) If the program ever goes into effect, only a small portion of college support would be based on performance.Do your homework
The CCHE recently completed a plan for how performance funding would work, and it was that document on which Bickel trained her sights.
She criticized the wide variety – and lack of uniformity – in the performance measurements chosen by colleges. She noted that CCHE suggested 23 indicators – of which colleges had to select only two – and that 16 college governing boards are using 71 different measures to rate their performance.
“Essentially, each institution has been allowed to choose its own test,” Bickel wrote. ”Under this system, institutions may be rewarded primarily for their skills at selecting metrics. Those who chose poorly will suffer; those that chose well will benefit.”
She concluded, “In staff’s opinion the approach will need to be substantially changed if the General Assembly hopes to use this data to compare institutional performance or provide a basis for funding the institutions.”
Interestingly enough, committee members didn’t seem particularly stirred by Bickel’s analysis. Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, said she didn’t think performance funding is a particularly good idea. Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, wondered why tuition rates and student debt were used as performance measurements.
“I just think there are a lot of different opinions on this,” blandly observed JBC chair Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. The committee didn’t pick up on either of Bickel’s two key suggestions, that lawmakers change the performance-funding law or at least send a letter to CCHE outlining concerns about the program. The panel merely agreed to let Bickel send her memo to members of the House and Senate education committees.
In an interview later with Chalkbeat Colorado, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia acknowledged the challenges to performance funding but said there’s time to work out the kinks.
“We recognize this is going to be complicated. … We have two years to work this out. … We have the opportunity to do a dry run,” said Garcia, who’s also director of the Department of Higher Education. “If we find it to be unworkable we will sit down with the institutions” and make improvements in the system.
Garcia also alluded to what may be the real reason behind the wide variations in institutional performance contracts – Colorado colleges and universities have significant independence while his department and the CCHE are relatively weak.
“There’s a great deal of autonomy” for institutions, he said. “These institutions have significant political influence as well.” Colleges and universities, sensitive to their varying missions and different study bodies, “were all concerned that they all would be held to the same standard.”
As an example, he noted that Metropolitan State University probably will never have the same graduation rate as the University of Colorado Boulder, but that Boulder likely will never enroll as many minority students as Metro does.
During her briefing Bickel also alluded to the realities of higher education politics. “The institutions are quite influential compared to CCHE, and each feels it’s special and should have a special approach.”
A bill expected to be introduced this week would allow school and district performance ratings earned in the 2014-15 school year to be carried over into the following year.
The proposal, prepared by the Department of Education, is intended to bridge a data gap that will be created when the state moves from the current TCAP testing system to the new CMAS system, which will be based on multi-state online tests. Those new tests are to launch in the spring of 2015.
CDE officials have been talking for months about the need for such a bill.
School and district performance ratings are based partly on student academic growth, as measured by changes in test scores over multiple years. Because the old and new tests are different, there will be a growth data gap.
Performance ratings are a key element in what’s called the “accountability clock.” That refers to schools and districts that remain in the two lowest rating categories for five consecutive years.
Under current state accountability law, the State Board of Education is supposed to intervene with schools and districts that reach the five-year point. Options for such schools and districts include hiring an outside partner to improve the school, reorganizing school leadership, becoming an innovation school or clustering with other schools in an innovation zone, “restarting” a school by hiring contract management or conversion to a charter school.
A total of 190 schools are on the accountability clock. Some 40 are entering year four of the five-year clock. (Get more information in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)
An interesting part of the proposed bill would give the State Board the power and flexibility to choose additional, unspecified options for struggling districts, beyond those in current law.
Any change in the accountability law is not expected to have an impact on use of the state’s educator evaluation system, which requires 50 percent of principal and teacher evaluations be based on student academic growth. That’s because statewide tests are not the sole growth measure used for evaluation.
The measure is expected to be sponsored in the House by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon and chair of the House Education Committee.
Updated Jan. 29 - The Denver Classroom Teachers Association filed suit Wednesday in Denver District Court, challenging the “mutual consent” provision of Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark educator evaluation law.
That provision has been controversial — and a lawsuit has been expected — for nearly four years.
The Colorado Education Association, the DCTA’s statewide parent, has scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday to formally announce the lawsuit’s filing and “and legislative action to correct proven flaws in the mutual consent provision.”
CEA officials declined to provide details of the possible “legislative action” ahead of the news conference. But the general outline of claims that the union is likely to make in the lawsuit is generally known, given a long-running and public fight between the DCTA and the Denver Public Schools.
The major elements of SB 10-191 are requirements for annual evaluations of principals and teachers, basing 50 percent of evaluations on student academic growth and the provision that teachers who have two consecutive ineffective or partially effective ratings lose their non-probationary status (commonly called tenure). All of those provisions don’t fully go into effect until the 2014-15 school year, although they are being tested statewide this year.
However, the mutual consent provision of the law went into effect in May 2010. It requires that both a teacher and a principal agree to the teacher’s placement in a school. (That effectively gives the principal veto power.) Backers of SB 10-191 argued that the provision was needed to prevent ineffective teachers from being shuttled from school to school.
The DCTA has argued that DPS has misused the mutual consent provision to discharge teachers without cause, violating both state law and the state constitution. Those arguments are expected to be at the center of the lawsuit’s claims.
At one point the union and the district went to arbitration over the issue. An arbitrator sided with the DCTA, which claims DPS has ignored that opinion.
Individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit faced a filing deadline that was due to expire last summer. But the two unions, DPS and the State Board of Education agreed last August to extend the deadline for filing a suit until Feb. 1 – Saturday.
That delay later become a side issue in the Amendment 66 campaign, with some amendment opponents claiming the delay was an effort by supporters (specifically the CEA) to avoid distracting publicity during the campaign. Later, business leaders, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the SBE called on the union to promise not to file a lawsuit.
That flap died away quickly, and voters defeated A66 by a wide margin. (Learn more in this story.)
Background on the issue from Chalkbeat:
It’s now legal for Colorado schools to administer epinephrine auto-injectors to students without a prescription, but school districts around the state vary widely in their plans to stock the allergy medicine.
Some, like Denver Public Schools, have stated they do not plan to stock the auto-injectors, which can reverse life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Others, like the Sheridan School District, are enthusiastically pursuing stock epinephrine, and many others, like District 51 in Grand Junction, are taking a “wait and see” approach.
Although Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the law last May, the plodding pace of various bureaucratic steps has made it difficult for school districts, even those interested in stock epinephrine, to move forward.
While the State Board of Education’s December approval of rules related to the law cleared one hurdle, many districts are still waiting for the Colorado Association of School Boards to release sample stock epinephrine policies and the Colorado Department of Education to release implementation guidelines. The sample policies and the guidelines are expected in late winter or early spring.
In the meantime, school nurses like Shari Fessler, who works in the Sheridan district, are making preliminary plans.
Fessler, who said her superintendent is on board, expects to start stocking “undesignated” epinephrine at the district’s five schools by next fall, and possibly sooner. Under the law, school staff who are CPR and First Aid certified can administer the epinephrine shots as long as they are “delegated” in advance by the school nurse and receive special training first.
“We don’t want just anybody grabbing an EpiPen and using it,” said Fessler, who is one of three epinephrine resource nurses for the state. “We’ll have select people I’ll train in the district…probably two to three from each building.”
The idea behind stock epinephrine auto-injectors in schools is that they can deliver immediate life-saving first aid to children who have unknown allergies and therefore no existing prescription for epinephrine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of anaphylaxis incidents in schools occur in students with unknown allergies. Since anaphylaxis can kill within minutes, doing nothing until the ambulance arrives can fritter away precious treatment time.
Under Colorado’s new law, schools are required to report when epinephrine is administered in schools to the CDE. In the first semester of this school year, 12 such reports were made, said Kathleen Patrick, assistant director of student health services at CDE. Last year, 29 cases were reported, including one case of an unknown allergy involving a staff member.Waiting and seeing
While school districts like Denver and Sheridan appear to have made relatively firm decisions about stocking epinephrine or not, most seem to occupy a middle ground while they wait for answers to questions like who should be trained to give the epinephrine shots and how districts should secure the required prescriptions for the stock auto-injectors.
“Schools are kind of grappling with all of it,” said Patrick.
Whei Wong, chief communications officer for the Mapleton school district, said, “Certainly, it’s so fresh, I don’t think we’ve landed squarely yet. I think there are still some gray areas.”
Tom Turrell, superintendent of the rural Byers School District, said he hasn’t sat down with his crisis team to discuss the possibility of stock epinephrine, but added, “I think we definitely need to have some sort of conversation.”
Do your homework
That conversation happened long ago in the Cherry Creek school district, which has stocked epinephrine auto-injectors for years. That’s because, unlike the vast majority of Colorado districts, there is a nurse in every Cherry Creek school who is available to give the shots if there is an instance of anaphylaxis. In addition, the district has a medical advisory council led by an allergist who prescribes the stock auto-injectors and provides protocol for their use.Special training
While some teachers and paraprofessionals in many school districts may already receive annual training on giving epinephrine shots, the distinction is that those shots are for kids who already had an allergy diagnosis and their own prescribed auto-injector at school. The new law essentially allows school staff without medical licenses to identify anaphylaxis in students with unknown allergies and then take steps to treat it with epinephrine.
“It’s certainly a possibility that someone could give it and [it could] turn out not to be a true allergy, but from what the doctors tell us the EpiPen is not going to hurt anybody,” said Fessler.
In addition to hammering out details about staff training, under the new law, districts will also have to find a doctor to write orders and prescriptions for the stock epinephrine. Those that have medical councils like Cherry Creek may go that route, while those with school-based health centers may choose a physician associated with the centers.
Then there are districts with neither resource.
“For other school districts that do not have a school-based health center and do not have a health board…there’d be a lot more to get it set up,” said Kelly Grenham, president of the Colorado Association of School Nurses and a school nurse in Mapleton, said districts
Aside from the logistics of implementing stock epinephrine, some administrators believe stock epinephrine is more germane to rural districts where ambulance response times may be longer than in urban settings.
But Fessler, noting that emergency responders can be delayed for a variety of reasons, said, “It’s just as valid here as in the rural areas.”Paying for it
For many school leaders, the cost of stocking auto-injectors, which expire after a year, is daunting.
Tanya Marvin, coordinator of the nursing department in District 51, said if her district starts the program, she wants to be able to sustain it in all 43 schools.
“Where do we get the money to do that?” she said. “EpiPens are expensive,” she said, referring to one brand of auto-injector.
Fessler said, “Could we have the PTA raise money for us? I don’t know.”
In Denver, the decision to hold off on stock epinephrine is due to the cost, both of the auto-injectors themselves and the extensive staff training that would be needed to ensure compliance with the law.
Mylan Specialty L.P., the distributor of EpiPens, offers a program to provide four free stock EpiPens to schools each calendar year. That program, begun in August 2012, is set to extend through Dec. 31, 2014. It’s unclear whether or not it will continue after that date. The company also offers schools a discounted rate of $112.10 for additional EpiPen twin packs.
Tustin Amole, director of communications for the Cherry Creek district, said the district currently gets 122 free EpiPens, two for each school, through Mylan’s giveaway program, called EpiPen4Schools. Prior to that, she said the district used money from Medicaid reimbursements to purchase the auto-injectors.
Despite the promise of school giveaway programs, Marvin and others can’t help wondering what happens if the financial fortunes of drug manufacturers change and the programs grind to a halt. The other problem that worries some school nurses is the potential for parents of students with known allergies to stop providing prescribed auto-injectors to schools and instead rely on the school’s stock supply. That could force schools to spend more than anticipated on stock epinephrine.
Patrick expects all the issues around stock epinephrine in schools to play out over time.
“It’s not going to happen overnight.” she said. “It’ll evolve.”