The Northwest Colorado BOCES needs to find about $440,000 in private sector funds in order to be awarded a multi-million dollar federal grant.
The funds, nearly $3 million in total, will be used for online tools to build teaching communities across the northwest corner of Colorado. Those communities will be used for professional development linked directly to their evaluations.
The BOCES’s application for the Investing in Innovation grant was dubbed as one of the “highest-rated” by the U.S. Department of Education. If the Northwest Colorado BOCES secures matching donations, it will be the only Colorado recipient of the federal grant.
All highest-rated applicants in previous years have successfully secured private matching funds and become grantees.
“This Investing in Innovation grant will help empower our teachers in northwest Colorado and provide them with valuable tools and resources to become even better teachers for our kids,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a statement issued by the BOCES. “In order for this project to reach its full potential, these schools need support through matching funds that will work alongside the federal resources.”
Northwest Colorado BOCES developed the project on behalf of seven rural school districts in Grand, Jackson, Routt, and Moffat counties.
In these districts, high quality professional development and opportunities for significant connections to others in similar positions can be difficult to provide to teachers.
“Just like kids, teachers are at all different levels of mastery,” said Amy Bollinger, executive director for the Northwest BOCES. “The project is a shift away from ineffective one-time workshops toward ongoing dynamic professional learning. It will help struggling teachers improve, average teachers become great, and excellent teachers grow.”
Two high schools expect mass protests of tests from high schoolers this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A lawsuit claims Colorado Springs schools limit students' rights by prohibiting them from praying during free time. ( Gazette )
Editorial, Sick Out
The Denver Post writes that parents should be able to request the names of teachers who participated in a "sick out" in protest earlier this fall. ( Denver Post )
Clear Creek district delayed because of snow this morning. ( 9 News )
Just Say No
Castle View seniors lay out their concerns with the test. ( Douglas County News Press )
Around the network
New York City plans to boost services for English learners. ( Chalkbeat New York )
In Newark, charter schools try to figure out how to close the achievement gap without burning out teachers. ( Hechinger Report )
Why do some high schools form cliques and others don't? ( The Atlantic )
For the first time, two Colorado school districts could see their high schools face sanctions because a critical mass of seniors are refusing to take the state’s new standardized tests.
In what will likely be the largest — and most public — assault so far on the state’s school accountability system, nearly 200 high school students at a Boulder high school are expected to opt-out of the new standardized tests they’re supposed to take Thursday and Friday. Instead, they will hold a public protest Thursday morning outside their school.
And in Douglas County, at least one principal has made a formal plea to parents to do what ever they can to have their students take the social studies and science tests this week.
And rumors continue to grow that more schools across the state will see similar levels of students opting out.
While opponents to standardized tests cite many reasons why they opt their students out, students at Boulder’s Fairview High School, where the public demonstration will take place, say they’ve been tested their entire educational career and enough is enough.
“We want to change the community for the better, and change the way our education system works,” said Rachel Perley, a senior at Fairview High School and one of the lead organizers behind the protest.
In interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, and in a YouTube video and open letter to school and state officials, Boulder students said the new exams won’t have a direct impact on their college or career trajectory. They also claimed the tests don’t align with their high school curriculum. And they fear the gap between their ninth grade science class and their senior year won’t serve as a reliable indicator of how much they learned.
While the decision by students and their families not to take the test will have little impact on their future, their respective schools might face repercussions not seen before in Colorado.
State law requires that schools maintain a 95 percent participation rate in each exam. But if 95 percent of students don’t participate in two or more content areas the school’s accreditation rating is lowered. If a school’s accreditation drops too low, and stays there for five years, the school district that operates that school could face more sanctions.
And while it’s likely that this is the first year that any school is in serious jeopardy of not meeting that 95 percent threshold, it’s not yet clear how the state might respond if schools miss that bar.
Some schools, fearful of a lowered accreditation rating, are urging parents who are wavering to make their students participate.
Douglas County’s Mountain Vista High School Principal Michael Weaver, in a Oct. 31 letter to parents, said the number of opt-out letters he’s received already crosses a threshold that puts his school’s accreditation in jeopardy. He requested parents do whatever they can to make sure their students take the test.
“I am certain that the Class of 2015 understands that Mountain Vista and our staff have never considered opting out or refusing to support them as they have navigated through their high school careers,” he wrote.
Other schools are keeping meticulous track of parent refusals, hoping that evidence will be sufficient to keep their accreditation rating. At urging of state officials, they’re collecting letters, emails, and keeping phone logs of conversations.
As of Friday, administrators at Fairview had 180 letters of refusal, or 30 percent of the senior class.
“It will be interesting if our accreditation is jeopardized because of the lack of participation of CMAS,” said Don Stensrud, Fairview’s principal. “Kids here literally go to all the Ivy’s across the nation.”
Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger said he’s had ongoing conversations with the students behind the Fairview protest and that he is empathetic to their concerns about testing. But, he said, his schools will still proctor the tests.
“What I’ve conveyed to them — and nothing has been confrontational — is that ‘just so you know, you’re not in a very different place than where your board of education or superintendent is. We’re having those same conversations with state lawmakers, but we’re under a legal obligation to administer these tests,'” he said.
Colorado has an established opposition to the state’s exams, and small number of families have always chosen to opt their students out of standardized tests. But on average, the number of students who don’t take the test based on parent refusal — Colorado’s technical term for opting out — has been less than one percent. Even last year, when it appeared the opt-out movement was stronger than ever, opt-outs only ticked up slightly.
But the students in Boulder are working outside the established opt-out community and said they’ve come to their conclusions about the new tests on their own.
Because of that, the protest and apparent increase of students refusing to take the test at other Colorado schools is likely to provide established opponents of standardized tests with plenty of ammunition as the state continues to wrestle with the question of standardized exams.
“A lot of it has to do — and I’ve been wondering what is the difference is this year, myself — with trying to test seniors, because that’s crazy,” said Karen McGraw, a Mountain Vista High School parent and leader at United Opt Out, an organization that organizes parents against standardized tests across the nation.
McGraw has opted her children out of Colorado’s testing system for three years.
“I don’t think the tests are good for kids, I don’t think they’re good for teachers, I don’t think they’re good for the future of public education,” McGraw said.
The debate over the November tests mirrors a much larger conversation happening across the nation and state.
Parents in Florida blasted their state’s testing system at a recent parent meeting. During the summer, media personality Glenn Beck held a virtual town hall to rally opponents to the Common Core State Standards and their aligned exams. And last spring, two teachers in New York decided to not administer the tests themselves.
Meanwhile in Colorado, parents, school officials, and lawmakers have for the past year been embroiled in a debate about what role standardized assessments should play in the classroom and in the state’s accountability system.
“I do know we have a number of families who believe this [new] test does not make sense,” said Liz Fagen, Douglas County’s superintendent.
Earlier this year, the school district hosted a series of meetings to discuss the state’s testing system.
While Fagen declined to discuss specific numbers of parent refusals the district has received so far this fall, she said, “It seems to me, [the number of opt-outs] have been building over the last few years. But our response is we’re required to give these assessments. And we’re going to — in good faith — administer these tests, document parent refusals, and provide makeups.”
Meanwhile, the district will continue to lobby for a change to the system, she said.
“We’re big fans of accountability, but we don’t think this is the answer,” Fagen said.
Currently, every Colorado student enrolled between the third and 11th grade are required to take language arts and math exams. Also, one grade per elementary, middle, and high school level are required to take a social studies and science test. High school juniors are also required to take the ACT.
During the last legislative session, a bill that would have allowed some school districts waivers from the state’s standardized tests — which goes above and beyond what’s required by the federal government — was amended to instead form a review committee to study the issue. That committee, which is currently on a listening tour throughout the state, must make recommendations — if any — to the General Assembly next year.
Broadly, supporters of the exams believe there is power in the data the tests yield. They believe the results can hold schools accountable to teach every student regardless of race, economic background, or ability, and can inform how effective teachers are at their jobs. Opponents, meanwhile, believe the tests are punitive, gobble up too much instruction time, and are nothing more than a ploy to make money for curriculum companies.
Which path the legislature may take next session is unknown.
If the Fairview students have it their way, the senior social studies and science tests will be abolished.
“Hopefully, the protest make a change,” Perley, the Fairview senior, said.Fairview High School students explain why they’re opting out
The votes are (finally) in
Colorado Republicans will narrowly be in control of the state Senate next year. That means a big change on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
We asked, you answered
Chalkbeat readers who shared their feelings with us last week overwhelmingly told us the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education and some of its decisions weighed on their minds while filling out their ballot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
This week's question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
You are my sunshine
While it's still unclear how Proposition 104 will affect school districts, a few Colorado school districts that already negotiate in public provide a glimpse of what might be in store. ( Denver Post )
About 500 teachers participated in a conceal carry class in Centennial. ( Denver Channel )
As the state's accountability clock winds down for Pueblo City Schools, the struggling school district took the first step toward a third party accreditation service. ( Pueblo Chieftain )
reading is fundamental
Boulder High School aims not just to teach students how to read, but how to love reading. ( Daily Camera )
Drawing on 150 years of classroom experience, NPR attempts to answer the question, "what makes a great teacher." ( NPR via KUNC )
The RE-1 Valley superintendent told the Sterling Rotary Club how her district is implementing the Colorado Academic Standards and what role the Common Core plays. ( Journal-Advocate )
home away from home
Here's a look at how Oakland Public Schools (now run by a former Denver Public Schools executive) is trying to improve the lives of recent undocumented immigrant children. ( New York Times )
Last week we shared with you news about a report on personalized learning.
Depending upon the a school’s model, personalized learning maybe very dependent on technology. According to the report: “Slightly less than half of teachers surveyed said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.”
This week’s question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have?
Every Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses.
See last’s week’s responses here.
The long days of post-election vote counting ended late Friday, giving Republicans an 18-17 majority in the state Senate.
Vote counts in Adams County, slowed by tabulation of write-in votes for a county office, ended with victory for Republican Beth Martinez Humenik in Senate District 24. She narrowly defeated retired teacher Judy Solano, a former House member.
The outcome was part of as surprising Republican surge in the traditionally Democratic county. Another apparent victim was Democratic Rep. Jenise May, who lost to Republican JoAnn Windholz in District 30.
But Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar, who had trailed in early counts, pulled off a narrow win in neighboring District 31 over Carol Buckler. Salazar’s win will bring the Democrats’ House majority to 34.
The Republicans’ Senate win and May’s loss will bring important changes to the Joint Budget Committee, which includes members from both houses. Now controlled 4-2 by Democrats, the new committee will have a 3-3 makeup.
Senate Republican leaders will have to find a second member to serve with committee veteran Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs. And Senate Democrats will have to decide between current members Mary Hodge of Brighton and Pat Steadman to fill their one seat.
In the House, Democratic leaders will need to find a replacement for the defeated May. Other current House members are Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.
The changes mean half the members will be new to the committee, as Rankin was named to the panel only after the 2014 session adjourned. The committee will face key decisions about both K-12 and higher education funding during the 2015 session. (Get more background on those issues in this Chalkbeat Colorado story about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget plan.)
Learn more about the possible implications of the legislative changes in this earlier story.
On Monday, we asked our readers, “What role — if any — have public education issues played in your vote this election?” Here’s a look at their answers.[View the story "Readers: Jeffco board weighed on their ballot " on Storify]
A group of Jeffco high school students, upset over the board's decision to redesign a curriculum review committee, interrupted Thursday's school board meeting by reading passages about civil disobedience aloud from their texts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )
A Washington Post editorial writer argues that the conflict over AP US History in Jeffco is less about culture wars and more a continuation of a battle over education reform started in Dougco but bungled by the Jeffco board. ( Washington Post )
new verse just like the first
Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The differing fates of bond measures in Boulder and Adams County highlights differences between the two counties. ( 9News )
revving their engines
In the wake of the elections, superintendents around the state are gearing up for a renewed push to increase school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
election week 2014
As of Thursday afternoon, Democratic leadership in the legislature was confident that they would retain control of the House; a change in leadership could have big implications for education policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Students in Cherry Creek and Aurora, like their peers around the state, did not fare extremely well on new, more challenging social studies and science tests. ( Aurora Sentinel )
GOLDEN — Jefferson County students, upset over how their board of education redesigned a curriculum review committee, interrupted the school board’s proceedings tonight by reading aloud from their history books.
About 10 students either read out of turn about historical figures, known for acts of civil disobedience, at a podium or from their seats. Another dozen students also recited the Pledge of Allegiance before making a mass exit.
All students left peacefully. No arrests were made.
As part of their demonstration, the students said they had four demands: a public apology from the school board’s conservative majority for referring to students as “union pawns;” a reversal of an earlier decision to amend content review policies; proof from the board that they listen and act on community input instead of what students called an “ideological” agenda; and more resources for classroom instruction.
Some of the students, members of the recently-formed Jeffco Students for Change, played a role in organizing a weeks worth of walkouts at their individual high schools.
The walkouts at each of Jeffco’s neighborhood high school were also in response to curriculum review committee. At the time, board member Julie Williams was requesting a new committee be established by the board. She hoped the new panel would review an advanced history course she believed was unpatriotic. Critics of Williams’ proposal believed her intentions were to censor some of the nation’s less flattering moments.
Ultimately, under the eye of international media outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian, the Jeffco board amended existing policies that govern how the district responds to concerns about classroom content. Those changes include adding students and board-appointed members to a panel to review materials, and putting the review process under the auspice of the school board.
Board chairman Ken Witt called the 3-2 vote a compromise. But vocal teachers, parents, and students didn’t buy it.
In fact, the same students who disrupted tonight’s board meeting earlier held a weekend rally to gauge interest in a recall election for the board’s majority. There has been no further public discussion on that matter.
Lamenting the low turnout that they believe doomed a slate of bond and levy questions, superintendents across Colorado said Thursday that the building and budget needs that would have been alleviated by the tax measures will still have to be met eventually.
Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future.
“We’re going to see a lot more of the breakdown of infrastructure. The community we serve will feel it more,” said Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sánchez. He said the Commerce City district would likely request funds again next fall to renovate elementary schools and build a new middle school.
In Mapleton, where officials had requested $67 million to update and repair roofs, electrical systems and bring buildings up to safety code, Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said that the district’s board would meet to determine how to move forward after the election. “It continues to be clear how many in our community lack understanding of the needs of a public school district, and how many people are choosing not to engage in conversations.”
Statewide, districts were seeking $50.9 million in 26 mill levy overrides. Just 11, totaling $17 million, passed. Mill overrides are additional tax hikes that must be approved by voters. Districts use the extra revenue to support various programs and fill funding gaps, which have increased during the past few years as the state begun using the so-called “negative factor” to cap state spending.
Colorado superintendents plan to push for more money from the state during the next legislative session.
School boards were also seeking $1.5 billion in 18 different bond overrides to support building construction and maintenance; voters passed nine worth $710 million. The bonds were proposed to create new buildings in fast-growing areas of the state or to replace deteriorating infrastructure in rural and suburban counties.
Colorado voters have a mixed record on supporting local referenda. While just over half of the mill levies and bonds passed both in 2014 and 2013, more than 90 percent passed in 2012, and fewer than a third passed the year before.
This year, mills and bonds passed mainly in rural districts, such as Pawnee and Platte Valley, and in more affluent areas, including Telluride and Boulder, which passed a $567.4 million bond for construction — the largest in the state’s history.
But in fast-growing Adams County, where all five districts requested additional funds, five capital construction bonds and four mill levy overrides all failed.
“I’m a little blue…Statewide, it seems like a lot of people didn’t get involved and didn’t vote.” said Commerce City Superintendent Sánchez. He said the lack of bond funds in particular would be a challenge. “We have to do the best with what we have.”
Groups in each Adams County district had organized to support the additional funding measures.
A spokeswoman for the campaign that supported the bond measures for the R27J school district that serves students in Brighton, Commerce City, and Thornton said of the results: “We are disappointed in the outcome of the election, because the bond would have helped the district address the very serious overcrowding happening in our schools. This situation will not get any better, and in fact will only get worse as more and more families move to the community.
Adams County district leaders said they were disappointed both by the outcome of the vote and by low voter turnout — just 43 percent in the county. Statewide, voter turnout hovered just below 55 percent. That’s still higher than the overall national turnout — 36.6 percent.
Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski said in a letter to parents that some voters might have assumed Amendment 68, which would brought more revenue from gambling into schools, would address funding woes. That amendment did not pass in Tuesday’s election.
In El Paso county, voters in Falcon school district 49 supported a mill levy override that would give $7.5 million in operating expense to the district, but blocked a measure that would have brought in $107 million to support new buildings.
Peter Hilts, the district’s chief education officer, said in an email that the override would “allow [the district] to pay our excellent teachers wages that are competitive with the more affluent districts to our west.”
Still, he wrote, the district needs to determine how to accommodate a student population that has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
“We’ve very much poised to hold the majority in the state House,” Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino told reporters Thursday as ballots still were being counted in several tight legislative races. “We feel very confident that we are at 33 and maybe more.”
Thirty-three constitutes the bare majority in the 65-member House.
“We feel very good, knowing what remains to be counted,” he added, acknowledging that tallying continue in Adams County and elsewhere. There were indications that the Adams count might drag into Friday.
Democrats are tentatively declaring House victory based on narrow winning margins for two Arapahoe County representatives, Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Su Ryden of Aurora.
Ferrandino acknowledged, “There are ballots to be counted in Arapahoe County, but not enough to see those [numbers] move against us. … If we were concerned we would not be sitting here today.”
The situation is murkier in a few key races for the Senate, where Democrats are hoping to hold their current 18-17 majority.Education implications of the election
Democratic control of the House – and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election – likely means the policy landscape for education and other issues will be similar to that of recent legislative sessions, regardless of what happens with the Senate. Republican takeover of both the executive and legislative branches might have opened a path to new initiatives, such as tuition tax credits.
If Democrats don’t hold the Senate, Hickenlooper still will be on familiar ground. His party controlled the Senate but Republicans ran the House during his first two years, 2011 and 2012.
The 2011 session was the single one in the last six years that didn’t produce major education legislation, partly because lawmakers were focused on revenue and budget problems. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)
Things got more interesting for education during the 2012 session, which saw passage of the READ Act, the bill intended to improve reading levels in grades K-3; an easing of school zero-tolerance policies, and passage of the law that led to Colorado joining the PARCC multi-state testing group. That last issue is likely to come back in 2015, giving rising public and lawmaker discontent about testing. (Get a full review of the 2012 session here.)The undecided races
As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Kagan was leading Republican Candice Benge by a bit more than 400 votes. His total has been climbing slowly but steadily since Tuesday night, when he was running behind.
Ryden was leading Republican Richard Bowman by almost 600 votes. Her totals have been following a trend line similar to Kagan’s.
Five other races in both houses remain very tight, with votes still to be counted.
In Senate District 20, Sen. Cheri Jahn leads Republican Larry Queen by 116 votes. In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez Humenick leads Democrat Judy Solano by about 1,000 votes. Democrats need to win both of these to hold the Senate.
Here’s the House situation:
The races have been decided for current members of the House and Senate education committees.
Democrats Millie Hamner (the chair), John Buckner, Lois Court, Rhonda Fields, Brittany Pettersn and Dave Young won re-election, as did Republicans Justin Everett, Kevin Priola and Jim Wilson.
Three 2014 members – Republicans Frank McNulty and Carole Murray and Democrat Cherilyn Peniston – won’t be returning because of term limits. And Republican Chris Holbert will be leaving because he won a Senate seat.
On Senate Education, Democratic chair Andy Kerr narrowly won re-election while fellow Jeffco Democrat Rachel Zenzinger lost.
Four members – Democrats Mike Johnston and Nancy Todd and Republicans Vicki Marble and Mark Scheffel – are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And Republican Scott Renfroe won’t be returning because of term limits.
Another familiar education figure will be joining the Senate as a freshman. Mike Merrifield had long service in the House as chair of the education committee. (Solano also had multiple terms on House Education.)
So new members will be filling vacant seats on the education committees, and past membership doesn’t necessarily mean continued service. Legislative leaders often shuffle committee memberships after an election, based on member preferences and political needs.
Ferrandino won’t be presiding over the new, smaller majority because he’s also term limited and now works as the chief financial officer for Denver Public Schools.
Colorado’s electorate might be as polarized as ever, but the state’s superintendents are finding plenty of consensus on how the state funds its schools. Or, as they see it, how the state doesn’t fund its schools enough.
“The number one concern is state funding. After that it’s testing and everything else,” said Bruce Messinger, Boulder Valley’s superintendent, in a post-Election Day interview.
And now, with a better understanding of who will shape the state’s next budget, those school leaders intend to make their frustrations known loud and clear.
Superintendents from across the state plan to send a letter to the governor and General Assembly outlining their recommendations for the next budget cycle. The letter is expected to be signed by most — if not all — of the state’s superintendents.
In that letter, which should arrive before the start of the next legislative session in January, the superintendents will ask Colorado’s lawmakers to both restore the estimated $900 million the state owes its schools and provide more funding targeted to the state’s neediest and rural students, multiple superintendents said.
The letter will also request that the state hand over the tax dollars without earmarks specifying how the money should be spent.
“The state doesn’t know what we cut, so how do they know what to give back?” said Mark Hale, superintendent of Montrose and Olathe schools.
School funding has been contentious in Colorado for some time. During the Great Recession, the legislature had to juggle constitutional requirements to fund education and balance its budget. To do so, it created the “negative factor,” which led to about a billion dollar in cuts.
“It’s very important that we invest in our kids and in our schools,” said Tom Boasberg, Denver’s superintendent. “Right now we continue to be one of the lowest-funding states in the country.”
Boasberg said the lack of funding hasn’t helped any school district boost student achievement, especially those school districts with a large population of students of color and those who qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices. If anything, he said, the lack of funds has made the work more difficult.
As the economy has recovered, schools have begun to see more money. Some of those funds, however, have been only been provided to fulfill projects created by legislators. For example, earlier this year the legislature provided school districts money to create websites to report how individual schools spend their revenues.
“We’d really like to see our voice back — the way its been going, it’s been to have accountability at the local level but decision making at the (legislative) level,” Hale said. “There’s a disconnect there.”
While superintendents are fed up, they are optimistic about a recovering economy and what appears to be a willingness to collaborate on the part of state officials.
Prior to the election, Democratic lawmakers extended a sort of olive branch to superintendents inviting them to work together on school finance issues. And in his first draft of the 2015-16 budget, Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed an increase in student funding. But those extra dollars wouldn’t be guaranteed in the future.
“It’s a good starting place,” Hale said. “Maybe [Hickenlooper] is a little serious about giving us due consideration.”
The superintendents plan to send their letter outside the auspice of any formal organization. The process, they said, has been organic. Clusters of superintendents have been meeting off and on at different retreats for months. But the school leaders have decided there is strength in numbers.
“We’re a much more unified voice,” said Pat Sanchez, superintendent of Adams 14. “And we want to have a stronger voice at the legislature — like we used to have.”
They also decided that they can’t waste energy fighting among themselves and their respective priorities.
“There’s a saying, ‘the cure for Denver is often the disease of Montrose,'” Hale said. “[But] I don’t want to fight with Douglas County or Cherry Creek.”
That’s one just another reason why district officials want more control over how they spend tax dollars.
“There needs to be recognition that there are different needs between large schools and rural schools,” said Dan McMinimee, superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools. “On the eastern plains, they may have issues like infrastructure. They might have to hire more people. Here we might need technology and books, or to build new schools. The question is, how can we put together a package that we all want and need, knowing that each district is different. The bottom line: We want to make those decisions locally.”
election day turned election week
After a confusing day of vote-counting, it was still unclear late on Wednesday which party would have control of the state legislature, a situation with big implications for education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
When Colorado's high school seniors start taking new standardized tests this week, some younger students will be getting the days off entirely. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
look into my crystal ball
Now that voters have decided that teachers union contract negotiations should be public, what does the future of negotiations look like? Here are a bunch of predictions, ranging from more confusion and legal expense to more districts cutting union ties. ( 9News, Gazette )
One last time
The Thompson school board held a closed session Wednesday to discuss contract negotiations, technically legal because Proposition 104 hasn't actually gone into effect yet. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )
District tax measures
Boulder Valley School District is now in planning mode after voters approved the state's largest K-12 construction bond issue. ( Daily Camera )
Low turnout of younger voters contributed to the defeats of some school tax proposals, some other district leaders think. ( Denver Post )
There's no "we" in personalized learning
A new report outlines how schools in Colorado and around the country are utilizing "personalized learning" -- but it's still unclear exactly what "personalized learning" means or how effective its methods are. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Longmont's Burlington Elementary School is under the Colorado Department of Education's microscope, with a goal of figuring out why the school is successful so other schools can replicate that success. ( Longmont Times-Call )
Louisville's Monarch High School students are producing the premiere of a never-before-seen play, "Bubble Boy: The Musical," written by a New York high school student and based on the Colorado family's hoax. ( Daily Camera )
Updated Nov. 5, 9:45 p.m. - Republican and Democratic legislative leaders Wednesday sweated through a long day of not knowing which party will control the 2015 General Assembly.
A late-evening Chalkbeat Colorado count of races already decided plus races still being counted indicated either party could end up with majority control of the House or Senate – or both.
The outcome depends on the final results in a few key races where vote counts have been slow, particularly in Adams County. Unofficial final results aren’t expected until Thursday.
Because of the uncertainly, party leaders have put off the caucus meetings at which next session’s leaders will be elected. Those meetings traditionally are held the Thursday after an election.
In the Senate, Republicans have won 17 seats, including those held by GOP senators who are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. Republicans are narrowly leading in one race, the District 24 contest between GOP candidate Beth Martinez Humenik and Democrat Judy Solano.
Democrats have won 15 seats, including mid-term senators. They lead in two races that remain to be finally tabulated. Those are the District 20 race between Democratic Sen. Cheri Jahn and Republican Larry Queen, and the District 22 contest between Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr and GOP hopeful Tony Sanchez.
If Humenik holds her lead after Adams County finally finishes its count, the GOP will win 18-17 control of the Senate, even if Jahn and Kerr maintain their leads.
But if Solano wins her race, and Jahn and Kerr are the victors, Democrats win an 18-17 Senate majority.
The prospects are similarly complicated – and murky – in the House.
Democrats have won 31 seats and are leading narrowly in two others. Republicans have 29 clear victories and are leading in three close races. So, if the Democrats hold the two races in which they’re leading, they gain a 33-32 House majority. Those two races are District 3, where Rep. Daniel Kagan is ahead of Republican Candice Benge, and District 36, where Rep. Su Ryden has a narrow edge over Richard Bowman. Both districts are in Arapahoe County.
Republican control of both houses could have interesting implications for Colorado’s continued participation in the Common Core State Standards and the multi-state PARCC tests, as well as the amount of state testing and for such issues as tuition tax credits. Democratic majorities, or control of one House, would make new Republican education initiatives less likely to be successful.
In any event, Democrats will retain control of the Capitol’s first floor, given that Gov. John Hickenlooper has won a narrow victory.
Here are the key legislative races of interest to the education community. (All the incumbents are members of either the House or Senate education committees.)State Senate
District 11 (Colorado Springs) – Democrat Mike Merrifield, former chair of the House Education Committee, faced GOP Sen. Bernie Herpin, who won election a year ago in a recall. – Merrifield won.
District 19 (Jeffco) – Appointed Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger was challenged by GOP businesswoman Laura Woods. – Woods appears to have won narrowly.
District 22 (Jeffco) – Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, faced GOP political newcomer Tony Sanchez. – Kerr was leading by about 1 percent.
District 24 – Solano, a long-time testing critic and former representative, battled GOP civic activist Beth Martinez Humenik. – Humenik was leading.State House
District 22 (Jeffco) – GOP Rep. Justin Everett faced Democratic community activist Mary Parker. – Everett won.
District 28 (Jeffco) – Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen was opposed by GOP lawyer Stacia Kuhn. – Pettersen held her seat.
District 40 (Aurora) – Democratic Rep. John Buckner faced Republican JulieMarie Shepherd, an Aurora school board member. – Buckner won.
District 50 – Democratic Rep. Dave Young was challenged by GOP businessman Isaia Aricayos. – Young held his seat.
District 61 – Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, chair of House Education, faced a repeat challenge from GOP artist Debra Irvine. – Hamner was victorious, albeit with a smaller-than-expected margin.
House Education members who won easily included Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Republican Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson. Republican Jim Wilson of Salida was unopposed. And GOP House committee winner Chris Holbert of Douglas County coasted to an easy win in his bid for a Senate seat.
Many of Colorado’s 63,000-some high school seniors start taking standardized science and social studies tests this week, an event that will mean time off for younger students in some districts.
This is the first year that seniors will have to take a portion of the state’s standardized tests, known as the CMAS. In the past, ninth and 10th graders took the language arts and math tests, 10th graders also took science tests, and juniors also took the ACT.
The expansion of testing at the high school level — 11th graders now have to take language arts and math exams — has been a sore point for many students and parents, and has become part of the debate over the state testing system.
One complaint is that testing disrupts classroom instruction, and that’s exactly what’s happening in at least three large districts – Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek and Douglas County.
Chalkbeat Colorado checked with eight major metro-area districts. Administrators in those three districts said schedules would change for some freshmen, sophomores, and juniors because of issues specific to certain high schools, such as numbers of computers and availability of computer labs and other rooms.
Here’s a rundown:
Boulder Valley – Some 5,700 ninth, 10th, and 11th grade students at Boulder, Broomfield, Fairview and Monarch high schools will get the mornings of Nov. 13 and 14 off so seniors can take their tests.
“In the four largest high schools we are unable to accommodate the online assessment when the other students are in attendance,” said Superintendent Bruce Messinger. “… Even with this assessment plan we will be transporting hundreds of laptop computers from other schools to the high schools so that every student has a device for the assessments. In order to administer the online assessments we need to have the students take the assessments in classrooms/tech labs so the students have wireless access.”
Cherry Creek – Spokeswoman Tustin Amole said, “Underclassmen will have two days off during the seniors’ tests. We are not able to run a normal schedule for them on the testing days due to space.” That affects some 12,000 ninth, 10th, and 11th graders on Nov. 13-14.
Douglas County – This south suburban district has a complicated schedule to accommodate the tests. Underclassman were scheduled for a half-day off Wednesday and Thursday at Chaparral, Castle View, Douglas County, and Rock Canyon high schools. There will be schedule changes Nov. 12 and 13 at Highland Ranch, Mountain Vista, and ThunderRidge high schools.
Other big districts will be juggling classes and tests with schedule changes.
Adams 12-Five Star – “We’re not having to make schedule adjustments to accommodate CMAS tests,” said communications chief Joe Ferdani.
Aurora – There will be no schedule changes or early release of students
Denver – Spokeswoman Kristy Armstrong said, “It has been stressed to schools that instructional time should be impacted as minimally as possible. And we’re not aware of any schools releasing early.” (Armstrong was asked about DPS plans last week. Since then East High School has announced underclassmen will have the mornings of Nov. 12 and 13 off.)
Jefferson County – “It is our understanding that some schools are making adjustments to their bell or period schedules, as needed, to enable testing to be completed, but school will be held for all students during the testing window,” said spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.
St. Vrain – There are no schedule changes because of testing.
The “testing window” for the senior CMAS tests opened on Wednesday and runs through much of November. Districts can choose when to give the tests.
Some elementary and middle school students took the tests last spring. Achievement levels were generally low (see story).
“Personalized learning” is in — just look to the more-than-$5 million in grants Denver Public Schools has received in recent years to create new personalized learning programs for evidence. But just what makes learning “personalized,” let alone whether such programs work, is less clear.
A new report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation aims to define and analyze the practices and performance of schools focused on personalized learning. It concludes that while early efforts are promising, there remain practical and systemic barriers to expanding programs that aim to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs and skills.
“It seems theoretically like a good idea to let children work at their own pace and continue working on things until they get mastery on a topic,” said John Pane, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation who led research for the report. “But it’s important to see if these schools did produce stronger takeaways than traditional schools.”
On that question, the report, ”Early Progress: Interim Report on Personalized Learning,” is cautiously optimistic. Researchers from RAND found that students in 23 personalized learning schools did better on a computer-based reading and math assessment known as MAP than peers in a control group, and students who started out behind were even more likely to show growth.
But the report notes that overall, it’s not yet clear whether the personalized learning programs are responsible for the gains. Other elements of the schools — all charter schools that use technology in instruction — might help explain the scores, the report notes.
“Clearly it’s not harming students,” Pane said. “And it might be a possible explanation for why they’re doing well. We need to do more work to decide.”
The researchers looked at schools that had been using personalized learning programs for at least two years and had gotten funding from the Gates Foundation or other philanthropies to support technology, professional development, and other elements of personalized learning, but each had designed its program independently. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Gates Foundation.)
Although not all of the features were in place at every school studied, researchers found that the schools tended to use:
The report highlights advantages of personalizing learning beyond boosting test scores. Most teachers in the schools reported that they felt supported by administrators and that their professional development helped them tailor lessons to students’ needs.
It also notes areas where teachers said their schools’ personalized learning efforts fell short. Fully half of teachers said the training they got took up more time than it was worth, and only a third said they got data about their students’ performance in subjects other than math and reading. Others said discipline and absenteeism presented challenges.
In Denver, the district is considering creating several new personalized learning-focused schools, including one that would grow out of Grant Beacon Middle School.
Alex Magaña, the principal at Grant Beacon — which was not included in the Gates study — said that when his program adopted a blended learning program and focused on personalizing lessons to students three years ago, test scores and student engagement both improved. He said the school has built a bank of lessons and best practices for its teachers over time.
“Now we have people from around the country coming to visit us and sharing ideas, asking us, what does this look like?” Magaña said. “Because there is no model. That’s the fun part. We get to create it. Yet the gains are showing.”
Vicki Phillips, who heads the Gates Foundation’s U.S. education division, said the results in the 23 schools in the study “give us a sense of what’s possible.”
“We have a lot more to learn and a broader band of schools to see if this is more effective — and a lot more to do to really isolate what works,” she said. “But if we don’t talk about it, we don’t grow or mature as a field.”
Colorado votes 2014
Last night's seismic shift that resulted from a Republican wave may have serious implications for Colorado's education community. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
According to late returns, Colorado Republicans are in a strong position to take control of both chambers in General Assembly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
That means the Republican Party picked up at least nine seats in the Colorado House. ( Denver Post )
Voters statewide torpedoed Amendment 68, which would have expanded casino gambling. At the same, they approved open negotiations between teachers unions and school districts. Additionally, Denver voters approved a tax increase to fund preschool tax credits. But Adams County residents said no to nine different tax increases ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, 9News, KDVR )
But Adams 12 voters said no to a a $15 million mill levy override and a $220 million bond. ( Adams County Sentinel )
Voters in Boulder passed a $576.5 million school construction tax increase — the largest in Colorado's history. ( Daily Camera )
Head Start, the federally-funded early childhood education program, is still making a difference in El Paso County where one in six children live in poverty. ( )
No attack ads here
It might have been Election Day in America, but it's STEM week at Aspen Creek K-8 in Broomfield. ( Daily Camera )
Updated Nov. 5, 7:15 a.m. – Colorado voters continued their anti-gambling tradition Tuesday and defeated Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would have expanded casino gambling and devoted some of the revenues to K-12 education.
But voters statewide approved Proposition 104, a measure that will require contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions to be held in public.
Voters delivered a mixed verdict on proposed district tax increases, approving slightly over half of the more than 40 measures on the ballot. The Colorado School Finance Project released this list early Wednesday morning.
Of nine proposed tax increases in five Adams County districts, none passed.
But Boulder voters resoundingly approved a record $576.4 million bond for construction, while in Falcon, a construction bond failed but an override for operating expenses passed.
In Denver, voters approved an increase in the Denver Preschool Program sales tax, from .12 to .15 percent, and an extension of the tax until 2026. (Get background on the program and the tax here.)
Advocates of the DPP say it’s helped ensure school readiness, boost third-grade test scores and improve preschool quality, while skeptics said providing subsidies should be the state’s role, not the city’s, and that the program’s universal approach means that tax-payers are subsidizing preschool for families who don’t truly need the help.
It was a record year for local tax proposals. Some two dozen districts proposed a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides for operating expenses just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion state income tax increase for K-12 funding.
Here are the major proposals:
Districts were hoping for a change in voters’ attitude toward local school taxes—toward which they have often been skeptical—this year. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways in 2013. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.
The gambling proposal would have allowed opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park horse track south of Aurora, with one casino each allowed in Pueblo and Mesa counties at later dates, if certain conditions were met. The initiative would have devoted 34 percent of a casino’s adjusted gross casino proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund, which would have been distributed to districts on a per-student basis. Legislative analysts estimated $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17. (See our archive for more information.)
The proposal drew virtually no support from education groups. Since casino gambling was approved in 1991, Colorado voters have rejected every proposal to expand gaming beyond the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Most voters were skeptical of the proposal. “Number one, I’m not for gambling,” said Brittany Moore, of Golden. “Number two, I don’t trust that the money is going to go to the school system like they say it will. I’m sure there is some loophole.”
“I don’t think we need any more opportunities for the working man to throw away his money,” said Phillip Doe, of Jefferson County.
Other voters supported the change. “If they’re going to gamble, it may as well go to schools,” said Jeff Tomlinson, of Denver.
“Every little bit that goes to education helps,” said Christine Davis, also of Denver. “Public schools need more funding.”
More than $30 million—most of it on TV ads—was spent by the two campaigns, the pro side funded by Arapahoe Park’s owner, a Rhode Island casino firm, and the opposition bankrolled by the gaming corporations that own the mountain-town casinos.
“A vigorous campaign was waged on both sides; now Colorado voters have spoken and with their votes have said that they prefer the status quo,” said Monica McCafferty, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Better Schools, which supported Amendment 68, in a press release.
“Horse racing will continue at Arapahoe Park and the company will continue to be a good neighbor as it always has been,” she wrote. “The company will continue to work with the education community in Colorado in an effort to find ways to improve education in the state.”
“Trying to write special rules didn’t pass muster with voters tonight and it won’t in the future,” said Senate Minorit Leader Bill Cadman, who led a campaign against the amendment, in a statement on Tuesday. “If you want to have casinos in Colorado, then you need to do it in the three towns Colorado voters have set aside for you.”
Proposition 104, drafted and backed by the Independence Institute, requires collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public, as well as school board strategy sessions. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open.
“The battle to bring sunshine into the smoky back rooms where school districts and teachers union scheme to decide how our kids are to be taught is coming to an end,” said Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute, in an email to supporters.
“I agree [negotiations] should be public,” said voter Dave Giroir, a former member of an electricians union from Lakewood. “It would create confidence in the process.”
“I was glad that was on the ballot,” said Davis, a resident of the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. “It’s a public issue.”
Voter Tomlinson said he voted against. “I don’t think that should be public. It’s the administrators’ job.”
The measure was opposed by most education interest groups, who warned it is vague enough to affect conversations beyond formal meetings and might require clarification by the courts. (Learn more about the measure here.)
“Coloradans have always valued transparency in their government, so it’s no surprise that they support open school board negotiations too,” said Ranelle Lang, a spokesperson for Local Schools, Local Choices, which opposed the measure. “But this measure’s vague wording will leave many school districts unclear on what will now be expected of them. At a time when school districts across the state are struggling to educate rapidly-growing populations of school-age children in Colorado, this measure could take money out of the classroom to pay for the legal counsel needed to help navigate and comply with this new mandate.”
Updated 11:30 p.m. – Two incumbents held onto their seats on the State Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, leaving the board’s 4-3 Republican majority in place.
GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction had a 34,000 vote lead over Democrat Henry Roman, a former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, in the sprawling 3rd District at about 11:30 p.m.
In suburban Denver’s 7th District, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff easily defeated Republican Laura Boggs. With 76 percent of the votes counted, Goff led by about five points.
The state board performs a primarily regulatory function and tends to vote unanimously on most such issues. But there are significant philosophical differences between Democratic and Republican members on bigger issues like the Common Core State Standards, testing, local district autonomy and the federal government’s role in education.
Some education reform groups have been worried that continued Republican control could lead to board efforts to pull Colorado out of the Common Core and the PARCC tests.
State Board races typically are quiet affairs, and anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 fewer votes typically are cast in a board race than in a congressional race. (State Board seats are based on congressional district boundaries.)
But there was heightened interest this year because a campaign committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform pumped more than $200,000 into campaign literature supporting Roman and Goff and criticizing their opponents.
The 3rd District covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo. While the district generally is considered Republican territory, winning vote margins were relatively small in Neal’s 2008 victory and in a prior win by another Republican.
Neal is a former social studies teacher and Mesa 51 school board member who sometimes is a swing vote on the board and who’s been a strong advocate for rural districts. Roman is a former Pueblo 60 superintendent, has worked recently as a charter school consultant and hadn’t previously run for elected office.
The 7th District includes much of Adams and Jefferson counties. Adams County tends to lean Democratic, while Jeffco is pretty evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.
Goff, of Arvada is a former Jeffco foreign language teacher and administrator who also served as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. Boggs, from Lakewood, is a former Jeffco school board member who was a one-woman conservative minority before the board changed hands in the 2013 election.
Despite losing her race, Boggs said Tuesday was a good night for education. She said, “Proposition 104 was a huge win. I’m excited for Marcia Neal. So obviously, I’m disappointed about the results in CD7, but a good number of voters — not all voters, but a good number of voters — spoke loudly that they want to break the one-size-fits-all education system.”
The board’s 1st District seat, which primarily covers Denver, was also on the ballot this election, but the only candidate was retired educator Valentina Flores, who defeated a reform candidate in the June Democratic primary. Flores will replace Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman, who chose not to run again.
Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, ran unopposed for a seat in the state House. A GOP vacancy committee will choose a replacement for his District 5 board seat.
Three board members are in the middle of terms and weren’t on the ballot: Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur (4th District), Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker (6th) and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder (2nd).