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At charters, variety the norm for teacher evaluations

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 12:38

During the contract negotiation sessions that recently ended at the UNO Charter School Network, one of the biggest points of contention for teachers was the evaluation system and its link to year-end bonuses.

Teachers considered the evaluation metrics unfair and complained that formal observations weren’t done the same way in all classrooms.

“For us, they stay the whole hour. For other [schools], they may only stay 15 minutes,” says Gerit Nora, a 5th-grade teacher at UNO’s Officer Donald Marquez Elementary. “In some schools, teachers never get feedback all year but then get a score at the end.”

At Marquez, teachers are formally observed and evaluated four times a year, Nora says. The evaluations are factored into a year-end score that comprises 40 percent of a teacher’s rating. Half of the rating is student growth on the NWEA test, and the remaining 10 percent is a mix of student attendance, student dress code compliance, and school-wide and network-wide performance.

The evaluation process did not change under the new contract ratified this week by UNO teachers and staff, who were represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS.

But the contract did eliminate the link between evaluations and pay. Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School, said the bonus system “really formed bad relationships and ruined morale.”

Organizers said UNO administrators “really believed” in the system and were unwilling to change it, but compromised on the link to bonuses.

UNO representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While traditional schools in CPS must adhere to the new evaluation system called REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago), one of the hallmarks of charter schools is the variety of systems used to evaluate teachers. 

Nationally, charter school teacher evaluations can be “as different as the number of charters,” says Nancy Waymack of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “It is hard to generalize and say that charters evaluate their teachers in one way, versus districts.”

Allison Jack, director of charter growth and support at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says charter school principals often can spend more time in the classroom for observations because they more commonly hire business managers to take on school operations. As a result, they may be more hands-on, teaching lessons and observing teachers regularly.

As with UNO, charter schools commonly weigh growth in test scores more heavily in evaluations than non-charters. (Under REACH, test score growth currently accounts for up to 25 percent of teacher evaluations.)

In charters, scores are also often used to determine merit pay, unlike in traditional CPS schools.

Chicago ACTS President Brian Harris says that union members are almost entirely opposed to merit pay, believing it sows distrust. Instead, Harris suggests, evaluations should be about coaching and improving teachers’ work.

Teacher firing not a big strategy

Waymack notes that charter schools have more freedom to fire teachers with—or without—negative evaluations. But charters have not necessarily been quick to get rid of teachers who don’t measure up. Instead, some say they place more emphasis on good hiring practices and training.

Angela Montagna, director of external affairs at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, says the network leaves it to principals to “decide if and how they want to evaluate teachers.”

All teachers in the Noble network are eligible for bonuses based on factors including growth in student test scores, school culture, and parent involvement. But principals get the leeway to create their own evaluation systems.

Tyson Kane, the founding principal of Noble Street-Chicago Bulls College Prep, says that the network places a greater emphasis on hiring teachers who can demonstrate good results with students, rather than on evaluation once teachers are hired.

At Kane’s school, 80 percent of teachers’ evaluations scores are based on factors related to student achievement, like ACT and Advanced Placement test results and whether students are on-track to be promoted to the next grade. The remaining 20 percent is determined by more intangible factors, like professionalism and helping other teachers.

Teachers are measured against the Noble network’s own historical data that shows how much progress teachers are able to make with students.

He says the school focuses on outcomes such as test scores because those are the same factors that will determine life opportunities for students.

“If those outputs are on the critical path to our students being able to graduate from college, then we really have to give credence to these things [that] Harvard and Yale and Dartmouth are saying,” Kane says.

Allison Slade, the founding principal of Namaste Charter School, says that school uses a modified version of Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the teacher rating system CPS has adapted for its observations.

Teachers receive 12 short, informal observations each year from administrators and colleagues who drop into their room, and two longer, formal observations from their immediate supervisor.

Teachers don’t get an overall rating, however. “I don’t think that is helpful in helping a teacher grow,” Slade says. Instead, they get ratings in each category of the scoring rubric.

Teachers with lower ratings are put on an “Improvement Action Plan,” but three-quarters of them complete it successfully and are able to keep their jobs.

Test scores are a factor in teachers’ raises, along with attendance on the job and at professional development workshops, plus other intangibles like collegiality, communication with families, and observation ratings.

Contributing: Melissa Sanchez

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boards wrestle with public comment

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 10:15

Which job counts?

Superintendents juggle lots of jobs in small districts, creating some tricky problems for evaluating their performance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Paying for schools

The House Education has amended and passed two of the session's biggest finance bills but left some controversial issues for the Senate to solve. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The data gap

The Senate Wednesday voted 19-14 for final passage of the measure that modifies the district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Let them talk

The Thompson school board has ended the debate over public comment at meetings by deciding to allow unlimited input from audience members at certain meetings. ( Reporter-Herald )

Meanwhile in Dougco

The Douglas County school board also is wrestling with the issue of public comment at its meetings. ( News-Press )

Marijuana and teens

A young woman tells her story of marijuana addiction in the latest installment of a series on the impact of legalized marijuana on teenagers. ( CPR )

Lawsuit time

A former top Poudre district administrator is suing the district for what claims was wrongful termination. ( Coloradoan )

Wyoming schools

A new accountability system to grade Wyoming schools, teachers and principals is still on track despite two failed bills on the topic this legislative session, state education officials say. ( Trib.com )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CCSR report looks at sorting students by ability

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 09:34

How students are sorted into classrooms by skill level can have as much of an effect on their achievement as the content they are taught, according to a new report by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. "Skill-Based Sorting in the Era of College Prep for All" examines the effects of two curricular reforms by Chicago Public Schools, one that sorted students into algebra classes based on ability and another that de-sorted students. (Press release)
Key findings from the report include:
• Overall, test scores are higher when classes are sorted by skills due to large benefits for high-skilled students’ learning gains.
• However, sorting by ability has different effects on test scores than on grades and pass rates; the grades and pass rates of high-skilled students decline, while the grades of low-skilled students improve.

HAPPY STUDENTS IN HYDE PARK: A video of Kenwood Academy High School students singing and dancing in the hallways to Pharrell Williams’ infectious hit “Happy” has become a minor YouTube sensation, drawing nearly 14,000 views – more than seven times the school’s population – in just a few days. Produced last week on the South Side campus, teens perform for the cameras alongside teachers, security guards, administrators and the school mascot, Billy the Bronco. (Tribune)

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS AND DATA MINING: To woo prospective students, many schools are increasingly gathering multiple streams of online information to hone the most personalized pitch. Institutions are turning to "big data" companies such as Hobsons, Oracle and Ellucian to be their Match.com. The trove of data allows recruiters to mine social media interactions, Internet habits and the socioeconomic standing of a student's parents, experts say. (Tribune)

IN THE STATE
LET GO: The Belleville School District 118 school board unanimously approved the honorable dismissals of one full-time teacher and 24 teaching assistants at its meeting Tuesday night. (Belleville News Democrat)

IN THE NATION
BOON FOR PUBLISHERS: The new education standards called Common Core that are being adopted in 45 states and Washington, D.C., have has created an opportunity not just for companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children's books - novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure. (NPR)

MORE PRE-K EXPANSION: Maryland already offers free pre-kindergarten classes to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds, but state leaders proposed a new bill that would slowly expand those classes to all 4-year-olds. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Some key school finance decisions left for Senate

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 21:25

Two important school finance bills moved smoothly out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday, with some touchy major issues left for the Senate.

After saying how pleased she was with how work on the bills had gone, prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner said, “I will also acknowledge we have more work to do. … We have agreed to let the Senate take on the challenges that remain.”

Those issues include reform of enrollment counting and use of school construction funds, among others.

House Bills 14-1292 and 14-1298 still face two House floor votes before they move to the other chamber, but no major changes are expected on the floor.

Known as the Student Success Act, HB 14-1292 would reduce the current $1 billion school funding shortfall by $100 million and also proposes spending a total of more than $200 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learner programs, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems.

The accompanying School Finance Act, House Bill 14-1298, is partly a technical bill needed to provide annual school spending, but it also would provide an additional $17 million that districts could use for either preschool or full-day kindergarten slots for at-risk children. The money would support slots for 5,000 additional students.

The committee approved both major and minor amendments proposed by its sponsors after extensive negotiations with school districts and other interest groups about HB 14-1292.

But the most important amendment, which would have stripped a controversial new enrollment counting system from the bill, wasn’t offered because of lack of agreement on the issue.

The original version of the bill proposed a phased switch to the average daily membership system of counting enrollment, replacing the state’s current Oct. 1 single count. That’s a change sought by Republicans and education reform groups, but districts have pushed back on the idea because of concerns about cost and administrative burdens.

Hamner prepared an amendment that would have replaced the ADM section of the bill with a two-count system, Oct. 1 and Feb. 1. She indicated she hadn’t reached agreement on the issue with Rep. Kevin Priola of Brighton, the primary Republican proponent of ADM.

“This conversation will continue in the Senate,” said Hamner, a Dillon Democrat who’s also chair of the committee. With a nod to people “who aren’t quite as pleased or satisfied” with the bill as she is, Hamner added, “Clearly there’s more work to be done on the ADM language” and on parts of the bill that propose spending on kindergarten and charter school facilities. Critics of those provisions fear they would divert money from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction grant program.

Another amendment, which would change the bill’s proposed spending on English language learner programs, was proposed and adopted. The amendment reduces the proposed funding from $35 million to $30.5 million, would provide the money through an existing distribution mechanism rather than a separate one originally proposed and would reduce the levels of data reporting requirements and Department of Education oversight originally suggested.

The amendment “takes out some of the requirements that the school districts found onerous and complicated,” Hamner said.

Two other amendments expand the potential uses of funds district would receive from a $40 million “implementation fund” intended to help them pay the costs of implementing new content standards, tests and education evaluation systems.

The committee made no changes in HB 14-1292’s proposal to reduce the K-12 spending shortfall (known as the negative factor) by $100 million. Districts have pushing for reductions as high as $275 million.

Hamner obliquely referred to that dispute by noting that new state revenue forecasts weren’t “quite as optimistic as we’ve hoped for,” hinting that a larger reduction would be difficult.

(In a related development, the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 5-1 for an amendment to the yet-to-be-introduced state budget bill that would devote an additional $52 million to K-12 funding next year. The money would be raised by shaving planned increases in payments to medical providers and in state employee salary increases. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the transfer would make a $100 million reduction in the negative factor more financially sustainable. He declined to say whether he’d support or oppose a negative factor reduction of more than $100 million.)

House Education passed HB 14-1292 on an 11-1 vote. Only Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voted no, noting his district (Douglas County) opposes the bill and saying, “This is not the answer.”

The panel’s vote on HB 14-1298 was split, and it passed on a 7-5 party-line vote. Committee Republicans opposed the additional spending on at-risk preschool and full-day kindergarten students, saying it would only benefit some districts.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, proposed an amendment to remove the bill’s earmark for early education and let districts spend the extra $17 million as they choose. Wilson said his preference is that districts use it for full-day kindergarten, which currently is only partly funded by the state. Committee Democrats killed the amendment.

HB 14-1298 also contains a provision that would divert 75 percent of any state surplus left at the end of 2014-15 into the State Education Fund, a dedicated account restricted to K-12 spending. What happens to that plan is anybody’s guess. Steadman told Chalkbeat Colorado he opposes that idea, and Steadman is expected to be a central figure in school finance decisions in the Senate.

A final financial note

The budget committee, working to finalize the main budget bill before it’s introduced next week, also took a significant action relative to new spending.

The panel voted 6-0 to set aside $50 million for spending on new state programs proposed by bills pending in the House and Senate appropriations committees. Several bills want new spending on various education programs. (See this story for details on those bills.)

The $50 million is considerably higher than the amounts of money available for new programs in recent legislative sessions.

Categories: Urban School News

For educators who wear many hats, which hat to evaluate?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 18:13

When Kendra Ewing, superintendent of Agate School District, had to submit a list of her official titles to her local school board, the tally ran to 18 items.

“Principal. Special education teacher,” the list reads. “Pitch-in janitor.”

Ewing is one of 35 superintendents in the state who also serve as their district’s principal, often along with many other roles. (For a full list of her responsibilities, see here).

But under the state’s evaluation system, which rolled out this year, Ewing is only required to receive feedback on one: superintendent. For the rest of her jobs, she has to seek feedback through back channels, often without any additional funds.

The struggles of district leaders like Ewing with the state’s new educator evaluation system have highlighted the heavy burden the system puts on small rural districts. But they have also proved the flexibility of a system that may not have been designed with such districts in mind and have raised the profile of leaders in multiple roles, who received little attention in the past.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity”

The struggle for superintendents who serve in multiple roles is to balance both what measures they must be evaluated on under state statute with what they can be evaluated on, given limited resources in their district.

Because they are the highest-ranking administrators (and often the only administrators), there is no one in the school with the authority to evaluate them, leaving only the local school board. But few school boards have the educational expertise to provide feedback on their work as a principal.

“There are specific responsibilities that a superintendent has to a school board,” said Toby King, who directs the Colorado Department of Education’s Educator Effectiveness unit. King works with the nearly 20 percent of the state’s superintendents who serve in more than one administrative role, so-called “superintencipals.” “Those are the things that make sense [to be evaluated on].”

In response to confusion from districts, King’s department released guidance earlier this year for any educator serving in multiple roles to help districts stay within the law. The document, which is available here, states that all educators should be evaluated on their highest role, no matter what other roles they play.

“If I’m supermarket general manager, you are sometimes going to work in produce,” said King. “But you are always going to be evaluated as a general manager.”

The department’s guidance is an attempt to clarify a system many rural districts have criticized for the time requirements and confusion it has placed on already overloaded rural administrators.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity,” said King.

Despite the confusion over how to evaluate “superintencipals,” state officials and rural advocates say the system has proved more flexible for superintendent-principals than many imagined.

“There are things in the law that don’t even pertain to how rurals work,” said Tina Goar, the Colorado Department of Education’s rural advisor. “[But] there’s a lot of flexibility on how you set things up in your district while staying within the law.”

No correct answer

While that flexibility has streamlined the process somewhat for “superintencipals,” it has also left them to their own devices when they want feedback on the rest of what they do. And the solutions they have come to vary widely, from having no formal system to hiring outside evaluators.

Some have sought feedback from teachers and other district staff. In Crowley County School District in southeastern Colorado, the superintendent gave the state’s principal evaluation rubric to his staff and asked them to fill it out.

Ewing said her board gives her feedback based on all of her roles but she has also hired a consultant to spend one day a month in her district, giving her feedback on her performance.

Superintendent Kendra Ewing puts kindergartner Peyton Golliher down for a nap in her office.

“What she’s paid to do is be honest with me,” said Ewing. “That’s my way to say in my own conscience I’m doing a good job.”

According to King, that variation may not be a bad thing, but instead a sign that the system is working.

“Comparability has to be from one classroom to the next before we can have it from one school to the next, one district to the next,” said King. “Plus every district has its own context.”

But does that mean no good answer?

But for some, that flexibility just means there is no clear solution. Bruce Hankins, the superintendent in Dolores County School District Re-2J in southwestern Colorado, said that so far he has not found a solution that satisfies him.

Of getting evaluated by his teachers or his assistant principal, Hankins said, “it would be like you evaluating your boss,” an uncomfortable situation that doesn’t lend itself to honest feedback.

And the time requirements have proved a challenge.

“In the dual role, there is just so much,” he said. “I can’t spend two weeks doing this evaluation,” in addition to evaluating his teachers.

It’s a complaint many in the rural community have raised and King acknowledges that it’s an issue for many small rural districts. He and others anticipate that the time demands will lessen as people adjust to the new system, but the burden remains heavy for districts where there are few administrators.

In fact, the rollout of the evaluation system has prompted some districts to rethink their school structure.

In La Veta School District, Bree Lessar, the superintendent, asked her school board to hire an assistant principal to take over some of the teacher evaluations.

“With full implementation of [the new teacher evaluation law], I told my board I was unable to numerically do all the evaluations with fidelity,” said Lessar. The assistant principal now does the evaluations for 10 of the district’s 21 teachers.

Others have simply dodged the state-mandated evaluation system entirely. Kit Carson School District, on the eastern plains, applied for and received exemption from the state system, under Colorado’s 2008 innovation law, which grants schools and districts autonomy from some mandates.

“The previous superintendent foresaw the time it was going to take to do evaluations,” said Brenda Smith, Kit Carson’s superintendent. Kit Carson teachers are evaluated less frequently that teachers state-wide, although Smith uses the state rubric.

Smith says she would not be able to fulfill all of her duties if her district did not have innovation status.

“I feel bad for my colleagues who have to evaluate everybody everywhere,” she said.

Long term solutions

Still, even with Kit Carson’s unique flexibility, the system hasn’t been popular with teachers or administrators, who feel the state hasn’t provided enough resources to put the system into practice.

“The reason it’s been a sour note for the district is it goes back to unfunded mandate,” said Smith.

It’s an argument many in the Colorado Department of Education are sympathetic to. And the evaluations for the state’s 35 “superintencipals” have been a proving ground for how state officials can support districts overwhelmed by the pace of reform.

Goar, who is a former superintendent-principal herself, meets with all 35 dual-role administrators on a regular basis to identify the unique issues and find solutions. The responses of that group have helped inform the state’s guidance for rural evaluators.

“In some ways, Katy [Anthes, executive director of the Educator Effectiveness department] and Toby [King] have a real good handle on how do we differentiate things for our rurals,” said Goar. “It’s a unit that’s really thought about that.”

In fact, she said, dual role administrators are getting more attention that they have in the past.

“No one has ever thought about what to with these guys who are in a dual role,” said Goar. She hopes having more rural input will mean more focus on issues unique to rural areas, like the “superintencipals.”

“Right now support is just at the beginning and I hope there’s more,” said Goar.

Categories: Urban School News

Updated: “Data gap” accountability tweak on way to governor

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 16:38

Updated March 20 - The House Thursday accepted minor Senate amendments and voted 61-4 to repass House Bill 14-1182, the measure that modifies the state’s district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new achievement tests next year.

The bill originally passed the House 59-0, but 14 Republican senators voted no on Wednesday. There has been concern among some GOP members about the flexibility the bill gives to the State Board of Education.

The state Department of Education believes the bill is needed because of timing and data issues that will be created by launch of the new CMAS tests in the spring of 2015.

First, results won’t be available until late in the year or early 2016, meaning the data won’t be on hand when district and school ratings are calculated in the autumn of 2015.

Second, there probably won’t be academic growth data available, because that requires two years of comparable test results. Districts and schools are rated both on test scores and on student growth, along with other factors.

So the bill proposes to do three things:

  • Ratings issued next fall (based on this spring’s tests) will apply to both the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 school years.
  • Districts that later feel they or their schools should have different ratings in 2015-16 can appeal to CDE and provide additional data.
  • The State Board will be given more flexibility on choosing intervention measures for schools that reach the end of the five-year accountability clock. (Existing law already gives the board flexibility for handling districts that reach the end of the clock.

Without HB 14-1182, CDE believes the clock would be “timed out,” giving struggling districts and schools more than five years before state-ordered interventions are required.

A relatively small number of schools and districts would be affected by the bill. Only two districts, the Aurora Public Schools and Weld Re-8, would go into the fifth year in 2015-16, unless they improve their performance before then. Some 31 individual schools in multiple districts are in the same situation.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DA won’t file charges against Poudre officials in records-tampering case

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 09:45

where's the money

Newly issued state revenue forecasts don't substantially alter the debate over school finance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Those school funding fights may come to a head on Wednesday when two finance proposals come up for a vote. ( AP via the Gazette )

transparency and accountability

The Larimer County district attorney said no criminal charges would be filed against school administrators who ordered employees to destroy a student's files. ( Coloradoan )

High Times

A pilot program at Commerce City's Adams High School aims to help students who are addicted to marijuana. ( Colorado Public Radio )

rumbles in jefferson county

Two Jeffco alum and current parents argue that the current school board's actions will harm the district's ability to advance student achievement. ( Denver Post )

school supplies

Boulder Valley is ending a program that sold unused PCs to students and teachers cheaply because the district has run out of the old computers to sell. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

Two Boulder high school students were arrested in connection to a threat made to the school. ( Daily Camera )

matters of conduct

The Pueblo City School Board approved a policy that addresses how to maintain professional staff and student relationships. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

cooperative questions

The Steamboat Today editorial board criticizes the school board for trying to withdraw from its BOCES. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS to begin computer science curriculum pilot

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 07:46

Chicago Public Schools announced Tuesday that 46 schools will pilot the district’s new computer science curriculum beginning next fall, the most comprehensive K-12 computer science education program of any major school district in the country.

This effort is part of CPS’ plan to provide access to computer science at an earlier age to bridge the digital divide and gender gap. While computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates, fewer than 3 percent of college students across the nation will graduate with a degree in computer science – and of all students taking Advanced Placement Computer Science, fewer than 20 percent are women and fewer than 10 percent are African American or Latino.
 
Participating schools include:
Elementary schools: Ariel Community Academy (Pre-K-8); Armstrong International Studies (Pre-K-8); Azuela (Pre-K-8); Bateman (K-8); Daniel Boone (K-8); Carson (Pre-K-8); Chicago Academy (Pre-K-8); Coles Language Academy (K-8); Disney Magnet (Pre-K-8); Edison Regional Gifted Center (K-8); Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy (Pre-K-8); Hamilton (K-8); Henderson (Pre-K-8); Andrew Jackson Language Academy (K-8); Mahalia Jackson (Pre-K-8); Moos (Pre-K-8); Kwame Nkrumah Academy (K-5); Sauganash (K-8); Sayre Language Academy (K-8); Sheridan Math & Science Academy (K-8); STEM Magnet Academy (Pre-K-8); Tonti (K-5); Washington (K-8); Waters (Pre-K-8); Whitney (Pre-K-8).
 
High schools: Amundsen (9-12); Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy (9-12); Bogan (9-12); Corliss (9-12); Hancock College Prep (9-12); Julian(9-12); Kenwood Academy (7-12); Lake View (9-12); Lane Tech (7-12); Lindblom (7-12); Marine Math & Science Academy (9-12); Mather (9-12); Morgan Park (9-12); Solorio Academy (9-12); Urban Prep West (9-12); Urban Prep Bronzeville (9-12); Urban Prep Englewood (9-12); Wells Community Academy (9-12); Whitney Young (7-12); U of C Woodlawn (6-12); Young Woman's Leadership (7-12).

UNO TEACHERS RATIFY CONTRACT: Teachers and staff at schools operated by the United Neighborhood Organization, one of city’s largest charter school networks, overwhelmingly ratified a first contract Tuesday. The contract includes salaries that will promote teacher recruitment and retention and increased time to prepare and collaborate. The vote was nearly unanimous, according to a press release from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

LSC CANDIDATES: A Chicago school that vociferously protested school budget cuts last summer has some interesting candidates running for its local school council, among them a former member of the Chicago Board of Education. (WBEZ)

SUGAR IN THE MORNING: University of California-San Francisco anti-sugar advocate Dr. Robert Lustig says the U.S. School Breakfast Program is "poisoning our kids." He explains here in a conversation in WBEZ's Monica Eng.

IN THE NATION
RACE TO THE TOP PROGRESS: States sharing $4 billion in the federal competitive grants are delivering on some promises, but continue to struggle on teacher evaluations, the U.S. Department of Education finds. (Education Week)

LOOKING FOR COMMON CORE DEFENDERS: Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder who is spending part of his considerable fortune trying to change U.S. public education, last week called on teachers to help parents understand the new Common Core academic standards in an effort to beat back “false claims” lobbed by critics of the standards. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts don’t change much for school finance debate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 18:13

The newly issued state revenue forecasts aren’t substantially different from projections made before the 2014 legislative session opened, which means about the same amount of money remains in play for this year’s K-12 funding debate.

Improved state revenues have focused attention on school finance this year, with districts and other education groups pushing hard for a significant reduction of the funding shortfall that built up during recent years of budget cuts. But key legislators are resisting that push, fearing that too large a buildup of K-12 funding now will lead to budget squeezes in future years. (See this story for background.)

Boiled down to its simplest terms, the fight is about spending more money now or spending less and saving more for the future.

The public debate has been on hold for two weeks while everyone waited for Tuesday’s forecasts. Projections significantly better than those made in December would have provided ammunition for interests seeking a big reduction in the school funding shortfall. Significantly worse predictions would have provided support for those with more cautious views.

In its new forecast, the executive branch Office of State Planning and Budgeting estimated that general fund revenues will be about 1 percent higher than was projected in December for both the current 2013-14 budget year and for 2014-15.

The Hickenlooper administration is proposing about $10.1 billion in spending next year from the general fund and the State Education Fund, a dedicated account that can used only for K-12 spending. (Total state spending is about double that, including federal and cash revenues.)

Both the OSPB forecast and one from Legislative Council economists took positive views of the overall economy and future growth, albeit with the usual warnings about possible bumps down the road.

Do your homework

Chief legislative economist Natalie Mullis said, “2015 is our year. We’re going to have a full, mature economic expansion.” But, she added with a smile, “I can’t be sure.”

School district lobbyists said they took heart from the Tuesday forecasts, saying they show the legislative and governor have plenty of money and flexibility to take a bite of $200 million out of the estimated $1 billion school funding shortfall. Districts believe money the administration wants to use for reserves, to pay back cash funds and to maintain a healthy balance in the education fund should be used for the shortfall.

Focus turns to House Education

The public school funding debate resumes in earnest Wednesday morning when the House Education Committee is scheduled to again take up two key bills.

House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, proposes spending $100 million to buy down part of the shortfall (called the negative factor) and spending a total of more than $250 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learners, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems statewide. (See this chart for more details on those elements.)

The committee took extensive – and often critical – testimony on March 3. Since then sponsors Rep. Millie Hamner and Carole Murray have met with scores of interest group representatives in an effort to reach some compromises.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and others on Monday.

The most important concession is a proposal to scrap the bill’s plan to move to the average daily membership method of counting students. Districts had complained that would be expensive and cumbersome. Instead, a proposed amendment would merely add a second enrollment count, on Feb. 1, to the current system, which counts students on Oct. 1. Districts that gained more students midyear would get more funding, but districts that declined wouldn’t be financially penalized.

Districts also opposed a requirement for public reporting of school-level spending. A proposed amendment would specify that districts could use currently available data for that and not have to compile additional information.

And another suggested amendment by the sponsors would allocate an additional $30 million for English language learners through an existing funding mechanism. Bill critics complained the separate funding mechanism proposed in the bill would unfairly advantage some districts while disadvantaging others. The proposed amendment also eases some of the regulatory requirements proposed originally.

Another amendment would give districts additional flexibility in how they could spend money from the Implementation Fund, which the bill proposes as a way to help districts implement new standards, tests and evaluation systems.

Discussions over the last two weeks reportedly haven’t produced movement on the amount of the negative factor reduction. The bill proposes $100 million (a concession on the sponsors’ part), while some interest groups have proposed $200 million, and a group of superintendents is pushing for $275 million.

As sponsors and lobbyists have negotiated, advocacy groups have been lobbying legislators on the negative factor. The group Great Education Colorado has been urging lawmakers to sign a negative factor reduction pledge, and it touted its success in a letter to the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.

Categories: Urban School News

Students at Manual want to be heard — and they have a lot to say

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 14:00

Last month, Chalkbeat staff began to seek out the voices of Manual High School students: What are their experiences at school? What does Manual do well or not well for them as students? Ultimately, what about students’ experiences did we miss in our reporting? This effort follows Chalkbeat’s special report, A Promise Unfulfilled, in which reporters Nic Garcia and Kate Schimel explored the factors that led Manual to go from a nationally watched model for transformation to, by some measures, Denver’s lowest-performing high school. We visited two leadership classes facilitated by Project VOYCE staff and joined a student-led forum addressing next steps for Manual students.  More details and a taste of what we heard, below.

Student-led forum

On a February afternoon, Chalkbeat staff joined a group of student-leaders who were eager to tackle tough conversations and have students’ ideas be a part of improving Manual High School. Students led conversations ranging from how they as students can help improve attendance, to how the school should expand its academic offerings, to the systemic social justice issues that play a role in Manual’s performance. These video clips provide a taste of what this student forum looked like.

Introduction

Limited Resources

 

Contrast to Other Schools

 

Perseverance

 

Stop the Trial-and-Error

 

Get to Know us

 

A special thank you to videographer, Alicia Garcia for donating her time and energy and making it possible for us to share these clips with you.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Lockdown at Morey Middle School after student fight

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 08:53

You can't win them all

Two school districts, Grand Junction and Pueblo, moved their kindergarten cutoff dates, but in opposite directions. Both are now facing pushback from parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

On the Capitol

Bills strengthening student data privacy laws and allowing armed guards in charter schools passed the House Education Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Dougco Vouchers

Dougco's embattled voucher program is continuing its journey through the court system. The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear argument from the program's defenders and critics. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

School safety

After concerns over a student involved in an off-campus fight surfaced, Denver's Morey Middle School went into lockdown yesterday. ( Denver Post )

Lunch is served

A district in southwest Colorado, Montezuma-Cortez, is one of several districts launching a program to provide healthier and fresher food options to students. ( Cortez Journal )

The road to college

In some areas of the country, college tuition has increased by over 70 percent in five years. A look at how college went from affordable to breaking the bank. ( KUNC )

Meanwhile, many eligible students fail to fill out a crucial piece of paperwork to receive financial aid. ( EWA )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Safe Passage workers get thanks from mayor, lunch

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 07:22

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday thanked safe-passage workers for a job well done  and urged them to finish the school year strong and carry child safety into the summer months at a celebratory luncheon at the UIC Forum. (DNAInfo)

IN THE NATION
'PLATOONING' TAKES HOLD: The relentless pressure of high-stakes testing keeps driving educational leaders to experiment with new ways to increase scores and emphasize their importance in this “accountability” era. One of the most recent examples is “platooning” of students beginning in kindergarten and first grade. “Platooning” ends the long-standing primary grade practice of homerooms where a teacher works with the same group of students throughout the year in all of the major subject areas. Instead, each group of students, or “platoon,” moves every 45 minutes or so to a different classroom to receive instruction from a “teacher  specialist” in math, language arts, social studies, science, music, art and physical education.  (The Washington Post)

VOUCHER BILL ADVANCES: A narrowed version of a special education voucher bill for Mississippi students is moving ahead. The measure now would bar using state money to home-school students and give state officials more control over how the money is spent. (Clarion Ledger)

INSTILLING TRUE GRIT: Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to students' success — and just as important to teach as reading and math. Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who coined the term "grit" — and won a MacArthur "genius grant" for it. Others say teaching grit has become a fad in education, a convenient distraction that doesn't address the pedagogical and curricular problems in the schools. (NPR)

Categories: Urban School News

UNO teachers, staff ratify first union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 23:08

Teachers and staff at the United Neighborhood Organization’s 16 charter schools overwhelmingly voted to ratify their first contract on Monday, becoming Chicago’s biggest charter school network to operate under a labor agreement.

Union organizers say the contract, approved in a 445-to-16 vote, sets a “gold standard” for future charter school labor agreements across the country. It includes:

  • A salary schedule based on years of experience and educational attainment that will raise some employees’ salaries by as much as $10,000. Pay increases will be retroactive to the beginning of this school year.
  • Elimination of year-end bonuses based on evaluations that employees say used inconsistent metrics and fueled resentment among colleagues.
  • A “just cause” provision for terminations and a grievance procedure.
  • Paid and unpaid release time for bargaining unit members to do union-related work.
  • A longer summer break for teachers. Previously, teachers and staff had four weeks of summer vacation; now they will have five weeks under the new contract. However, the total number of instructional days remain unchanged.

 

“This contract will give a lot of people hope that [the charter network] is a place they can stay at for more than a year or two and grow as teachers and professionals without thinking their jobs are going to be on the line at the end of the year,” said Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School. “The salary schedule is so appealing now, I look forward to staying here for years to come.”

UNO charter school officials and board members – who approved the contract in a meeting last week -- did not respond to multiple requests from comment. UNO administrators and union members reached a tentative agreement in late February after months of negotiations.

The three-year contract will apply retroactively to the beginning of the school year. It covers about 520 teachers and professional staff at UNO schools, including information technology staff, office support, nurses and social workers.

Previously, only about 300 teachers and employees at 11 of the 126 charter schools in Chicago worked under labor contracts. The Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS, an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, is the bargaining agent for all organized charter schools in the city.

“The UNO effort is a great example of what can happen when teachers and charter management work together for what’s most important—the students’ success,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery in a written statement. “Strong staffs lead to strong schools, and their ability to advocate for high-quality education with a collective voice will greatly benefit the students and our communities.”

UNO staff unionized last spring in the midst of a corruption scandal at the charter schools network.

Former CEO Juan Rangel bowed out of both organizations last year after a series of revelations by the Chicago Sun-Times of nepotism and contract steering. Adding to UNO’s woes is a loss of millions of dollars in state grant money and an ongoing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into a 2011 bond deal that helped expand the network.

Bruno said she hopes the contract ratification changes the public image of UNO for the better.

“I think people will start to respect UNO more than it’s already respected,” Bruno said.

 

UNO teachers and staff say their next step after today’s vote will be to schedule elections for union representatives and officers.

Categories: Urban School News

Student data privacy, charter security guard bills advance

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 22:02

A bill designed to lock student data privacy protections into state law got some additional provisions tacked onto it Monday and won 12-0 approval by the House Education Committee.

The committee also passed a bill allowing charter schools to hire armed security guards, something school districts already may do. The measure is kind of a bipartisan consolation measure to replace another guns-in-schools bill killed earlier.

The data measure, House Bill 14-1294, applies primarily to the Department of Education, and its original version included things that CDE said it already is doing.

The bill does not address two things privacy activists have pushed for, data security mandates on local districts and parental opt out of data collection and disclosure. Legislators want to pass something on data this year to respond to rising public concerns. But lawmakers aren’t ready to impose new requirements on districts during a session when political tensions already are high over school funding and other earmarked programs.

Provisions added to the bill by House Education would require CDE to publicly disclose the names of outside agencies and companies with which it shares data, to develop specific criteria for how and when data is destroyed, to limit contractor disclosure of data and ban contractor use for commercial purposes. Language added to the bill also bans CDE from selling student data for commercial use. (The department says now it doesn’t sell data.)

Sponsor Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, credited activists with helping her improve the bill. “We did hear some excellent testimony from the self-described ‘Jeffco moms,’” she said. “We have taken most of their suggestions.” (The committee heard testimony on the bill March 12.)

Provisions in the introduced version of the bill require CDE to prepare a publicly available “data inventory,” to comply with all relevant federal and other privacy laws, to set formal requirements for use of data by outside vendors such as testing companies and to formalize its process for considering outside requests for student data.

The bill also requires CDE to create a “data security template” for districts to use. Amendments added Monday require that template to include information about data security for online education and for other software and apps and also guidance for districts about publishing lists of outside vendors. Again, nothing in the bill requires districts to take any specific actions.

Strong vote for charter armed guards bill

The committee voted 11-1 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards.

Existing law already gives school districts authority to hire school resource officers, who are certified police officers, or security guards who don’t necessarily have to have the same training but must have concealed weapons permits and who are hired by contract.

HB 14-1291 was offered as a bipartisan substitute after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee killed a different measure, House Bill 14-1157, on Feb. 13 (see story). That bill would have given school boards the option to allow staff members with concealed carry permits to bring weapons to school.

Discussion Monday highlighted that current law pretty much allows districts to do what HB 14-1157 would have allowed. The security-guard law apparently does allow districts to designate current staff members, including administrators and teachers, as security guards, albeit with separate contracts to perform that function.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, noted that the small school district in Dove Creek has done just that.

When Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, asked if that was possible, sponsor Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, confirmed that it was.

“Is this an end-around on the issue of teachers carrying weapons?” Peniston contnued.

“I wouldn’t think of it as an end-around,” replied bill cosponsor Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Windsor.

“This is in statute,” said Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver. “If that was an attempt to arm teachers it would have already happened.”

Peniston ultimately voted for the bill but said, “This statute raises some clear red flags for me.” Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was the only no vote, saying, “I do not believe arming security guards and teachers is the right thing to do.”

The issue of guns in schools has gotten caught up in larger Democratic-Republican battles about gun control. But some small districts and charters support more local flexibility because they can’t afford to hire SROs, and some rural districts feel they need armed staff members because of remoteness from police and sheriffs’ offices.

Categories: Urban School News

A tale of two districts and their kindergarten cut-off dates

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 17:05

Last month, the school board of Mesa County Valley District 51 in Grand Junction voted unanimously to move the kindergarten entrance cut-off date from September 15 to July 15, starting this fall. The move surprised and upset parents whose children have birthdays during that two-month window. Besides reversing course on the “you’re going to kindergarten” conversation, many now face the expense of another year of preschool or child care.

Meanwhile, 285 miles away in the Pueblo City Schools district, the kindergarten entrance date recently moved in the opposite direction — from its long-held June 1 date to October 1. That change, also unanimously approved by the school board, took effect last fall.

Kindergarten entrance dates can be a fraught subject, especially for parents whose children have birthdays just before or just after the cut-off. The changes in Grand Junction and Pueblo illustrate the anxiety entrance date changes provoke and raise questions about the long-term outcomes of such decisions.

The two districts had very different reasons for their respective changes. In Pueblo, there was concern that the district’s entrance date was out of sync with other Colorado districts, most of which have Oct. 1 cut-offs.

In Grand Junction, the worry was that kindergarteners with late summer birthdays struggled more and did worse academically. Lesley Rose, the district’s executive director of academic achievement and student growth, said a gradual increase in kindergarten rigor has contributed to such outcomes.

“Kindergarten doesn’t look like it used to,” she said. “There’s just no comparison.”

But some experts say that while raising the average age of the kindergarten cohort may seem like a pragmatic, data-driven change, it may represent the easy way out.

Kyle Snow, director of the Center for Applied Research at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said pushing back entrance dates so that the youngest students are carved out of the cohort can seem like “changing the outcome to make it look like there’s a better system of education going.”

“You’re changing the composition of the kindergarten classroom,” he said. “You’re not changing how you do kindergarten.”

Another concern, he said, is that some kids in the two-month summer birthday window — those who don’t qualify for state or federal preschool programs but whose parents can’t pay for private preschool or provide an enriching home experience — will miss out on an important year of learning. In addition, he said the date change may have unintended consequences for the kids who will now fall on the oldest end of the cohort.

“You’re just moving that window forward,” he said. “If the kindergarten experience is not adequate [now], it’s probably not going to be adequate for the older kids in the room next year.”

Combatting academic woes

Data presented to the District 51 school board showed that kids with birthdays during the July 15 to September 15 window were held back more often. They also did worse on reading assessments in kindergarten through third grade and worse on TCAP reading tests in third, fourth and fifth grade.

One chart presented to the school showed that nearly half of kindergarteners retained last year were kids with birthdays between July 15 and September 15. Rose said that summer birthday students are not to blame for the academic difficulties.

“It’s not because they’re immature. It’s because they’re young. They’re exactly where they should be.”

This chart was one of several presented to the District 51 school board that broke out academic data by student birthday.

That said, recent research on kindergarten retention found that the youngest students in a cohort were held back more often than older students with similarly poor academic performance. The same held true for children who were short. In other words, age and height figured into a decision that most people would assume is based on performance.

Researcher Francis Huang, assistant professor in the University of Missouri College of Education, said he hopes the study will make educators more aware of the age bias in retention decisions. He said his findings also highlight the need for teachers to be responsive to the diverse populations in their kindergarten classes.

No matter what the entrance date is, he said, “You’re going to have an oldest child and a youngest child in the classroom….You’re going to have that gap.”

Snow said District 51’s new entrance date may well produce short-lived improvements in test scores and other indicators. Typically, he said, districts experience a one-year blip — either up or down — when they adjust entrance dates, but the results tend to flatten out in subsequent years.

Creeping cut-off dates

Over the last thirty years, there’s been a slow creep toward earlier kindergarten entrance dates nationally. While only about 30 percent of states had cut-offs in September or before in 1975, 82 percent did by 2010, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States. Michigan and California are two states in the process of moving their cut-off dates from early December to September 1.

Currently, most states have cut-offs between August 31 and October 1, with a handful requiring entering kindergarteners to turn five by July 31 or August 1. There are also several states, including Colorado and New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, that allow school districts to set their own kindergarten entrance dates.

In the Pueblo City district, administrators say the June 1 date had been in place for at least a decade. Last year, when the school board asked administrators to research cut-off dates in other medium and large Colorado districts, they learned that 19 of 20 districts, including District 51, were using August 31 or later.

Daryl Gagliano, the district’s executive director of early childhood education, curriculum and instruction said Pueblo’s mismatch with other districts in the state posed a problem for families who moved in or out of the district. In addition, there were a healthy number of families—about 50 to 100 a year—who had their summer birthday children screened for early entrance.

As for concerns about the school readiness among “young fives,” she asked, “Is it that the child isn’t ready or is it that the school isn’t ready?”

Trepidation in Pueblo

It’s not surprising that kindergarten date changes, no matter the direction, are a source of stress for parents and teachers.

In Pueblo, which went from a 1,400-student kindergarten cohort to an 1,800-student cohort this year, “There was a high degree of trepidation,” said Gagliano.

Part of the issue, she said, is that the date change coincided with implementation of other new policies, such as the READ Act, a state law that requires special literacy plans for students in kindergarten through third grade who aren’t reading at grade level.  She said there will be focus groups with kindergarten teachers at the end of the year to solicit feedback on the change.

Megan Murillo, a Pueblo mother of three children with summer birthdays, didn’t have to worry about the date change this year because her two oldest children attend a charter school that kept the June 1 cut-off date and her youngest is still at home. But several of her friends decided to send their children to nearby districts because they were worried that District 60 couldn’t handle the sudden influx this year.

Although Murillo said she’s glad the charter school didn’t change its entrance date, she and her husband have considered moving elsewhere in the state, which could change kindergarten timing for youngest daughter and the age dynamic for her older children. She joked about her envy for children with winter birthdays.

“Couldn’t we have just had one in December?” laughed Murillo. “That would have been so much easier.”

Emotions run high in Grand Junction

In District 51, administrators say some parents and teachers have praised the date change in conversations or on social media. But staff members have also fielded plenty of phone calls from angry or frustrated parents. Rose said some parents have asked if they can get the school board to reverse the decision or if an exception can be made for their child.

“It’s been very emotional and very difficult for parents,” she said.

Part of the consternation may be due to the late-breaking nature of the date adjustment. While administrators had recommended the change take effect for the 2015-16 school year, the school board opted to speed it up by a year. This year only, the district is waiving the $90 fee charged to screen four-year-olds to determine if they are eligible to start kindergarten early.

Overall, the date change will affect around 250 children who will turn five during the two-month summer window. About 75 of those children — those who attend district-run preschools through the Colorado Preschool Program or because of special education status — will be guaranteed a spot in the same programs next year, said Kim Self, the district’s early childhood coordinator.

“They’ll just get an extra year with us,” she said.

It’s unclear what will happen to students who don’t make the new cut-off but aren’t currently in the Colorado Preschool Program, which serves at-risk students. There were about 160 students on the district’s CPP waiting list as of December. Self said if the legislature passes the school finance bill, which would provide additional funding for CPP or full-day kindergarten, she plans to request 60-64 additional CPP spots from the state.

The new entrance date change for kindergarten also applies to CPP preschoolers. Thus, children who will turn four from July 15 to September 15, will be eligible for the “threes” classes and children turning three during that period won’t be eligible at all.

“No matter what you do in this world, there will always be some unintended consequences,” said Rose.

Categories: Urban School News

For the Record: "Chicagoland" and Fenger High

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 15:02

Last week’s episode of “Chicagoland”  on CNN once again featured Fenger High Principal Liz Dozier as a heroine trying to help her students get an education while coping with intense violence in the surrounding Roseland neighborhood. At the same time, Dozier has to deal with the fact that Fenger’s hefty federal grant, which paid for services to support students’ social and emotional needs,  was about to run out.

Fenger is one of 19 high schools in Chicago to be awarded a multimillion dollar School Improvement Grant. Along with Harper, Marshall and Phillips, Fenger was part of the first cohort of schools from 2011.

These grants targeted the bottom 5 percent of high schools in the nation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s idea was to throw so much money at the schools that lack of resources would cease to be an excuse for low achievement.

The cliffhanger in the last episode of the Chicagoland series, which was filmed last year, is how Fenger will fare once it loses the $6 million grant. The answer: Fenger lost 36 of 100 staff members, including 10 teachers, four security guards and the school’s social worker.  

In fact, few CPS schools have a full-time social worker on staff. In 2012, Dozier fretted about the potential loss of a worker who ran much-needed group and individual therapy sessions on trauma and anger management. 

Altogether, Fenger and the other three schools that received School Improvement Grants in 2011 have lost 126 staff members as their grants ran out this year, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS employee rosters.

These schools were hit with a double whammy:  losing the grant while continuing to lose students, which meant a loss in district funds. This year, Fenger has 87 fewer students compared to last year and the freshman class has just 75 students, down from 102 last year. 

Enrollment loss from neighborhood schools is a citywide trend caused by population loss from  distressed neighborhoods as well as the opening of charter schools that draw students away from traditional schools. 

The Fall 2011 Catalyst In Depth questions whether the School Improvement Grant initiative can save schools that are rapidly losing students. 

To get the grant, schools and districts had to promise to enforce one of several drastic strategies. Fenger and five other high schools fired the entire staff in a process called turnaround. Other schools have undertaken what is called transformation, a strategy in which school employees stay on but the school partners with an outside institution to improve education.

Schools were charged with using the grant money to develop programs that could be sustained once the money ran out. But that challenge is often nearly impossible. Therapy sessions, anti-violence training, tutoring and other supports require staff--and it is hard to “sustain” people without money to pay them.

The early results from the School Improvement Grant initiative, both in Illinois and nationally, have been mixed. A 2012 Illinois study found that attendance, truancy and mobility improved, but not academics.  The findings are similar in CPS.

However, Fenger has posted more impressive results, with the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards doubling in three years.

A federally-funded national study released in November 2013 showed that two-thirds of schools saw an uptick in test scores, but the rest saw declines. 

Categories: Urban School News

For the Record: Chicagoland’s Fenger loses dozens of staff

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 15:02

Last week’s episode of “Chicagoland”  on CNN once again featured Fenger High Principal Liz Dozier as a heroine trying to help her students get an education while coping with intense violence in the surrounding Roseland neighborhood. At the same time, Dozier has to deal with the fact that Fenger’s hefty federal grant, which paid for services to support students’ social and emotional needs,  was about to run out.

Fenger is one of 19 high schools in Chicago to be awarded a multimillion dollar School Improvement Grant. Along with Harper, Marshall and Phillips, Fenger was part of the first cohort of schools from 2011.

These grants targeted the bottom 5 percent of high schools in the nation. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s idea was to throw so much money at the schools that lack of resources would cease to be an excuse for low achievement.

The cliffhanger in the last episode of the Chicagoland series, which was filmed last year, is how Fenger will fare once it loses the $6 million grant. The answer: Fenger lost 36 of 100 staff members, including 10 teachers, four security guards and the school’s social worker.  

In fact, few CPS schools have a full-time social worker on staff. In 2012, Dozier fretted about the potential loss of a worker who ran much-needed group and individual therapy sessions on trauma and anger management. 

Altogether, Fenger and the other three schools that received School Improvement Grants in 2011 have lost 126 staff members as their grants ran out this year, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS employee rosters.

These schools were hit with a double whammy:  losing the grant while continuing to lose students, which meant a loss in district funds. This year, Fenger has 87 fewer students compared to last year and the freshman class has just 75 students, down from 102 last year. 

Enrollment loss from neighborhood schools is a citywide trend caused families moving away from  distressed neighborhoods as well as the opening of charter schools that draw students. 

The Fall 2011 Catalyst In Depth questions whether the School Improvement Grant initiative can save schools that are rapidly losing students. 

To get the grant, schools and districts had to promise to enforce one of several drastic strategies. Fenger and five other high schools fired the entire staff in a process called turnaround. Other schools have undertaken what is called transformation, a strategy in which school employees stay on but the school partners with an outside institution to improve education.

Schools were charged with using the grant money to develop programs that could be sustained once the money ran out. But that challenge is often nearly impossible. Therapy sessions, anti-violence training, tutoring and other supports require staff--and it is hard to “sustain” people without money to pay them.

The early results from the School Improvement Grant initiative, both in Illinois and nationally, have been mixed. A 2012 Illinois study found that attendance, truancy and mobility improved, but not academics.  The findings are similar in CPS.

However, Fenger has posted more impressive results, with the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards doubling in three years.

A federally-funded national study released in November 2013 showed that two-thirds of schools saw an uptick in test scores, but the rest saw declines. 

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado Supreme Court will hear Dougco voucher case

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 14:22

Update: This article has been updated with comments from Dougco school board member Craig Richardson and from ACLU-Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein. 

Colorado’s highest court has agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Dougco Public Schools voucher program.

Among the points of the case the state Supreme Court will consider is whether plaintiffs, led by an organization called Taxpayers for Public Education, have have the legal right to challenge the program, which never went into effect because of litigation, and whether the program violates the Public Schools Finance Act.

A Denver judge, siding with a group of parents and civil-liberties organizations, put the program on hold in 2011. Last year, a three-member appellate court panel reversed the decision.

Dougco board member Craig Richardson said the district is confident in its case.

“The District welcomes the opportunity for the state’s highest court to review a case that presents such important issues for our state and our country,” Richardson said in a media release. “DCSD is committed to expanding choice for parents and one of the ways is our innovative Choice Scholarship Program. We believe the Court of Appeals will be affirmed and that the parents and children of our District will, someday soon, be afforded more educational choice.”

The Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union was equally optimistic.

“The ACLU of Colorado is encouraged by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Douglas County school voucher case, and we look forward to arguing before the court that it must strike down the school district’s misguided funding scheme, which compels taxpayers to subsidize religious education in clear violation of the state constitution,” said Legal Director Mark Silverstein in a media release. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will end this misguided and unconstitutional diversion of taxpayer dollars before it is adopted by other districts around the state.”

The voucher program, which was unanimously passed by the Dougco school board in 2011, would have allowed up to 500 Douglas County students to use 75 percent of the district’s per-pupil funding – or $4,575 at the time – to attend a participating private school approved by the district.

Students would have been able to use those funds to attend private religious schools.

Schools that were interested in participating in the program had to have met certain criteria.

Thirty-four private schools applied to participate in the voucher program, known as the Choice Scholarship Program. Dougco had approved 23 of those schools.

Of the 23 schools, 14 were located outside Douglas County, and 16 teach religious doctrine.

The voucher program was modeled after other programs across the nation that have prevailed in court. It gave students the right to “receive a waiver from any required religious services at the [participating private school],” according to court documents.

Categories: Urban School News

Republish our stories for free!

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 13:56

At Chalkbeat Colorado, our mission is to give people the information they need to make smart, informed decisions related to education. For that reason, we want our stories to be shared as widely as possible!

Whether you run a blog, newspaper, radio or television website, we welcome and encourage you to reuse our content using the “Repost” button that appears in each of our stories’ share toolbars.

By using the Repost button, you will be able to publish our full stories, including photos and any ads we have attached.

Here’s how the Repost button works:

Above every story, there is a share toolbar, which includes the Repost button (highlighted by the yellow box below).

When you click that button, a window will pop up and give you that article’s embed code. Simply copy and paste the code into your website’s content management system (CMS). You will only be copying the story text, so when you post the article on your site, it will match your site’s design.

We are experimenting with this tool because it allows us to track where and how often our content is being republished. If you would like to use our stories or photos, but do not want to use the Repost widget, please e-mail our director of engagement Anika Anand to receive permission to do so. Re-using Chalkbeat content without our permission, or outside of using the Repost button, is prohibited.

You can also email Anika if you have questions about how Repost works or if you want to give us feedback on the tool.

To see our full guidelines on using Repost, visit our about page.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Moreno Cargie

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 03/17/2014 - 13:03

Nora Moreno Cargie, the director of global corporate citizenship at The Boeing Company’s Chicago office, is stepping down in April.  She is moving to Boston, where she will serve as vice president of corporate citizenship for Tufts Health Plan and executive director of its foundation.  Before her work at Boeing, Cargie was the vice president of external relations at Illinois Action for Children.  She has also worked for the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Department of Human Services and Chicago Public Schools.

Categories: Urban School News

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