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After closings, 1 in 5 children land at top-rated schools: report

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 01:01

More than 90 percent of students displaced by the mass school closings in 2013 went to higher-rated schools, but less than one-fifth went to the top-rated schools, according to a Consortium on Chicago School Research report released today.

The distinction between the two categories--better performing and top performing--is important. The Consortium’s much-cited 2009 study on past school closings found that only those students who landed at top schools after a closing experienced substantial academic improvement. Students who went to schools that were only somewhat better didn't improve much academically.

The new study is the first major report on the historic closings of some 50 schools, an action that displaced more than 11,000 students. The authors call the fact that few students went to top-performing schools "problematic." However, Consortium researcher Marisa de la Torre said that nothing will really be known about how the closings affected the performance of individual students until future studies are done.

CPS officials promised that schools designated to take in displaced children would be better than those that were shuttered. However, as has been reported, some of the designated schools were only marginally better, and many of the children went to other schools: Only one-third of students actually enrolled in their welcoming school.

The researchers judged schools based on their ratings under a district system that uses multiple factors, including attendance and test score improvement. The year after the closings, some of the schools saw a significant drop in their district ratings and performance on standardized tests.

For the 2009 study, however, researchers judged schools based only on test scores. De la Torre said that researchers decided to use the district ratings for the new study because that is the system CPS uses.

The new report found that if all students had gone to their designated welcoming school, more children—27 percent compared to 20 percent--would have landed at top schools and fewer at the worst schools. Surprisingly, children assigned to low-rated welcoming schools were more likely to attend them, compared to children assigned to highly-rated schools.

To determine why, the Consortium interviewed parents from closed schools about their priorities when choosing a new school. “What we found is that all parents really want the same thing,” said researcher Molly Gordon.

The answer researchers got echoed what parents said repeatedly at the public hearings on the closings: The No. 1 factor in school choice was proximity.

West Side activist Dwayne Truss said that the decisions involve matters beyond just convenience. He noted that in North Lawndale, in particular, many of the welcoming schools didn’t make sense for parents because they were far away or in areas that parents considered different neighborhoods.

Safety was also found to be a consideration. Parents did consider the quality of the school, but researchers found that parents' definition differed from the district's. For example, the parents looked for small class sizes, good communication and things like after-school programs.

The study will be discussed at an event Thursday evening at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts.  The event will include a screening of a documentary on the closings.

Categories: Urban School News

GOP education funding bill makes early exit

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 23:54

A bill that would have funneled end-of-year state surpluses into special accounts for K-12 and higher education was killed Wednesday by majority Democrats on the House Finance Committee.

But the 6-5 vote didn’t come until after those Democrats went to substantial lengths to compliment the GOP sponsor and stress their support for improved school funding.

House Bill 15-1058 would have put 70 percent of what’s called the annual general fund surplus in the State Education Fund and 30 percent into a higher education account. The surplus – the amount can vary widely year to year – is what’s left over after the state pays its bills, the legislature makes mid-year budget adjustments, and the state controller balances the books every year.

The K-12 transfers would have continued until the negative factor – the state’s $890 million school funding shortfall – had been eliminated.

Comparing the negative factor to an unpaid credit card balance, sponsor Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, said, “Until we get that credit card paid off … this is the responsible way to use the surplus. … We have a very large debt to K-12 education.”

He and other Republicans called it a first step toward broader and more permanent improvements in school funding. “We can’t do everything at once,” noted Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Douglas County.

Questioned by a fellow Republican, Becker acknowledged it was hard to estimate how much money the bill would raise. “This could be as much as $45 million for this year and as little as $20 million.”

Democratic committee members voiced plenty of objections: lawmakers can do this already if they want, the bill would limit the flexibility of future legislatures, and a bigger, more permanent school finance fix is needed, not an incremental step.

“Our priority as a legislature needs to be coming up with a permanent fix to the negative factor,” said Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder. (The two Beckers aren’t related.)

What she and the other Democrats didn’t mention was that a permanent school funding fix – the $1 billion tax increase known as Amendment 66 – was offered to voters in 2013 and soundly defeated.

Witnesses supporting the bill included three rural district superintendents from northeastern Colorado and representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association. (The CEA gave contributions to most if not all of the committee Democrats last year but to none of the Republicans.)

Before the vote was taken, committee members spent half an hour on the peculiar legislative politeness ritual known as “explaining my vote.” That involved Democrats complimenting Becker for introducing the bill while explaining why they were going to vote no. Committee Republicans complimented Becker and explained why they were voting yes.

If the bill had been passed by the finance committee, it would have gone next to the House Education Committee. It perhaps was assigned by House Democratic leadership first to finance to avoid the political embarrassment of Democrats on the education committee voting no.

The serious discussion of school finance in 2015-16 probably won’t unfold until late March, after state revenue forecasts are updated.

Fields considering minority teacher legislation

Rep. Rhonda Fields said Wednesday she’s considering legislation designed to encourage more minority students to become teachers.

Fields talked with Chalkbeat Colorado following a Capitol briefing on a new report, “Keeping Up with the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado.”

The Aurora Democrat was a prime sponsor of the 2014 law that commissioned the study, which was presented to a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees.

Fields said she doesn’t have a specific proposal yet in mind but is interested in doing something that would encourage “bridge” programs in community colleges that would help direct minority students toward teacher prep programs. She said she’s also looking into way to interest minority students in teaching as early as their middle school years.

The study found that only 10 percent of state teachers are minorities, compared to 43 percent of students, and that Colorado lags behind the nation in the percentage of minority teachers. (Read our story and see the full report here.)

The study recommended that the legislature consider creating a “multi-million dollar” program of state grants to minority teacher recruitment and retention programs. Committee members had lots of questions about the report, but no legislator asked about or touched on the idea of spending that kind of money.

(In a First Person commentary posted on Chalkbeat Wednesday, UCD Professor Margarita Bianco writes about the importance of having more students of color become teachers.)

Fishing for BEST funding

Advocates of the Building Excellent Schools Today program have been hunting around for more money to fund the effort, given that BEST has hit the ceiling on the $40 million it is allowed to spend every year to repay the lease-purchase agreements that have been used to build or renovate dozens of schools around the state.

The program gets half of the annual revenues earned on state school lands, and the issue came up Wednesday when the House and Senate education committees were briefed by Bill Ryan, director of the State Land Board.

Sen. Mike Johnston tried to draw Ryan out on the issue of how to raise more funds for BEST, but Ryan’s answer was cautious. “Our job is to earn the revenue,” he said, but decisions on how to spend it are up the legislature.

He also noted that revenues from school lands are volatile because they “are so linked to commodity prices and production.” Much of the land board revenue comes from oil and gas leases and royalties.

Citing the recent dramatic drop in oil prices, Ryan said, “We do see a steep drop off coming in our revenues.”

Johnston, a Denver Democrat, said the coming revenue decline worries him and then suggested looking into how to increase interest income from land board’s permanent fund.

Ryan said state law currently requires the permanent fund be invested in low risk – and therefore low-interest – securities. Johnston suggests easing those limits, and Ryan responded, “That would be a good alternative to pursue.”

Categories: Urban School News

State board wants $730 million more for education, tackles CPS testing

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 19:10

Illinois State Board of Education officials expressed annoyance on Wednesday with the Chicago Public Schools decision to administer the state’s controversial new standardized test at just a small group of schools -- but didn’t offer any solutions for getting the district to comply.

During their first meeting of the year, board members also voted to send legislators their fiscal year 2016 budget recommendations that include a $730 million increase in general fund appropriations.

The 20-minute discussion about last week’s news that CPS will administer the PARCC exam--the new test aligned to the Common Core State Standards and developed by a group of some 40 states -- to just 10 percent of schools, ended with no definitive conclusions. Instead, newly appointed chairman James Meeks said he and other ISBE leaders planned to “work vigorously with Chicago people to absolutely figure out what’s going to happen and what’s not going to happen.”

If no agreement with CPS has been reached by Feb. 11, the date of the next ISBE meeting, “then we have to make a decision as it relates to how we will respond to their response,” Meek said. “For sure, we’re not going to wait until we find out what’s going to happen. We’ll be the aggressors. We’ll go to meetings. We’ll sit with them and try to get it all worked out.”

ISBE wants to reach some definitive conclusion about the matter before March, when districts are supposed to begin administering the first round of the exam. Parents and activists had been lobbying against the PARCC and echoing a growing backlash against the exam in other states.

State schools Supt. Christopher Koch said Illinois faces potentially huge consequences for Chicago’s actions  – “ranging from something as light as a stern letter to something as egregious as losing all of our funds.”

“It would immediately put us out of compliance as a state, given that we’re required to have 95 percent participation,” he said. “It’s the state the federal government would sanction in the event  thresholds are not met.” Without full participation by Chicago, Illinois has no way to meet the federal mandate.

But Koch also warned that Chicago could be penalized for defying the state mandates – and even lose its recognized status as a school district, although ISBE has only taken this action once in its history.

In addition to the potential loss of federal dollars, ISBE officials said the state can’t recoup the money it’s already spent to administer the assessment at all schools. “If they’re not used we still have to pay for,” Koch said. “The district not using them is costing us more money.”

It’s unclear how much that will cost the state, although Koch mentioned a $1 per test fee.

$7.5 billion budget a “smart investment”

Wednesday’s meeting was the first presided over by Meeks, a former state senator and pastor from Chicago who was recently appointed to the job by Gov. Bruce Rauner. He replaces Gery Chico.

Meeks and other board members voted to approve Koch’s recommended 2016 budget, which asks the Legislature to appropriate $7.5 billion in general fund dollars toward education. That would be a nearly 11-percent increase when compared to the current fiscal year.

Education promises to be a key but contentious issue in the coming months as Rauner and the Legislature wrangle over how to solve the state’s predicted multibillion deficit.

Rauner has said he wants to spend more money on public education, although he has not yet laid out plans for how to do so. Meanwhile, state legislators are updating a proposal from last year to overhaul how the state calculates education funding. That plan, sponsored by State Sen. Andy Manaar, a Democrat, passed in the state Senate but not in the House.

Manaar told The Associated Press this week that one major change in the new proposed funding formula would be to account for regional cost differences, such as higher teacher salaries in districts where the cost of living is higher.

ISBE officials said they recognized the financial challenges ahead for Rauner and legislators but called education the smartest investment the state could make for its economic future.

“Most of these districts have already made significant staff and programming cuts as local revenue sources shrink,” said the board’s finance committee chairman Jim Baumann in a statement. “Providing the financial support obligated by state law is the very least we can do to help ease the burden and prevent further reductions from hindering the important work taking place in classrooms to prepare our students for college and careers.”

Under their proposal, ISBE officials want the bulk of the extra money to go toward fully funding the so-called “foundation level,” the per-pupil funding that the state should provide for a basic education. The foundation level is now $6,119 per student. In recent years, Illinois has only funded 89 percent of the foundation level.

Other proposed increases include $50 million for early childhood education, which state officials already promised the federal government in order to get a four-year, $80 million grant to expand preschool; about $49 million to restore transportation funding for regular and vocational programs to previous levels; and $5 million to give high schools the option of administering two different versions of the PARCC.

Categories: Urban School News

Students to lead the way in Aurora while accountability clock ticks

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 17:07

AURORA — The Aurora Public Schools board adopted a single strategic document for the inner-ring suburban school district Tuesday night.

But school and community officials are betting that the thousands of new individual academic plans students develop will be what drives achievement forward.

As part of the district’s new five-year strategy, every APS student will write his or her own plan for the future, be asked to develop a set of skills to implement that plan, and earn credentials toward college or a career.

Known as APS 2020: Shaping a Successful Future, the plan is a stark departure from the district’s former governing documents. Previous iterations of the APS strategic plan were lengthy, packed with goals and initiatives written in education jargon, and were focused on what teachers and administrators would accomplish.

But APS 2020, officials say, is student- and parent-friendly, will likely be printed on just two pages, and places the responsibility for academic success on the students.

“We agreed as a community that this plan was about student self-determination,” said Rico Munn, Aurora’s superintendent. “It’s about them having the capacity within themselves to shape their future.”

Much of the work outlined in the plan is already underway. APS has been a leader in developing career-pathways for students. And it recently rolled out a digital program that awards students certificates akin to scout badges for workplace skills like collaboration they can show they’ve mastered.

Aurora by the numbers
41,729 students
46 percent of third grader read at or above grade level
56 percent of students graduate on time
67 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch
38 percent of students have limited English skills
18 percent of students are white

But many details still need to be worked out. It’s unknown what an academic plan might look like for a kindergartner. And it will be a challenge to have each of APS’s 41,729 students write these plans within 90 days, as called for in the the proposal.

It’s also unclear whether the plan will accelerate student achievement quickly enough to starve off state intervention. Aurora is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list. It has two years to boost student achievement or face a number of state sanctions that could include losing its accreditation.

Munn said the district’s responsibility to the state weighed on the committee that developed the plan, but it was ultimately more important for APS to do what its community felt was best for its own students.

“We’re doing the work that needs to be done and the work our community told us needs to be done to move each and every kid forward,” Munn said. “That will play out however it plays out at the state. But that’s the work that needs to be done to accelerate the learning for all of our kids.”

Munn said the district does have a sense of urgency to improve its schools, 18 of which are on the state’s watch list. And, Munn said, the plan gets straight to the point.

“It’s not about some broad philosophical education theory,” he said. “It’s about saying ‘every single kid, we need to move. And here’s the strategies we’re going to use to do it.'”

Aurora teacher union President Amy Nichols, who served on the committee that created APS 2020, said she’s excited to work with Munn in implementing the plan. But she does have some concerns about how teachers will have time to work with students to develop their plans.

She said APS officials will need to address testing mandates and class sizes, especially at the middle school level, as they ask teachers to implement student individual plans.

“The best way to get something done is to ask the teachers,” she said. “They’ll find a way.”

Veronica Palmer, co-CEO of nonprofit parent engagement organization RISE Colorado, said it’s important for APS to engage families as they roll out APS 2020.

“Parents are a vital resource,” she said. “If parents know how they fit in, they’re more likely to be involved.”

That could lead to more parents supporting the district’s school improvement efforts, Palmer said. Palmer also served on the committee that drafted the plan.

APS 2020 was approved on a rare 4-3 vote. Board members Mary Lewis, Barbara Yamrick, and Amber Drevon, voted against the plan because they said the vision statement, “every student shapes a successful future,” was uninspiring. However, those members said they generally supported the rest of the plan.

“I love every other word in the plan,” Lewis said. “I will support it completely.”

Presentation on Aurora 2020 DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1506966-aps-strategicdocumentpresentation' });
Categories: Urban School News

Why creating opportunities for students of color to become teachers is important

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 13:29

The Colorado Department of Education recently published a study to explore the current landscape of teacher diversity in the state. The report, Keeping up with Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado, is a call to action.

The highlight of the report is the list of specific strategies to increase the recruitment and retention of teachers of color and why this is an important issue to address.

I sincerely hope that all stakeholders, from legislatures and policy makers to school district leaders and teacher preparation programs are planning to respond to that call.

I know I am.

Why? Teacher diversity matters for all students. As an associate professor at UC Denver, my scholarship centers on issues of diversity and equity in urban schools. Whenever I present my research at professional conferences around the country, I ask conference participants to think about and respond to this question, “what message is conveyed regarding the authority of knowledge and positions of power when students experience school with a predominantly white (and mostly female) teacher workforce?” Our conversations are lively and center on a few important themes including: students’ perceptions of whose voice matters and whose views count, students’ sense of belonging in school, and the need for all children to learn from and interact with teachers who bring a variety of perspectives and lived experiences to their classrooms.

A sad reality exists. Given that 90 percent of Colorado teachers are white, it is entirely possible for a Colorado student to go through her entire K-12 public school education and never have a teacher of color. The same student can continue her education and complete her BA, MA and PhD and still never have a teacher of color.

For these reasons and many more, I created the Pathways2Teaching program in 2010.

Pathways2Teaching is a concurrent enrollment program designed to engage high school students of color in exploring the teaching profession as an avenue for engaging with, giving back to, and righting wrongs within their communities. In collaboration with the University of Colorado Denver and high schools in Denver Public Schools and Adams County School District 14, the Pathways2Teaching program has served over 300 high school juniors and seniors over the last five years.

Our potential future teachers look vastly different from the current teacher demographics in Colorado. Nearly 60 percent of our current and former students are Latino/a, 35 percent African American and 42 percent male.

As the authors of Keeping up with Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado point out, there are a number of early outreach programs aimed at recruiting high school students into the teacher workforce. Not all, however, focus specifically on recruiting students of color. If we really want to diversify our teacher workforce and build effective early outreach programs, these programs must be culturally responsive. They must feature a curriculum specifically designed to engage students by explicitly pointing out why they are desperately needed as our future teachers – not just because of the color of their skin, but because of their lived experiences in the same communities that need them the most.

How? It is not always an easy sell. For many students of color, particularly those who live in poverty, schools do not always feel welcoming or safe. This is especially true for African American, Latino and Native American males. One only needs to examine national or state data by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status to see the disproportionate rates of school disciplinary actions, suspensions, special education placements, and lower graduation rates for students of color to better understand the level of disenfranchisement often felt by these students.

The marginalization students experience can become the catalyst for helping them understand how they can disrupt the inequities they have experienced. The Pathways2Teaching curriculum has an explicit focus on having students critically examine the complex educational issues and inequities that exist in poor, urban communities- the very issues that have contributed to the marginalization that they’ve experienced in schools.

Through the Pathways2Teaching program, students also learn about the importance of dedicated, culturally responsive teachers who come to school each day to empower students and make a difference in students’ lives. Students gain a better understanding of the important roles teachers of color play for all students as they read the published work of national scholars (and sometimes have the opportunity to interview these scholars via video conference calls).

Beyond the scholarship of effective teaching for diverse learners that students study, they get to experience it firsthand. The program incorporates a weekly field experience where students work in local elementary one day a week throughout the year. In fact, our research indicates that this experience is a significant factor in motivating high school students of color to seriously consider becoming a teacher. Students better understand that effective teaching is a complex task – one that involves content knowledge, culturally responsive pedagogy, and unwavering dedication – but above all “revolutionary love.”

The call to diversify our teacher workforce is clear and urgent. I know we have a lot of work to do. The Pathways2Teaching program is one small contribution to answering this call.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Obama didn’t mention No Child Left Behind rewrite plan during speech

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 09:59


President Barack Obama didn't use the words teacher or test in his State of the Union address last night. But he did share a lot about expanding preschool and making community college free. ( Huffington Post )

Talk to us

Answer our question of the week: How can Colorado schools become more equitable? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No room at the Inn

Jeffco Public Schools is running out of room and the district's board is having a hard time agreeing to a solution. ( Arvada Press )

meeting of the minds

Five Colorado school board presidents, including those from Jeffco and Douglas County, met at a suburban Mexican restaurant. Conspiracy theories and vague answers follow. ( Adams County Sentinel )

Two cents

Here are the three education issues Colorado Senate Republicans and Democrats agree on. ( Denver Post )

Human Resources

Northwest Colorado BOCES Executive Director and Special Education Coordinator Amy Bollinger will leave the organization after her contract expires June 30. ( Steamboat Today )

under investigation

Denver Public Schools is investigating a bus driver after a family claims the driver tied down their autistic 3-year-old grandson. ( The Denver Channel )

It takes a village

KidsTek, a nonprofit that aims to make kids more technologically literate, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. ( 9News )

Denver Public Schools will create a defined career path into the health and bioscience field for high school students after receiving a $650,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente Colorado. ( Denver Business Journal )

Longmont-based nonprofit Colorado Friendship aims to expand its weekend meal program for students across the St. Vrain Valley School District this year following a donation from Whole Foods. ( Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: How can Colorado schools be more equitable?

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 18:48

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Denver’s annual “marade” broke attendance records. The Denver Post described the scene this way:

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock estimated 30,000-plus gathered at City Park on Monday morning and marched downtown as part of the city’s annual Marade. The crowd called — or rather bellowed — for more than just progress in race, marching also for social justice, education reform and health care equality.

Monday’s celebration was bolstered by thousands of first-time participants, motivated to march by the protests over the deaths of black men at the hands of police. Activists said this year’s parade was especially significant in the aftermath of the “black lives matter” movement.

Many school reform efforts, in Colorado and across the nation, have been undertaken in the name of equity. Some have worked and some haven’t. Other’s are just getting off the ground.

That brings us to our question of the week: How can Colorado schools become more equitable?

Each week, 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. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Aldermanic endorsements, extended learning time, GED pass rates

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 11:30

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted to endorse another batch of aldermanic candidates at last week’s meeting -- but not without a little bit of soul-searching first. Union officials have kept mum about what exactly happened -- as George Schmidt wrote last week in Substance News -- but a number of delegates gave Catalyst Chicago the rundown.

Delegates voted down one candidate who had been recommended by the union’s political action and legislative committee -- Patrick Daley-Thompson (11th Ward), a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, with many questioning why the union would want to be linked with a name synonymous with Chicago machine politics. Instead, delegates proposed and voted to endorse one of Daley’s opponents, Maureen Sullivan. Some frustrated delagates compared the process to the November endorsement of Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for mayor, a last-minute decision that came after CTU President Karen Lewis was diagnosed with a brain tumor, effectively ending her own political aspirations.

The House did approve a number of other recommended candidates, including Matt O'Shea (19th); Michael Zalewski (23rd); Rafael Yañez (15th); Chuks Onyezia (18th); and Frank Bass (24th).

Finally, delegates proposed and voted on two additional candidates for endorsement: Ed Hershey (25th), a teacher at Lindblom, and Zerlina Smith (29th), a community activist who helped lead last year’s opt-out movement at Saucedo. (See our story on teachers running for office in our fall In Depth.) There was apparently some debate about whether to endorse Hershey because of another progressive, education-focused candidate in that race -- Byron Sigcho. While not a CTU member himself, Sigcho has been a CTU ally with strong community support in Pilsen. Hershey, Sigcho and others -- including a socialist candidate, Jorge Mujica -- are vying to unseat incumbent Danny Solis.

Since November, the CTU has endorsed four other teachers running for aldermanic seats, including Sue Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Tim Meegan (33rd), Tara Stamps (37th) and Dianne Daleiden (40th), in addition to others. The CTU’s political arm has contributed $10,000 to the campaigns of Garza, Meegan and Stamps, according to financial reports filed with the state this month.

Meanwhile, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) also endorsed another batch of aldermanic candidates. These include incumbents Patrick O’Conner (40th), Howard Brookins (21st) and Walter Burnett (27th), as well as candidates Elise Doody-Jones (32nd) and James Dukes (17th).

“Our children’s education future is at stake in this election in every ward and neighborhood of this city,” Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, DFER-IL state director, said in a statement. “We are committed to bringing parents, students and teachers together to rally around candidates who will fight to ensure that Chicago can deliver a world-class education to our kids.”

DFER-IL previously endorsed incumbent aldermen Will Burns (4th), Michelle Harris (8th), JoAnn Thompson (16th), and Emma Mitts (37th), in addition to Michael Diaz, a candidate in the 45th Ward. So far, the group has only reported a $500 contribution to Burns.

2. Fixing funding at last?....State School News Service’s Jim Broadway writes that Senate Bill 16, the overhaul of the school funding formula that was percolating last year, has re-emerged, but this time as Senate Bill 1. Senate Bill 1 is still just a title and the details of what state Sen. Andy Manar will propose has yet to be laid out. But last year’s bill sought to address the disparity in school funding by combining nearly all of the state education department’s grant money into the General State Aid formula, a move that ends up increasing state funding for property-poor school districts and cutting the amount for wealthy areas.  

Broadway notes that the only way to prevent well-heeled areas from losing substantial state funding would be to greatly increase the overall money in the GSA pot. “That shouldn't be so difficult in a state as wealthy as ours, especially since Gov. Bruce Rauner pledged as a candidate last year to "restore" the $1 billion he said the schools lost while Gov. Pat Quinn was in office,” writes Broadway. Though Broadway acknowledges the state budget problems will make it hard for Rauner to keep his promise.

Despite those problems, though, the Chicago Tribune tells Rauner to make good on his promise to deliver more money for education. The solution proposed, however, is a little different than Manar’s. In an editorial, the Tribune writes that a lot of money is already flowing into education, but that bureaucracy is bloated. They advocate consolidating school districts and regional offices.

3. Rise in low-income students … We already knew that, for the first time ever, just over half of Illinois students in public schools were considered low-income. It now looks like that’s also true across the country.

Researchers at the Southern Education Foundation found that 51 percent of public school children qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in 2013, a big jump from 38 percent in 2000.

This article in the New York Times -- which includes a telling map of poverty across the country -- clarifies that children who are eligible for these lunches don’t necessarily live in poverty. “Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568 for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level,” Mokoto Rich writes. In addition, the numbers have likely increased because the federal government “now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.”

This year, CPS signed onto the program and meals at all schools -- including “well-off” schools -- are free. “Entirely free meals reduce the labor of cash collection and tracking which students have to pay full and reduced prices for their food,” WBEZ reported last fall. “This tiered system (with incentives for schools reporting higher poverty levels) led to fraud among CPS employees in the past.”

4. Extended learning time provides boost… Increasing time spent in the classroom can have a serious effect on achievement for low-performing schools, according to a new report out from the Center for Education Policy. Looking at 17 schools in four states, the report compared different approaches to federal grants that provide incentives for longer school days. Results varied, but most suggested that extended learning time can boost schools in more ways than one. The principal of one school in Oregon, for example, said “everyone is benefiting” from a 30-minute extension to teachers’ workday. A handful of other schools, in Colorado, saw bumps in their graduation rates after extending school hours into the late afternoon.

Still, the report notes, extended learning time brings up some challenges. Most notably, rigid teacher contracts will often become a snag in district efforts to increase classroom time. This was the case in Chicago in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union dug its feet in opposition to the added work hours that came alongside Mayor Emanuel’s extended school day initiative. The union ended up agreeing to a deal in which hours were added to the school day but required time for staff meetings was cut, meaning that teachers would more or less work the same total number of hours.  

5. Higher bar to pass the GED… In 2014, the number of people who took and passed the GED plummeted as the test changed, reportedly to make it more in line with employers' expectations, according to a National Public Radio story. The new test is taken via computer, is more expensive and more difficult. Designers of the new test are hoping that it will carry more weight now that it is harder. But critics are worried that it will take away the second chance that many people desperately need to earn high school credentials

The early numbers show that less than 60,000 passed the GED (the numbers do not include those in prison who took the test). Typically hundreds of thousands take and pass the test, and in 2013, as people rushed to take it before the change, more than 500,000 got the equivalency degree. More than 20,000 people passed the test in Illinois in 2013. The GED Testing Service has yet to post the 2014 annual statistical report.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora teachers say co-teaching, time with peers helps students learn English

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:09


Colorado legislators introduced several more bills focused on testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


At a school where students speak 47 languages, teachers say students benefit from co-teaching and being with their peers. ( Aurora Sentinel )


In honor of Martin Luther King , Jr. Day, reflections from schools on race relations in America. ( KUNC )


Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg will testify to the U.S. Congress about testing and accountability. ( Education Week )

The Times, They Are A-Changing

Silver Creek High School in Longmont is dropping home economics in favor of a business program. ( Times-Call )

Student Profiles

Seventh grader Enrique Hernandez Salcido dreams of being a teacher. ( Daily Camera )

Speaking Up

An eleven-year-old challenged young people to get involved in tough issues at a summit at Colorado College. ( Gazette )

Growing, Growing

A charter school in Arvada has plans to rapidly expand. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing, standards bills keep piling up

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/19/2015 - 10:24

Two new Republican testing bills and a proposal on flexibility for rural districts were introduced in the House Friday before lawmakers left the Capitol for a three-day weekend.

The new measures bring to five the number of testing and standards bills introduced so far, three in the House and two in the Senate. The House bills all are sponsored by Republicans, who are in the minority in that chamber. On the other hand, the Senate bills are by Democrats, the minority party there.

Here’s a look at the new bills:

House Bill 15-1123 – Allows district and charter boards to administer only the language arts, math and science tests required by federal law and to stop administering the ACT test to 11th graders. The bill also allows districts to choose their own school readiness and early literacy tests rather than following current state requirements. It also would require the Department of Education to adjust the growth model and accountability requirements to accommodate local district choices. Prime sponsor: Rep. Jack Tate, R-Centennial.

House Bill 15-1125 – Withdraws Colorado from the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing consortium, reduces state testing and makes numerous other changes in the testing and standards systems, including creation of a schedule for updating standards. Prime sponsors: Republican Reps. Paul Lundeen of Monument and Terri Carver of Colorado Springs; Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker.

House Bill 15-1124 – Permits rural school districts to receive the same waivers from various state laws and rules as those allowed to charter schools. It also allows rural districts to request waivers from the state system of school readiness assessments. Prime sponsor: Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor.

Categories: Urban School News

Defying state, CPS will test just 10 percent of schools

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 21:39

CPS officials say that the district will go against the state's testing plans and refuse to give all students the controversial new PARCC exam. Spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Friday evening that district leaders plan to have only 10 percent of schools take the PARCC, the new state-mandated test that is geared to the Common Core standards. McCaffrey called it an expanded pilot and said that the schools taking the PARCC will be representative of the entire district.

He said he was not immediately certain of the possible consequences for CPS. State officials, who have insisted that all school districts in Illinois administer the PARCC to all students, said they will continue to work with Chicago.

New Governor Bruce Rauner has not taken a stand on the PARCC or whether the state should go forward with full implementation. Several states that originally said they were going to administer the PARCC have pulled out and now only 11 states are still committed, according to PARCC's website.

“It is a big victory for right now,” said Raise Your Hand’s Wendy Katten. Katten’s group, More than A Score, and other active parents fought diligently against the PARCC. They gathered more than 4,000 signatures on a petition and met with more than 20 legislators.

The parent groups argued that the PARCC is not yet ready to be rolled out, asserting that the test questions are confusing and the test is too long. In general, the groups also are against high-stakes standardized testing.

While the delay is something to celebrate now, Katten said it could be short-lived if the PARCC isn’t improved and the state insists on keeping it for next school year. Katten said her group will continue to push for a bill allowing parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. As it is now, students must refuse the tests themselves. 

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher at Saucedo Elementary who helped lead a testing boycott last year, said she thinks CPS made the decision because they were afraid that large numbers of parents would have their children opt out.

Earlier this week, the Chicago Teachers Union approved a resolution encouraging teachers to talk to parents about their option to opt their children out of taking the PARCC. Last year, CPS officials threatened teachers who participated in the boycott with disciplinary action, although according to Chambers, none was ever taken.

In October, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett publically announced that she wanted a delay of the PARCC. In the letter, she said that CPS’ pilot of the PARCC last year had “yielded generally positive results.”

The main reason why Byrd-Bennett wrote that she didn’t want to implement the PARCC is that the district planned to continue giving elementary school students the NWEA and high school students the ACT. As they have been for the past few years, the NWEA and the ACT were to be used for district accountability purposes, such as school ratings and promotion.

“The testing demands on students and the burdens on teachers and principals with the addition of the PARCC will be overwhelming,” she wrote in her letter to ISBE.

 However, she had already been told by the state that the district will not be granted a waiver.

State Superintendent Christopher Koch has insisted that the PARCC has been vetted enough. Further, he said the state could face sanctions or other consequences if it does not administer the PARCC. Federal law requires that states administer a test aligned with standards to students. State law requires that students take the PARCC by this school year.

In his weekly message from the first week of January, Koch included a letter from the federal government outlining the consequences that the state could face for not having every district give the same standardized test. The consequences ranged from a letter to financial sanctions.

Still, it is unclear what if anything the state or federal government will do to CPS, considering it is so large. Last year, the state of California took a “snow” year on standardized testing and it was not sanctioned.

Melissa Sanchez contributed to this story.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Most public school students now come from low-income families

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 18:20
  • Most public school students in the U.S. now come from low-income families. (Washington Post)
  • American education may not be experiencing the dramatic crisis we’ve grown so used to hearing about—and black and Latino students, in particular, are doing better over time. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Public school teachers write about testing, joy, and gray hairs in an essay series on Gawker. (Gawker)
  • Teachers are more likely to injure their voices than any other professionals—but most don’t know how to tend to their voices. (Chalkbeat Tennessee)
  • Is a clash in “blue collar” and “white collar” values behind some of the current pushback to education reform? (CRPE)
  • The GED just got way harder. (KUNC)
  • Bilingual preschool programs are becoming more popular in New York. (Chalkbeat NY)
  • Could the idea of the mad—male—genius hold back women in the classroom? (KUNC)
  • Children’s innate sense of how numbers work doesn’t necessarily line up with how math is taught in schools. (Radiolab)
  • Annual assessments and the federal role in education are all on the table as Congress dives into the the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Education Week)
  • An educational consultant argues that differentiation works better in theory than in practice. (Education Week)
  • How toxic stress can take a toll on student learning. (Latino USA)
  • “Engaging multiple modalities.” “Measures of student growth.” Why is education reporting is so boring? Let’s talk about jargon. (The Atlantic)
  • More and more is being expected academically of Kindergartens. (Education Week)
  • And, a weekend listen: Education reporters discuss some of the top issues for 2015. (Bloomberg EDU)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Congress should expand choice, wrap-around services

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 13:44

There has been a lot of talk in Washington this week about Congress rewriting the nation’s education laws: here, here, and here.

So with reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in view, we wanted to know what our readers top priorities would be for the revamped federal law.

Reader Melanie emailed that she hopes Congress does something to make school choice more available:

It would be great to see real school choice.  It is not fair to those who are “locked in” to less proficient schools because of zip codes.  I would love to see more options for families and students to choose as well as more incentives for great principles to take on the challenge of turning around less proficient schools.

Meanwhile, Eden Messutta, a middle school English development specialist, said in an email that Congress should ensure that schools serving the neediest students have all the wrap-around services they need.

… we are not meeting the social-emotional needs of our students. And, despite having oodles of interventions in the areas of academics, we are lacking truly effective intervention, programming and supports to meet the needs of at-risk students and students that struggle socially and emotionally. This is an area that, considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, must be addressed as we ask students to engage their brains in academic tasks. If our students are not getting their basic needs met and are not getting their social-emotional needs met, we cannot expect young people to be emotionally available to learn if they lack coping skills and/or means to acquire those skills.

On Facebook, reader Kelly Johnson suggested that testing mandates and their results shouldn’t be tied to funding:

I don’t like money tied to testing mandates. We need assessments but we also need more time spent on teaching — and LEARNING (and lots of the important lessons cannot be “tested”). I think preschool funding would be grand, but how about K funding?? Agree there could be a better distribution of federal dollars – but also think Colorado needs to step up and invest in education.

But reader Doug Fresse took the contrarian view on Facebook and said the feds should just butt out of education.

Return to local control of schools. Get the feds out of our neighborhoods. Arnie isn’t listening. The states will undo this mess.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Chalkbeat is off on Monday, it’s Martin Luther King Jr., Day. But we’ll be back with a Question of Week on Tuesday! Thanks for chiming in.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Hick urges caution on testing cuts

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:07

Jeffco strikes first

The Jefferson County school board didn’t wait long to seek a waiver from a portion of the state’s new standardized assessments after the State Board of Education cracked open the door on that option last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Warning from the gov

Gov. John Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to be cautious about trimming the state testing system in his 2015 state of the state speech Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Second thoughts

A group of legislative Republicans Thursday introduced a bill that would roll back many of the education reforms passed by the legislature over the last six years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Spend, spend, spend

The DPS board has approved new spending plans targeting technology, buildings, and other improvements. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Musical chairs

Denver Public Schools, running out of space to house new programs as enrollment surges, is playing policy catch-up to clarify which programs merit space in district buildings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Counting kids

Colorado public school enrollment grew 1.4 percent in 2014 to 889,006 students, the Department of Education has reported. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Data privacy

President Obama's proposals for protecting privacy of student data are drawing attention from Coloradans, including Congressman Jared Polis. ( Denver Post )

guns in schools

Frontier Academy, a Greeley charter school, is considering arming some non-teaching staff members. ( Greeley Tribune via Denver Post )

Growing pains

Increasing enrollment has put a strain on some schools in the Pikes Peak region. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

School board, on split vote, directs Jeffco to seek waiver from state tests

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 00:26

GOLDEN — Jeffco Public Schools’ board didn’t wait long to seek a waiver from a portion of the state’s new standardized assessments after the State Board of Education cracked open the door on that option last week.

The suburban school board voted 3-1 Thursday night to direct Superintendent Dan McMinimee to seek a waiver from the Colorado Department of Education, knowing that the waiver might not be legal.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper voted against the resolution, despite agreeing with the conservative majority that the district needs to address over-testing. Board member Jill Fellman abstained from the vote because she believed the resolution violated a board policy and such a request could be illegal.

The Jeffco vote comes a little more than a week after the State Board of Education voted to allow school districts to apply for waivers from a portion of the state’s standardized assessment system in math and English, known as PARCC.

Prior to the state board’s resolution, the Montrose and Colorado Springs District 11 school districts applied for testing waivers. But the Colorado Department of Education rejected those applications, saying the department didn’t have the legal authority to grant them.

Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said last week his department won’t honor any new waiver applications until the Colorado attorney general issues an opinion on the matter. A top deputy from the attorney general’s office told the state Senate Education Committee Thursday that waivers from the English and math tests weren’t legal. But his assertion carried no legal weight.

“This is premature at best,” Dahlkemper said of the waiver request.

The legal ambiguity didn’t seem to bother the board majority. Board attorney Brad Miller assured the board they faced no legal repercussions for seeking a waiver.

“We need to take the step now,” said board chairman Ken Witt. “We don’t need to wait for the attorney general’s office to drag their feet.”

The Jeffco vote has been months in the making. The board has had several conversations about the PARCC exams and the Common Core standards to which the tests are aligned. While board member Julie Williams has pushed this issue for months, debate never turned into action, mostly because Witt recognized the district’s legal obligation to test students.

Most of  Thursday’s debate regarding the resolution didn’t center around the merits of the PARCC test, but whether the board followed its own policies.

“Are you or are you not in favor of opting out of PARCC?” board member John Newkirk asked.

“We’re in favor of following board policies,” Dahlkemper replied.

Jeffco’s PARCC waiver resolution DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1503340-jeffcoresolution' });

Update: This article has been updated to provide context why board member Jill Fellman abstained from voting on the testing waiver. 

Categories: Urban School News

DPS approves additional bond spending on technology, buildings

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 23:26

Denver Public Schools will spend $35.7 million from a pot of reserve bond funds on a slate of building and technology improvements around the city, the school board decided Thursday night.

The projects range from replacing stage curtains at Bromwell Elementary School in the Cherry Creek neighborhood to supporting a school for disabled students to a $25-per-pupil investment in new computers and other electronic devices for students. The district is pulling from $46 million in reserves from a $466 million bond issue approved by voters in 2012.

DPS officials said that current bond projects have come in either at or under budget, which allowed the district to fund additional improvements.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the district plans to ask voters to approve another bond issue for school improvements in 2016.

“We are the fastest-growing city district in the country,” Boasberg said. “The demand for improvements vastly outstrips the supply.”

Board members commended the district’s plan to make improvements in all parts of the city.

“We heard through this process about leaky roofs and old buildings…and we know those are directly related to equity and putting kids first,” said board member Landri Taylor.

Check out our board tracker for a rundown of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.

A slightly adjusted budget for the current fiscal year also passed on a unanimous vote. That budget includes an increase in $1 million for compensation from the district’s ProComp fund, and a slight increase in spending on materials.

The board also approved tonight a list of the first members of the DPS District Accountability Committee, or DAC. 

The committee replaces the School Improvement Accountability Committee, or SIAC, that previously made recommendations to the board on policy decisions involving school authorization, among other responsibilities.

The district had not been in compliance with a state regulation detailing requirements for how accountability committees are created.

During the meeting’s public comment session, several parents spoke against the district’s plan to replace a dual language program at CMS Community School with a Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, program. That plan would leave the southwest part of the city with no dual language options.

All of the items on tonight’s agenda passed unanimously.

Categories: Urban School News

Republican bill would roll back six years of ed reforms

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 22:44

A group of Republicans legislators introduced a bill Thursday that would roll back many of the education reforms passed by the legislature over the last six years.

Those reforms were backed by a Democratic-Republican coalition that no longer exists, given that many of those Republicans have left the legislature.

The bill has little chance of passage in its original form, given Democratic control of the House and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s support of past reforms. But House Bill 15-1105 likely will help shape the legislative debate over academic standards, testing, student data privacy, and teacher evaluation.

The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton and Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins. Its key provisions include:

  • Repeal of current state academic standards in language arts, math and social studies.
  • Creation of new Colorado-only tests in those subjects. The bill specifies that new test questions “cannot be designed to collect or measure data, including metadata, concerning students’ noncognitive, behavioral, emotional, or psychological characteristics, attributes, or skills and that the vendor cannot collect biometric data, except handwriting.”
  • Development of a new standards by an advisory committee.
  • Withdrawal from the multi-state PARCC testing group.
  • Repeal of the requirement that all high school juniors take the ACT test.
  • Grading of tests by Colorado teachers.
  • A requirement that school boards adopt policies allowing parents to opt children out of tests and allowing students to take tests on paper if requested.
  • A change in the teacher evaluation system that would affect the current requirement that 50 percent of evaluations be based on student academic growth. That would be reduced to 15 percent, although individual districts could use up to 50 percent if they choose.
  • A ban on any agreements with vendors or the federal government that would cede state control over assessments and standards.

Everett and Marble have signed on 13 Republican cosponsors in the House and Senate. Interestingly, none of the senior Republican lawmakers on education issues have signed onto the bill, including Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Chris Holbert of Parker, or Reps. Jim Wilson of Salida and Kevin Priola of Henderson.

A group of Republicans also introduced a bill Thursday on student data privacy. Prime sponsors of House Bill 15-1108 are Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada. They have a dozen other GOP cosponsors in the House, but neither Priola nor Wilson are among them.

A key feature of the bill is a requirement that “prior to conducting any survey, assessment, analysis, or evaluation that would include the collection of specified personal information, a school or school district shall obtain the written consent of a minimum of 85 percent of the students’ parents or legal guardians.”

Holbert is working on a separate data bill that’s being developed from discussions between both parent activist groups and school district interests.

Two other education-related bills were introduced Thursday:

House Bill 15-1104 – The bill creates a state educator expense deduction on state income taxes. Prime sponsor: Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo

House Bill 15-1116 – A technical bill repealing requirements that school boards adopt policies on annual school inspections. Prime sponsor: Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio

Categories: Urban School News

Hick: Be careful with testing cuts

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 20:56

In his 2015 state of the state speech Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to be cautious about trimming the state testing system.

“Easing the testing demands on 12th graders in social studies and science; and streamlining tests in early years and finding flexibility with approaches to social studies might be among the right answers,” he said.

“There is no doubt, however, that maintaining consistent assessments in English and math through high school is fundamental.”

He led up to those comments by saying, “We need to confront the truth about whether Colorado’s kids are getting the education they need to compete and succeed in the job market.

“But how do we know if we are getting the job done unless we accurately measure individual student growth?”

Parent activist groups and some legislators are pushing for more drastic reductions in high school testing, including elimination of 9th and 11th grade tests and even junking all current high school tests in favor of a single college entrance exam like the ACT.

Learn more

The governor spoke for about 45 minutes in the House chamber, which was packed with lawmakers, other state officials, legislative staff, and visitors. The governor’s acknowledgements and introductions alone consumed seven minutes; he spoke about education for about eight minutes.

Here are the highlights of what he said on other K-12 issues:

  • While touting a proposed $480 million overall education funding increase, he warned, “As we look beyond this year, the ability of the State General Fund to protect the negative factor from rising even higher is uncertain.”
  • “Colorado must also become the best state in the country to recruit, retain and grow great teachers. Licensure reforms, career ladders and a fair evaluation system are critical.” (Most observers doubt there will be significant legislation on this areas this year.)
  • “Our goal should be to ensure that every Colorado child has equal access to a great education. That means taking a hard look at funding equity, strategies to turn around struggling schools, promoting innovation, and supporting charter schools.”

Turning to higher education, Hickenlooper said:

  • “Chief among our priorities is reducing the cost of higher education for students and their families. Our Colorado Commission on Higher Education has set a goal that 66 percent of 25-34 year olds hold a post-high school credential by 2025. But that’s a long way away, and we should target 55 percent by 2020.”
  • Noting that he has requested a $107 million higher education funding increase, he urged “a cap in the undergraduate tuition growth at no more than 6 percent.” (Such legislation already has been introduced.)
  • And he sounded a gloomy note about future higher education, as he did with K-12: “We are doing what we can as a state to educate and graduate a homegrown workforce. But, we know that its not enough, and our ability to continue funding higher ed at this level may not last much longer. We must continue to identify and develop creative solutions.”

Part of the squeeze on education funding is caused by conflicting constitutional provisions, including the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

The last panel in Allen True Capitol water murals looks to the future, at least as envisioned in 1940.

Hickenlooper closed his speech on that issue, calling it a “fiscal thicket.” He noted the seriousness of the problem but offered no suggested solutions other than a more intense public focus on the problem.

“We are facing the mathematical and inevitable conclusion of a system of tax and spending rules that evolved over decades. … If we do nothing, if we pretend the future will take care of itself, and we’re back here in two years facing what was clearly an avoidable crisis, history will show that we failed future generations of Coloradans. … While we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting,” he said.

Citing a recent series of talks and negotiations that led to a draft state water plan, Hickenlooper said, “We should be coming together, dealing with the facts of what we know, and take a hard look at what is the most strategic way to allocate our resources; and ask ourselves: What will be of maximum benefit for all Coloradans?”

A recurring theme in Hickenlooper’s speech was the series of murals in the Capitol rotunda that illustrate Colorado’s development. “We can paint our own panel for the mural, one that will benefit generations of Coloradans to come.”

Categories: Urban School News

State P-12 enrollment moves up at usual rate

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 18:41

Colorado public school enrollment grew 1.4 percent in 2014 to 889,006 students, the Department of Education reported Thursday.

The percentage growth was slightly below both 2013’s 1.6 percent and the 20-year average rate of 1.7 percent. The number includes students enrolled in preschool through 12th grade.

The new figure is based on enrollment counts conducted statewide in a window around last Oct. 1 and will be the official number for the current 2014-15 school year. Despite recurring discussions about changing the state student counting method, the single Oct. 1 count remains the way Colorado calculates enrollment.

The annual counts are closely watched because enrollment is a key factor in district funding.

The state added 12,007 students from 2013 to last fall, a number equivalent to the size of the Westminster district. (See this CDE chart for enrollment by district, listed from highest to lowest.) Nearly half that growth, 5,564, came in districts classified as urban or suburban.

Denver Public Schools, with 88,839 students, remains the largest district. DPS grew by 2,796 students, a 3.3 percent gain. Only the state Charter School Institute had a larger gain, 3,573 students. (That was because the institute added schools.)

The other largest districts are a familiar list – Jefferson County (86,547), Douglas County (66,702), Cherry Creek (54,499), Aurora (41,729) and Adams 12-Five Star (38,701).

Some 83 districts lost enrollment, by a total of 6,115 students. Adams 12 lost 3,529 students (8.3 percent) because the Colorado Virtual Academy switched to the Byers district as its authorizer. Enrollment in a handful of districts fluctuates every year because of such charter school moves.

Here are some other key statistics from the latest enrollment report. The 2013 figures are in parentheses.

  • At-risk students – 41.6 percent of state enrollment (41.9 percent)
  • White students – 54.5 percent (55 percent)
  • Hispanic students – 33.1 percent (32.8 percent)
  • Black students – 4.7 percent (4.7 percent)

The enrollment count also reported 126,840 students classified as English language learners for 2014-15 and 89,602 special education students. The comparable figures for 2013-14 were 126,750 and 88,190.

Enrollment in online schools increased to 17,060 students compared to 16,215 in 2013-14.

The department slices and dices enrollment data in a wide variety of ways and breaks it down by district, school and grade. See this CDE page for links to all the new enrollment reports.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado’s second largest school district may seek PARCC waiver — if legal

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/15/2015 - 18:32

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education tonight may ask its superintendent to seek a waiver from the state allowing the district not to administer portions of Colorado’s new standardized testing system.

But whether Jeffco, the state’s second largest school district, can even ask for such a waiver remains open to question.

The board’s debate on a resolution about seeking a waiver will come a little more than a week after the State Board of Education, in a split vote, told the state’s education commissioner to accept waiver applications from school districts.

Commissioner Robert Hammond told the state board earlier this month that he doubted the legality of such waivers and has asked the state’s attorney general’s office for an opinion on the matter.

While the attorney general’s office has not issued an official opinion, a top staffer for the attorney general told the State Senate Education Committee today that such waivers could not be granted.

“The State Board of Education does not have the authority to grant a waiver,” said David Blake, chief deputy attorney general. “The General Assembly has limited the board’s authority to grant a waiver” by laws passed previously. “The black letter of the law is clear.”

The Colorado Department of Education previously rejected two testing waivers on the same legal grounds — that the department didn’t have the legal authority to grant them. Those districts were Montrose and Colorado Springs District 11.

The resolution the Jeffco board will debate tonight acknowledges the legal uncertainty. If the forthcoming decision from the attorney general’s office prohibits districts from applying for waivers, Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee will need to come up with a plan for administering the online-based exams known as PARCC.

Hammond told Chalkbeat he expects about a dozen districts to apply for waivers.

Tonight’s Jeffco debate and vote will be the board’s first attempt to tackle directly the highly political issues of testing. While conservative board member Julie Williams has pushed the issue before, the board hasn’t yet taken any sort of action on testing. That’s because board chairman Ken Witt has previously stopped debate on the topic, citing legal requirements to test. The state board’s vote last week may change that.

The waivers, if found to be legal, would allow school districts to skip the first part of PARCC test scheduled to be administered between March and April. Those school districts with a waiver would still be required to give the end-of-year portion of the PARCC exam in May.

States including Colorado that make up the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the organization that is designing and implementing the new standardized exams, decided to split the tests into two parts.

Colorado education officials stress the two parts make up one complete assessment.

“Failure to take a portion of the test would not give a full picture of students’ mastery of the standards, and the score would not be valid,” said Dana Smith, a spokeswoman for CDE. “It’s really no different than previous tests – TCAP and CSAP – which were also broken down into sections of about an hour or so. If students don’t take the whole test, their scores will be incomplete.”

It’s unclear what sort of consequences a waiver from the tests would have for the state’s school accountability and teacher effectiveness systems, which are dependent upon the results of both parts of the assessments.

The first part the PARCC test is designed to asses a student’s critical-thinking skills. During the English tests, for example, students read multiple passages and then write what they’ve learned. In the math portion, students are asked to solve multi-step problems that require reasoning.

The second part of the exam, to be administered near the end of the school year, gauges comprehension of both literary and mathematical concepts.

Both sections of the exam will be used to determine a student’s proficiency in English and math. The state will also use that data in teacher evaluations and school ratings.

The discussion by the Jeffco school board to seek a waiver is the most recent development in an ongoing debate about testing in Colorado and across the nation.

Last year, the Douglas County School District’s Board of Education pitched a bill to the Colorado General Assembly that would have allowed some school districts to completely opt out of the state’s entire testing system — if they could prove they were academically successful. But that bill was watered down to instead create a committee to review the state’s testing system. The panel wrapped up the majority of its work earlier this week.

As computer-based exams were rolled out for the first time last spring, education officials across the state raised concerns about how much time is devoted to testing and the drain it takes on physical resources like computer labs.

And this fall, seniors at mostly suburban and affluent schools ditched their required tests in science and social studies claiming the results meant nothing to their future college or career ambitions.

And as Congress takes up the issue of the nation’s education laws, how much testing is required by the federal government will be a cornerstone issue. Under current law, schools across the nation are required to test all students in English and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. They’re also required to test one grade in elementary, middle, and high school in science.

A bill just introduced by Democratic lawmakers at the Colorado statehouse would roll back the state’s testing system to the so-called federal minimum.

Categories: Urban School News

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