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How to make standardized tests more useful for teachers

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 18:23

In the past few weeks, students across Colorado have pushed back on the rollout of the state’s new set of science and social studies exams called Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS). Some seniors opted out of taking the exams, and they took to social media and the streets to argue their cause. They aren’t alone — parents, educators, and other community members have also complained.

But so much of the discourse around CMAS is focused on issues that, quite frankly, won’t move the conversation forward. The situation is so polarized that finding a realistic solution is almost impossible. In my opinion, we should focus on two questions: when should we assess students and how do we make the tests useful for teachers?

We must first recognize and acknowledge that we live in a society that demands accountability. Taxpayers and society in general, want to know if our schools are effective. So let’s start the conversation with the question, “How much testing is necessary to check the effectiveness of our schools?”

I agree with Mark Tucker, a national expert on public education policy. His proposal is to test all students in kindergarten, fourth, eighth and tenth grade, with random testing of second and sixth graders.

Why? Kindergarten is to make sure students are ready to move on (and yes, we can and do test kindergartners). Fourth grade is when students should be able to decode text, eighth grade is when students should be ready for high school, and tenth grade is when students should be ready for a community college program, with two years left to catch up.

Right now, we test all students from third grade until graduation. That’s too much. Think of this in sports terms: athletes have plenty of practice between games to make mistakes and correct them without worrying about their overall win/loss record. Districts and schools should utilize testing throughout a student’s academic career, especially with struggling students, to monitor their progress. But these tests should not be the high stakes exams used by the state to evaluate schools.  More practice, with fewer games.

Even with pared back exam schedules, the testing process should be more transparent and responsive.

The current state exams work primarily as autopsies, rather than checkups. State exam data is released months after the exam has been administered, much too late to be useful as a tool for the educator. Every attempt needs to be made to get teachers information on how their students are doing and address any deficiencies before students leave our classrooms.

The switch to the fall testing window from spring does little to address this if results are not quickly disseminated. In high school, many courses are semester long. By the time results are back, the student has moved on.

Even when the data is released, it’s too vague to help. Useful test results impact how and when I teach to a standard. They also give me specific information on individual students that I can use to check in on their progress in my class.

Right now, I don’t know how my students do on individual questions or how the questions addressed the standard. To help the data inform my practice as a teacher, it is not enough for me to know what standard the question addressed. I need to know what the question asked of the student and how the question was asked. This would allow me to pinpoint what changes I need to make in how I teach the material.

To use the standardized tests, I have to trust them. The onus to that build trust rests on the testing companies. Teachers should be involved in writing the questions and they need to release the actual test questions. I realize this is a difficult demand. Releasing test items is expensive, since every question made public would need to be replaced. In addition, many testing companies also claim intellectual rights to the questions. But the Colorado State Department of Education can write contracts with testing companies that require these companies to release exam items and to require them to involve practitioners in writing these exams.

If we were to bring more transparency and timeliness to the exams, teachers would be more comfortable with using the results of the exams as a part of their overall evaluation. I am willing to be held accountable to student achievement results as long as I have trust in the exams. I know we still have work to do to ensure student data can be used to evaluate teachers, but this would be a move in the right direction.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boycotts made dent in test participation

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 09:56

Accountability clock ticks

Thirty Colorado schools are about to enter the fifth year of low performance that could trigger state intervention, including closure, conversion to charters or changes in who runs them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Dougco Vouchers

Supreme court oral arguments centered around whether the program violates the state’s school funding and charter school laws, whether the program is designed to benefit the student or religious institutions, and whether the plaintiffs have legal standing to challenge the program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, AP via Gazette )

Non-profit diversity

Though nearly all education advocacy and reform nonprofits say they value diversity, fewer have taken concrete steps to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their staffs, leadership, and boards, according to a new report from Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing boycott

Only about 83 percent of Colorado high school seniors took new science and social studies tests last month, the Colorado Department of Education estimates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Boulder testing

The Boulder Valley School District doesn't have a clear answer on how widespread student protests of the state's new senior science and social studies tests could affect its accreditation rating. ( Daily Camera )

Mancos students carry a message

Students from Mancos High School brought an anti-testing message to the recent schools boards convention - complete with visual aids. ( Mancos Times )

Uncertainty for charter

The Colorado Springs District 11 board Wednesday abruptly pulled an agenda item relating to the eviction of a charter school from its district-owned building. ( Gazette )

Different kind of threat

A mountain lion sighting near Sopris Elementary School in south Glenwood Springs sent kids inside Wednesday afternoon. ( Post-Independent )

DPS kids meet Santa

Students from three high-poverty Denver schools were treated to a holiday party with Santa at a downtown hotel. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: New discipline data; DFER to endorse aldermen and computer science classes

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 08:53

1. Suspending black girls ... When it comes to suspensions and expulsions, much of the attention is on black boys. But a New York Times article points out that black girls also are disproportionately subjected to harsh disciplinary tactics. According to the latest U.S. Department of Civil Rights data, 12 percent of black girls were suspended, compared to only 2 percent of white girls. The New York Times highlights a case where two girls committed the exact same offense, but black girls received the harsher discipline.

CPS, which quietly posted new suspension and expulsion data for the 2013-2014 school year, does not provide a breakdown by race and gender. However, Illinois State Board of Education 2012-2013 data show that 30 percent of CPS students who were suspended at least once are black girls, though they make up only about 20 percent of CPS students. Interestingly, the number of black girls suspended at least once in high school is about the same as the number of black boys. Black male students, however, are way more likely to be suspended repeatedly, according to ISBE data.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said she is committed to reducing the number of suspensions and also tackling the racial disparities. The new CPS data from the 2013-2014 school year show that in one year the number of out-school suspensions was reduced by nearly 30 percent, while the expulsions were reduced by 11 percent.

2. A counterbalance to the CTU … As promised, the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform Illinois (DFER) is gearing up to spend money on aldermanic races. Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the group expects to make its first endorsements -- and donations -- in about a week. "One of our goals is to make sure the CTU does not have a monopoly on the schools debate," says the group’s spokesman, Owen Kilmer. DFER Illinois, which received $100,000 in political spending money from DFER national last week, has been been eyeing races in the 16th, 37th and 45th Wards. CTU members Guadalupe Rivera and Tara Stamps are vying for seats in the 16th and 37th Wards.

Catalyst wrote about Rivera, Stamps and six other CTU members who are running for aldermanic seats for our latest issue of Catalyst In Depth.  All eight of the educator candidates filed in time to be on the ballot.

3. Learning to code … CPS is one of about 50 school districts that pledged this week to make introductory computer science classes a standard offering to all their students.

Within three years, Crain’s Chicago Business reports, every high school in the city will offer a basic computer class and, within five years, at least half will offer a new AP computer course. CPS officials say that as an incentive for students to enroll, computer science courses will now count toward graduation instead of as elective offerings.

The changes come with the help of $2 million worth of curriculum, teacher training and stipends from, a Silicon Valley trade group.

The goal is to train students how to think creatively about computers, write code or operating instructions or use computers as design tools. "We want to teach them how to create using a computer, rather than (just) how to use a computer,” says Pat Yongpradit, the group’s director of education.

On a related note, WBEZ has a story this week on an event at Wells Community Academy High School tied to the global “Hour of Code” that used video games to teach students about coding.

4. Classroom diversity … In an effort to get more educators of color in CPS science classrooms, the National Science Foundation will provide a $3 million grant to train a new crop of African-American and Latino science teachers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The demographic makeup of teachers in CPS -- and especially those in the sciences -- has long been disproportionately white, compared to the students they serve. “We're perpetuating the cycle unless students see black and brown professionals succeeding” as teachers in the so-called STEM fields, Carole Mitchener, associate dean of academic affairs in the UIC College of Education, said in a statement.

The six-year program will pay for 30 students with bachelor’s degrees in the sciences to study at UIC's master's program in science education for free. In addition, they’ll get a $10,000 stipend during both the master's program and the next four years if they become CPS teachers. The new funding will also pay for 10 current CPS teachers who already hold master’s degrees to pursue doctorates in science education and help train the younger group of teachers. In exchange for stipends and tuition waivers, these “master fellows” will commit to continuing to teach in CPS for five years.

Earlier this month,Catalyst wrote about a larger effort to bring more teachers into the STEM fields at CPS and urban school districts. 

5. Non-profit in name onlyProPublica has a story about how some not-for-profit charter schools send all their funds to for-profit companies in what are called “sweeps” contracts. These for-profit companies have no obligations to taxpayers and often make a “tidy” amount from these deals. The charter school not-for-profit boards sometimes have no idea what is happening with the money or how the operation is run. What’s more, regulators often have trouble figuring out how much money is being spent on students.

According to the story, no one keeps tabs on how many of these “sweeps” contracts exist. By law, all of the charter school operators in Chicago are not-for-profits and some have contracted with for-profit organizations for specific services. It would be interesting to know whether any has a “sweeps” deal.


Categories: Urban School News

Accountability clock chimes louder for 30 schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 22:13

Thirty Colorado schools are about to enter the fifth year of low performance that could trigger state intervention, including closure, conversion to charters or changes in who runs them.

The 2013-14 ratings for schools – formally know as school performance frameworks – were released by the Department of Education and presented to the State Board of Education. The board approved the ratings unanimously.

“Some some schools have made tremendous growth,” Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen told the board in his briefing. But, he said later, the lowest-performing schools are “a group of schools we have large concerns about.”

Schools that remain in the two lowest categories – priority improvement and turnaround – for five consecutive years are subject to possible state intervention under the terms of a 2009 law that revamped the state accountability system for rating districts and schools.

So the 2013-14 ratings are significant because they were fifth set issued since the law was passed, and the 30 schools are the first “class” to potentially be subject to significant restructuring because of consistent low performance. The new ratings go into effect July 1, 2015, for the 2015-16 school year. Technically, sanctions wouldn’t be applied to schools until July 1, 2016.

Find your school’s state rating in our searchable database. 

The 30 schools are scattered across the state and range from elementary to high schools and include traditional, magnet, innovation, charter and online schools. The schools are in 18 districts, with just more than a third located in two districts, Denver Public Schools (five) and the Pueblo 60 district (six).

Eight districts also are subject to losing their state accreditation because of low performance. They are Aguilar, Commerce City, Ignacio, Julesburg, Montezuma-Cortez, Pueblo 60, Sheridan and Westminster. (Aurora is the one large district entering year four.) District ratings were released last month; see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on those ratings and these CDE slides for more information.

Possible consequences for low-performing schools include changing to operation by a public or private entity other than the district, conversion to charter status, change to innovation status or closure.

Before what’s called the “accountability clock” finally runs out on June 30, 2016, CDE is working to help districts turn struggling school around and minimize drastic and disruptive changes for the 2016-17 school year.

The board is planning to meet with some district and school representatives next spring, and CDE has created a “turnaround network” to help struggling schools. (Learn more about the network here, and get more details in this Chalkbeat story.)

The department hopes that district and school changes can be agreed to by CDE and districts earlier and put in place to minimize the number of drastic changes after July 1, 2016.

The issue of helping struggling schools and districts is complicated by the fact that the ratings approved Wednesday apply to both the 2015-16 and the 2016-17 school years. That’s because the transition to new state language arts and math tests – which will be given next spring – will delay compilation of the test scores and student academic growth data that are used to calculate district and school ratings.

Districts will have the ability to try to change 2016-17 ratings next year through an appeal process called “request for consideration.” The department received 123 requests for reconsideration of the latest ratings, the majority of which were granted. “We’re expecting double or triple that next year,” Alyssa Pearson, CDE executive director of accountability and data analysis, told the board.

The accountability system is complicated, to say the least. Here’s an explanation of some of the key features of the system and of the latest ratings.

How schools are rated

Schools are rated at one of four levels – performance, improvement, priority improvement and turnaround. Based on their ratings, all schools are required to prepare written plans for how they intend to maintain or improve their ratings.

Schools that are rated priority improvement or turnaround for five straight years are subject to intervention. (Districts are graded on a five-level system, with districts that remain in the two lowest levels subject to loss of accreditation.)

For elementary and middle schools, scores are based on student academic growth (50 percent), test scores (25 percent) and growth gaps between student demographic groups (25 percent).

The formula is slightly different for high schools. Graduation rates, dropout rates and ACT scores account for 35 percent of the numerical rating, student academic growth is weighted at 35 percent and test scores and growth gaps account for 15 percent each.

Highlights of the 2014 ratings

Here’s how the state’s 1,699 schools break out:

  • Performance – 1,198 schools, 70.5 percent. This category covers 600,901 students
  • Improvement – 332 schools, 19.5 percent, 153,271 students
  • Priority improvement – 114 schools, 6.7 percent (down five schools from 2013), 52,452 students
  • Turnaround – 55 schools, 3.2 percent (up six from 2013). 19,482 students

(Enrollment figures don’t include pre-K or alternative education center students.)

The number of districts in the two lowest categories have declined, but the number of schools in the lowest categories has remained about the same over the last four years.

About 70 percent of priority improvement and turnaround schools were in districts that are overall were not rated in the two lowest categories.

A higher percentage of charter schools were rated performance than were traditional schools, but a higher percentage of charters were in turnaround status. Innovation schools lagged traditional schools in their distribution among the four categories. Online schools performed worse than other schools.

Alternative education centers – primarily high schools that serve students whose academic performance is significantly lower than their ages – are rated according to a slightly different system. In 2014 the percentage of AECs with performance and improvement plans increased, while the number with turnaround plans went down. The state has 84 such schools.

The big picture

Here’s a look at changes in school ratings compared to 2013:

  • 78.9 percent stayed in the same category
  • 133 schools moved up one level; 170 moved down
  • 21 schools moved up two levels; 19 moved down
  • 2 schools moved up 3 levels; 8 dropped the same number

The percentage of schools rated improvement and turnaround increased slightly, while those with performance and priority improvement ratings dropped slightly.

Who’s on the clock

Here the number of schools at various stages of the accountability clock:

  • 83 schools are in year one
  • 42 schools are in year two
  • 18 schools have been rated priority improvement or turnaround for three years
  • 17 schools are in year four
  • 30 schools have reached the fifth consecutive year of low performance
What can happen to low-rated schools

An outside panel of experts known as the State Review Panel will review struggling schools and recommend to the State Board management by public or private entity other than the district, different entity in case of charters, conversion to charter, granted innovation status or closed or charter revoked.

The board can’t actually order an individual schools closed or otherwise changed. Instead, it will request a district to, for instance, close a school. If the district declines to do so, the board can in turn down knock the district’s accreditation down one level.

For districts, the review panel also will study districts and recommend
reorganization, take-over of district management or of one or more schools, conversion of one or more schools to charters, giving innovation status to one or more schools and closure of one or more schools.

See these CDE flow charts for more details on the process and get more details on the 2014 ratings in this CDE slide show.

Beyond what CDE and the State Board ultimately do about the lowest-performing schools, the courts also may get involved.

Owen cautioned the board that “Your first action potentially will be challenged by a lawsuit. … That’s been told to me by several different attorneys and several different districts.”

The 30 schools
  • Adams 12-Five Star Schools – Thornton Elementary
  • Adams County 14 (Commerce City) – Adams City High
  • Aguilar – Aguilar Junion-Senior High
  • Aurora – Aurora Central High
  • Colorado Springs 11 – Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy
  • DPS – Colorado High School Charter
  • DPS – Escuela Tlatelolco (the school has indicated it will convert to private)
  • DPS – P.R.E.P.
  • DPS – Trevista ECE-8 at Horace Mann
  • DPS – West High
  • Douglas – Colorado Cyber School
  • Douglas – HOPE Online elementary
  • Douglas – HOPE Online middle
  • Greeley – Franklin Middle
  • Greeley – John Evans Middle
  • Huerfano – Peakview School
  • Ignacio – Ignacio Elementary
  • Julesburg – Insight School of Colorado
  • Lake County – Lake County Intermediate
  • Mapleton – Welby Montessori
  • Montezuma-Cortez – Kemper Elementary
  • Pueblo 60 – Benjamin Franklin Elementary
  • Pueblo 60 – Bessemer Elementary
  • Pueblo 60 – Heros Middle
  • Pueblo 60 – Irving Elementary
  • Pueblo 60 – Risley International Academy of Innovation
  • Pueblo 60 – Roncalli STEM Academy
  • Rocky Ford – Jefferson Intermediate
  • South Conejos – Antonito Middle
  • Westminster – M. Scott Carpenter Middle
Categories: Urban School News

In Douglas County voucher case, Supreme Court wonders what defines a public school

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 18:35

The Colorado Supreme Court on Wednesday churned through a list of constitutional arguments for and against the Douglas County voucher program — and any one of which could decide the fate of the choice system.

But the case could also be determined on one central question: what constitutes a public education in the 21st century.

The oral arguments centered around whether the program violates the state’s school funding and charter school laws, whether the program is designed to benefit the student or religious institutions, and whether the plaintiffs — a group of parents and taxpayers — have legal standing to challenge the program.

Justices fired questions at lawyers on both sides of the case about the role of the Colorado Department of Education, whether Colorado school districts are required to provide religious programs along with non-religious programs to students, and what role the state plays in public education.

“Is this a paradigm shift?” Chief Justice Nancy Rice asked James Lyons, the lawyer representing Douglas County schools. “Are you saying public education is just a funding mechanism? … Is all education now public [and parents] can just choose?”

“Not exactly,” Lyons answered. But, he continued, public education has undergone radical changes that the framers of the state’s constitution could not have imagined 140 years ago.

Developed after a conservative majority took control of the Douglas County School Districts Board of Education, the voucher program would allow some families in the affluent school district to use public tax dollars to pay for tuition at private schools.

If the state’s highest court agrees with an appeals court that found the voucher system is constitutional, the program, which has been put on hold since 2011, could be operational by the beginning of next school year. And it could open up the possibility that similar programs could launched across the state.

If the court sides with a trial court that found the program unconstitutional, it would be more in line with a 2004 state Supreme Court decision that halted a statewide voucher program that would have provided similar scholarships to low income families. But that case was not mentioned during Wednesday’s hearing.

Arguing for the plaintiffs, Michael McCarthy said the voucher program violated state law because it was dependent upon a charter school, created by the district solely to pass public funds to private and often religious institutions.

“The charter school is a mirage,” McCarthy said. “There are no classrooms. There is no principal. There are no textbooks. It is little more than a false front from an old western movie.”

McCarthy stressed that the program benefited the religious institutions more than the students.

He pointed to testimony from one private religious school operator who testified under oath that the only reason his school participated in the program was to collect the revenue.

But Lyons, arguing on behalf of Douglas County schools, said the charter school was a mechanism used by the district to fulfill state requirements like testing and met the legal definition of a charter school. But he said the district could fulfill those requirements in other ways.

On the question of whether public tax dollars can be used at religious institutions, lawyers for the plaintiffs said the answer is a resounding no.

But lawyers for the school district argued that because the money is given directly to parents and not the private school, the voucher system passes constitutional muster.

Lyons pointed out to the Denver Preschool Program and the Colorado Opportunity Fund as just two examples of programs that collect taxes from residents and distributes the money directly to students or their parents, who then choose which educational institution — religious or not — to give the money to.

“All of those programs would be thrown into jeopardy” if the court permanently disbands the Douglas County voucher program, Lyons said.

Lyons also said that a driving philosophy behind the program is parent choice. Choice, he said, is not only a Colorado value but also fosters competition and better schools.

Before the justices can answer the constitutionality question about the voucher program, they must first decide whether the parent organization the Taxpayers for Public Education that is behind the lawsuit can sue the state to stop the program from launching. 

“What is the injury that allows the citizens to challenge the setting up of this charter school?” Justice Gregory Hobbs asked McCarthy, the lawyer for the Taxpayers for Public Education.

He answered the program would siphon away $3 million from Douglas County schools.

Further, McCarthy argued his parents have the right to challenge the program because it appeared, based on evidence provided at the trial court, that the Colorado Department of Education, the organization tasked with regulating school finance, was working in tandem with Douglas County schools and was therefore not a viable agency to hold the district accountable.

Lyons countered parents only received 75 percent of their individual per pupil funding and that CDE was merely advising Douglas County schools and that the program was halted before the department could throughly vet and regulate the program.

It’s unknown when the court will issue its ruling, but it will likely be next year.

Categories: Urban School News

Education nonprofit leadership and boards lag behind student population in diversity

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 16:33

Most of the high-level employees and an overwhelming majority of board members in education-focused nonprofits are white, according to a new report on diversity in education organizations.

And though nearly all education advocacy and reform nonprofits say they value diversity, fewer have taken concrete steps to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their staffs, leadership, and boards, according to the report.

From Intention to Action: Building Diverse, Inclusive Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, released this week by Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners, pulls from a survey of 44 education nonprofit organizations around the country—including charter school networks but not school districts—to examine the state of racial and ethnic diversity in the education sector and make recommendations about how organizations can build more diverse teams.

The public school population in the U.S. is now majority non-white. But just 39 percent of director-level employees, 18 percent of vice presidents, and 25 percent of leaders at the surveyed organizations are people of color.

Boards were even more strikingly homogeneous: 85 percent of advisory board members and 59 percent of governing board members were white. No boards had memberships that were more than 50 percent African American or 17 percent Latino. (This is not just an education phenomenon: Nationally, 86 percent of all board members for nonprofits are white.)

While more than 90 percent of respondents identified diversity as an organizational value and something they support, fewer had institutionalized it. A third had named diversity as a core value. A third had an employee dedicated to enhancing the organization’s diversity. Just two percent had a member of their leadership team focused on diversity. Less than 20 percent of organizations had regular conversations about diversity.

The authors highlight research demonstrating the benefits of having a more diverse staff: Such organizations have less employee turnover, are more creative and make more knowledgeable decisions, and tend to have better financial performance. “While most organizations and leaders today agree on the importance of diversity and inclusion, we must continually remind ourselves of why diversity is important,” they write.

The report highlights a few reasons for the lack of diversity. Leaders shared perceptions that either their geographic area did not have qualified people of color or that their organizations were not diverse enough to attract people of color to work for them. Slightly more than a third were aware of top recruiting sites for candidates of color, and 12 percent had trained hiring managers in interviewing with diversity in mind.

The report features profiles of some of the organizations, including TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), College Track, and the Relay Graduate School of Education, featuring strategies they used to increase diversity. That approaches ranged from creating a Diversity Leadership Task Force and Recruiting Committee (TNTP) to holding organization-wide trainings on cultural competence (Relay).

It also includes an example of the kind of concrete but overlooked benefit that can come with having diverse staff: One (unnamed) organization came close to publishing fundraising materials featuring photos of children of color along with language that some employees thought reinforced negative stereotypes. The organization changed its materials—but the implication is that it might not have done so had it not had employees who were not white.

The report includes a diversity audit tool, and a set of best practices based on organizations that were more successful in recruiting and retaining diverse employees.

It recommends, among other strategies, offering training in unbiased interviewing, explicitly outlining a vision for diversity and why it is important for the organization, and having a high-ranking employee who is specifically focused on and accountable for diversity.

The authors’ recommendations fell into five categories:

  • Customize the organization’s vision and strategy around diversity;
  • Focus on indicators and metrics of diversity;
  • Improve recruiting and selection practices;
  • Invest in leadership development to improve retention;
  • Ensure ongoing discussion about diversity.

In Denver, school board members have been encouraging district leaders to focus on increasing the diversity of the district’s leadership pipeline. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also emphasized the important of having teachers and school leaders who reflect the diversity of the country’s student population during his back-to-school tour this year.


Categories: Urban School News

Illinois gets second largest preschool grant

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 15:15

Recognizing Illinois’ existing work in early childhood education, the U.S. Department of Education announced today that the state will receive an additional $20 million in annual federal funding to further expand preschool services for 4-year-olds.

Illinois was one of 18 states selected today to share in a new $226 million, four-year federal grant program to develop and expand preschool access to high-quality, full-day programming for children from high-needs communities. The federal government also announced several other new early childhood investments totaling more than $1 billion, about a third of which comes in the form of new public-private partnerships.

For Illinois, the preschool expansion grant money -- combined with a massive commitment of new state dollars -- should allow the state to reach its goal of creating some 14,000 full-day preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by 2018.

“Providing high-quality early childhood education is a game changer for our economy,” said Governor Pat Quinn in a statement. “While Illinois currently leads the nation in the number of three-year-olds in preschool, we have much more work to do. This major investment in Illinois’ littlest will have a big impact in many of our communities. Every child, no matter where they live, deserves the opportunity to succeed in life.”

After New York State, which received nearly $25 million for Year One, Illinois got the largest share of the funding.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the program will help “give our babies the best start possible” to the rest of their lives. The program is being jointly administered by the departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

Illinois and 12 of the other winning states that already serve 10 percent or more of 4-year-olds, or that have received a federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant, are getting what’s called a “preschool expansion grant.”

“These states are leading the way in expanding access to children in high-need communities,” Duncan said.

Another five states with more limited preschool offerings are getting “development grants” to create the infrastructure for and implement high-quality preschool programs.

The federal dollars that come to Chicago will be used to open 10 new classrooms in Brighton Park and Albany Park, some of the highest-need areas, and expand existing pre-K classrooms across the city to serve some 1,100 children in full-day programming, city officials said in a press release.

In its ambitious application to the federal government, Illinois committed to increasing its own spending on early childhood education programs by $250 million annually by 2020 and substantially improve on and expand its existing early education programs from birth to age 5.

It’s unclear how the state will fund this commitment.  Illinois currently serves about 70,000 3- and 4-year-olds in its Preschool For All program, a number that has fallen in recent years due to cuts in state funding. 

Other announcements in early childhood ed

At a summit on early childhood education at the White House today, officials will also announce a $500 million expansion of the federal Early Head Start and child care programs -- money expected to reach more than 30,000 infants and toddlers in 40 states including Illinois. The winning providers have not been announced.

During Tuesday’s press call, Cecilia Muñoz, who directs the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that altogether the new federal funding will reach some 63,000 children across the country.

Also announced today are new investments in so-called social impact bonds, which essentially function as a loan that gets paid back only if certain positive outcomes are met.

According to materials provided by the White House, the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund and the Institute for Child Success will make new funding available for states and communities to develop such financing tools for early childhood education. Under such a program in Chicago, J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation and other investors who will get repaid only if fewer children need expensive special education services.

Finally, dozens of private corporations and foundations today are committing an additional $330 million to pay for programing, research and other initiatives in early childhood education. The so-called “Invest in US” initiative is organized by the First Five Years Fund and includes commitments from the Walt Disney Company, LEGO Foundation and J.B. and M.K. Pritzker foundation. A portion of the newly committed $25 million from the Pritzkers will go toward social impact bond funded programs.

“There’s still too many children in America that enter school not ready to learn, including more than half of disadvantaged children,” Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, said in a statement. “That’s why government at all levels, business leaders, philanthropy and the early childhood community must come together and continue to make investments that give all kids a strong start.”

Categories: Urban School News

Watch the Colorado Supreme Court’s hearing on vouchers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 13:49

The Colorado Supreme Court this afternoon will to hear oral arguments in the Douglas County voucher case. While it’s unlikely you’ll find a seat in the courtroom, you can still follow the proceedings online. The court will live stream the oral arguments here.

The voucher case has been three years in the making. Developed after a conservative majority took control of the Douglas County School Districts Board of Education, the voucher program would allow some families in affluent school district to use public tax dollars to pay for tuition at private schools.

Those schools would need to be approved by the school district. Several schools that were approved by the district, before a court injunction was put in place, had religious affiliations. Those schools were required to provide religious exemptions for students. But critics assert the exemptions don’t go far enough and this say this is a clear violation of the Colorado Constitution.

Meanwhile, proponents of the program are likely to argue today that the voucher program is constitutionally sound because of local control laws.

A Court of Appeals ruled last year the Choice Scholarship Program, as the program is known, does not violate the state Constitution. That court overturned an earlier ruling that said it did.

In 2004, the Colorado Supreme Court put a halt to a statewide voucher program that would have provided similar scholarships to low income families.

A decision by the court is likely next year.

Categories: Urban School News

CDE: Participation rate only 83 percent for 12th grade tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 12:57

Only about 83 percent of Colorado high school seniors took new science and social studies tests last month, the Colorado Department of Education estimates.

That participation rate is significantly below the 95 percent rate required by the federal government and the 99 percent or so that has been the norm for state standardized tests.

“I did believe there would be fewer kids taking the tests,” Commissioner Robert Hammond told Chalkbeat Colorado, but he said he thought the participation rate would be about 95 percent.

This autumn was the first time seniors have taken state standardized tests. Science tests were previously given in the 10th grade, and the social studies exams were new this year.

The additional tests came at a time of rising public concern about the amount of testing, and seniors in some districts joined in that reaction by not taking the tests.

Student test boycotts seemed to be most effective in the Boulder, Cherry Creek and Douglas County, where a total of about 5,000 seniors didn’t take the tests last month, according to media reports. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story about the boycotts.)

In a Dec. 2 letter to superintendents, Hammond said CDE projected that about 109,000 science and social studies tests would be given, but that about only 91,240 tests actually were taken. (Read Hammond’s letter at the bottom of this article.)

Given two tests per student, CDE figures also indicate that about 5,000 students opted out.

But Hammond’s letter said, “Most districts were in the high 80 to high 90 percentage participation rates, with just nine districts below 60 percent participation.” CDE officials declined to identify those districts because the statistics are preliminary and won’t be validated until January.

Federal law requires that states set penalties for districts and schools when student test participation falls below 95 percent. In Colorado that means district and school accreditation ratings are lowered. But the impact of sub-par participation on 12th grade tests won’t be known until next year, after the main set of statewide tests are given in the spring and all participation rates are calculated.

In his letter to superintendents Hammond said CDE will take a “holistic” approach to participation rates and accreditation ratings.

“We asked districts to do everything possible to have students participate in the tests,” Hammond said, saying such district efforts could be a factor in final ratings.

Districts have the right to appeal accreditation ratings, a process known as request for reconsideration. The department can change ratings if a district makes a good case for extenuating circumstances.

Hammond also said, “Clearly there are some districts that we will be talking to … trying to find out what are their plans for improving [participation] in the spring test and what happened” in November.

Hammond said he doesn’t think any districts actively encouraged students to boycott tests, but he did say, “In some very limited cases there may be some districts that were very supportive of their kids not taking the tests.”

(All 17 seniors at Mancos High School boycotted the tests, according to a Nov. 19 article in the Mancos Times. The newspaper quoted Superintendent Brian Hanson as saying, “That’s outstanding. … Our kids have finally decided that enough is enough.”)

Ilana Spiegel, an activist with the parent advocacy group SPEAK, said, “This fall you heard students say, ‘These tests don’t matter for our future.’ This spring you will hear more parents ask, ‘What do we really want for our children?’”

Given all the debate over testing, Hammond noted that tests for seniors might not be an issue in the future.

“I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some change” in the testing system passed by the 2015 legislature. “We may be dealing with a one-year anomaly,” he said.

He also said participation will be more important next spring, when students starting in grade three take the new online PARCC language arts and math tests. “There should be no surprises, but if there are that will be serious.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: High court to hear Dougco voucher case today

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 09:58

taking to the streets

On the fifth consecutive school day of student protests over racial inequalities in policing, Denver's police commander says that the movement is unlike anything he's seen in 25 years. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, Boulder Preparatory students staged a school-sanctioned walkout to the downtown area. ( Daily Camera )

if it please the court

The Colorado Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case challenging whether Douglas County can provide students with vouchers to attend private school today. ( AP via the Gazette )


Health officials are ordering a cleanup of East High School after finding evidence of an "extensive" rat infestation, including finding droppings in the kitchen and in food. ( 7News via the Denver Post )

The Denver Post Editorial Board: "Clean it up, and fast." ( Denver Post )


The Colorado legislator and state board's focus on testing is one of a slate of issues that state law and policymakers are taking up as legislative sessions begin around the country. ( Education Week )

growing and growing

Enrollment growth is prompting St. Vrain Valley school officials to look at new facilities; it's possible they'll ask voters for a new capital tax to pay for them. ( Daily Camera )

investing early

At an event hosted by Chalkbeat, experts explored the potential benefits and challenges of "Pay for Success," a model in which foundations or businesses invest in programs like early childhood education and see a return if the program yields savings in social programs down the line. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

non-profit in name only

Some non-profit charter schools around the country are passing along nearly all of their money to for-profit operating companies. ( ProPublica )

second time around

A wounded army veteran is remaking his life as a special education teacher in Castle Rock. ( 9News )


A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau says that six in 10 children participate in extracurricular activities, mostly sports. ( Gazette )

name a school!

The Thompson School District is accepting suggestions for the name of a new school that's currently referred to High Plains because of its location. ( Reporter Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver police commander: Student protests are unlike anything he’s seen

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 17:11

Denver police commander Matt Murray says the student-led protests in Denver this week are unlike anything he’s seen in 25 years of law enforcement.

“Not like this, day after day,” he said.

Today is the fifth consecutive school day Denver students have walked out of class to protest police brutality and discrimination, prompted by two national incidents where grand juries declined to indict officers who killed unarmed black men. Students at George Washington High School held a protest on their campus early this afternoon, while students at GALS Academy held a walkout earlier in the day. Students at DSST Stapleton, STRIVE Prep: SMART, Denver Center for International Studies (Baker), Omar D. Blair, and KIPP Denver Collegiate High School also held protests.

The protesters were taking a page from students at East High School, who walked out of school last Wednesday. Since then, students at Lincoln, Montbello, George Washington, South, West, and North high schools and the Denver School of the Arts have also walked out of school. Students in other school districts across the state have also led protests.

Yesterday, Denver Public Schools officials and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock commended students for their engagement but encouraged them to remain in class. The district has provided teachers and schools resources for addressing the protests and the issues that prompted them in class.

Both the school system and the Denver mayor’s office are planning a series of conversations about race and social justice across the city.

Denver police will participate in those conversations, said commander Murray. Police chief Robert C. White was at East High School last week, and police met with the organizers of yesterday’s protest at South High School.

Murray said the protests seemed to be evolving. While earlier protesters had marched in the streets, now “they’re more typically obeying the law,” he said.

Murray said that protesting students at some schools have apprised the police department of their protests before they begin, while others have not.

“What we do is we respond to what they do. There’s no coordination—we’re not saying come break the law. We get the best intelligence we can and we react to what they do,” Murray said.

“I think as a responsible citizen, when you feel passionately about an issue, you should still look at both sides,” Murray said. “The protesters don’t want to be measured by the worst actions of their crowd, and we don’t want to be measured by the worst actions of ours.”

“I think there’s an irony I hope is not lost on the students that we’re protecting their rights and their safety while they protest us,” Murray said. “And the other thing I’d say is they don’t win a lot of people to their cause when they cuss at us … you can protest without being disrespectful.”

He said the department was preparing for more protests this week, though none were confirmed.

“No matter what they do, we’re going to be there. That’s what we do,” Murray said.

Update: This story was updated to include student protests at DSST Stapleton, STRIVE Prep: SMART, Denver Center for International Studies (Baker), Omar D. Blair, and KIPP Denver Collegiate High School.

Categories: Urban School News

Losing students, neighborhood high schools caught in downward spiral

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:08

New data show that neighborhood high schools have reached a troubling milestone: Most now enroll only one-fourth of the students living in their attendance areas. District officials have begun to focus on the daunting task of coming up with a comprehensive plan to revitalize schools that have been losing students for many years.

In 2006-2007, half of public high school students attended their neighborhood school and it was unheard-of for even the worst schools to attract just a quarter of the teens in their area. Now, 27 of 46 neighborhood high schools, or nearly two-thirds, enroll fewer than that number. (The district’s other 80+ high schools require applications and admit students based on a lottery, test scores or some other requirement.)

Some neighborhood schools, those with too few students overall, are in an especially precarious situation. Ten majority-black high schools in poor neighborhoods on the south and west sides have less than 400 students, and only about one in 10 teens in the community opts to attend them. Englewood on the South Side and Garfield Park area on the West Side each has a nexus of three or four schools in this state.

As schools lose students, they receive less money and must cut back the very features that could help attract and keep students-- counselors, honors classes, elective courses and extracurricular programs--and become shells of what they once were.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett decided that high schools would not be among the schools shuttered during massive school closings. But with so many high schools languishing, some observers question whether it is good to let students attend high schools that can’t offer a variety of classes, activities and opportunities.

Chicago, which has lost students overall, is not the only city facing this dilemma. Across the country, the role of neighborhood schools in an era of choice has been hotly debated. The problem prompted 21 grassroots organizations, including organizations in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Minnesota, to forge a national alliance called Journey for Justice to fight against the closing of neighborhood schools in poor communities of color.

New York University Professor Pedro Noguera says that lots of cities have struggling neighborhood schools.

“The kids that wind up in neighborhood schools are often the most vulnerable and the most disenfranchised,” he says. “We have got to look at capacity and make sure the schools have the capacity to serve them.”

Generation All seeks answers

Not all educators believe neighborhood high schools are important. Noble Street Charter founder and president Michael Milkie points out that high school students are mobile and so are able to travel to a school of their choosing.

In New York City, for example, every student must apply to high school and then is given an offer at one school. Those who are not offered a spot at any of their choices must attend a fair for schools that still have seats. For years, such a system has been discussed in Chicago.

Yet Byrd-Bennett does not seem ready to do away with neighborhood high schools altogether. Their fate has become such a pressing issue that she and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis agreed to work on the problem together. The commitment sparked an initiative at the Chicago Community Trust, Generation All, in which teachers, principals, parents and community members are coming together to make recommendations about how to jump-start schools.

Generation All plans to tackle major questions, such as what it means to have equity in education, how neighborhood high schools are defined and how they can be revitalized, says Beatriz Ponce de León, who is directing Generation All.

"Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Lewis agree that given the landscape, there is a place for strong neighborhood schools,” Ponce de León says.  “These schools are community anchors."

Ponce de León points to schools such as Senn in Edgewater and Juarez in Pilsen, schools that communities are rallying around. Half of the students in Juarez’s attendance area go to the schoo, and its enrollment is stable. Senn this year has 119 more students than it did last year.

"They are starting to become a draw because they have improved instruction, created a positive school climate and engaged the community," Ponce de Leon says.

But then there’s Manley, a West Side school that was on the upswing but is now struggling. Manley has only 356 students, and only 9 percent of area students attend the school.

Working in tandem with Generation All, CPS Chief of Staff Aarti Dhupelia says district officials want to make sure that there is “equity and access” among high schools. That means that students should be able to take various classes or programs, such as International Baccalaureate courses or career and technical education classes, without having to travel far from home.

Plus, all schools should have certain resources, Dhupelia says, such as an acceptable student-to-counselor ratio.

While it may take more than a year before CPS or Generation All is ready to issue recommendations, Dhupelia says that the district could act as early as this year to ensure more equity in resources.

How schools cope

Ponce de Leon says that once a high school has less than 500 students, it is difficult to offer a good range of programs, classes and activities.

One such school is Robeson in Englewood. Principal Gerald Morrow is working to attract more students through marketing, but is skeptical that his efforts will be successful and has accepted that the school will most likely remain small. When Morrow started at Robeson almost a decade ago, some 1,500 students attended the school.

In the past four years, enrollment has dropped from 776 students to 295. Morrow has had to lay off an assistant principal, 38 teachers and five security guards. However, he kept four employees who work to provide students with support, including a college coach and a social worker.

With Robeson now a fifth the size it once was, Morrow points out how the school has changed. Robeson at one time had a strong sports program that regularly sent football players to Division 1 schools. In the 1980s, it was the last school from the public league to win a state championship.

Robeson still has sports programs, but they are smaller, with prospective college athletes choosing other schools.

Each year, Morrow has to figure out how to make do with less.

His office is now on the same floor as all the classes. “Every time I walk out I can see the students. I love it,” he says. “It makes this job very hands-on. I get to see the students every day…. I have had to figure out, how do I build the best small school model? I can’t go around saying ‘We had this and we had that.’ As a leader I have to make it the best that I can.”

 “I have had to reinvent myself every year,” Morrow adds. “I have to reach into my toolkit and see, what do I have right now? What do I need to do?”

On the Southwest Side, Gage Park High School is a majestic, block-long school that could enroll 1,200 students and was at capacity just four years ago, with some 90 teachers. This year, less than 500 students enrolled (about 13 percent of the students in the area) and the school has only 40 teachers.

Principal Brian Metcalf, who just arrived in late September after an abrupt retirement by the former principal, is hopeful he can turn the school around. One of the first things he did when he came to Gage Park was to survey the students to see what they wanted. He then asked teachers what club or sport they might volunteer to take over. Metcalf admits that it may be hard to launch full-fledged competitive teams, but he is looking at offering intermural programs.

For three or four years, Gage Park had no dances or other activities that teenagers expect in high school—no homecoming, no pep rallies. So one of Metcalf’s first actions was to schedule a homecoming dance--that went off without a hitch.

“The students came in their suits and ties and skirts and there was not an incident,” he says. “The adults were surprised.” He now plans to hold a winter dance.

“There is quality here”

Hard hit high schools have been dealt simultaneous blows: a loss of students, the opening of charters and other new schools, poor reputations and dangerous surrounding neighborhoods. 

Morrow says he is not against competition from other schools. But like many principals of neighborhood high schools, he feels as though he is starting from a disadvantage.

“People do not have a problem with Robeson,” he says. “They have a problem with 69th Street.”

Robeson’s test scores are low, Morrow concedes. But he points out that the school’s rate of improvement is not that bad. This year, Robeson moved up a level from the lowest rated school. He says low performing students can make as much or more progress at Robeson than at Johnson College Prep, a Noble Street Charter campus with 819 students that is less than a mile away. (According to CPS, Johnson’s growth on standardized tests is “average,” while Robeson’s is “below average.”)

“We want to say to people, look at these schools,” Morrow says. “There is quality here.” 

Though Metcalf has been on the job for less than two months, he has already started going out to local elementary schools and taken parents of eighth-graders on tours of the school. He also convinced Morrill Elementary Principal Michael Beyer to let him host eighth-graders on the school’s annual high school application night.

While Metcalf says some parents seemed impressed, Beyer notes that some students did not attend because their parents viewed the school as too dangerous for their child to go to for the activity.

Tonya Hammaker, principal of Farragut, says the school also suffers, like Robeson and Gage Park, from a bad reputation. Farragut, however, is not among the lowest- performing schools: Under the last principal, it earned a Level 2 rating and got off academic probation.

Farragut also is a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate school, and has programs in ROTC, auto mechanics and law.

Yet it is still losing students and is down to 980 from 1,100 last year. A decade ago, it had 2,500 students. 

Hammaker says the biggest problems with reputation sometimes stem from alumni who are now parents and remember the rough Farragut of the 1990s. Other times it is the product of the area around the school, which many see as dangerous.

“When we talk to students at our feeder schools they say, ‘My parents won’t let me go to Farragut,’ ” she says. “We have been fighting that reputation for so many years.”

One of Hammaker’s strategies is to invite parents to come spend a day at Farragut and to see what is happening in the halls. “They will see that it is not scary,” she says. 

She also has started putting out a community newsletter, which she drops off at businesses in the community.

“That way people can see there are so many great things going on at this school,” she says. “The perception of a neighborhood school is a struggle. I don’t know what can be done about that. I don’t know how to fix it.”



Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: On fourth day of protests, city and school officials respond

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:36

Student Voice

As Denver students protested for the fourth consecutive day, DPS plans conversations on social justice and race. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says he is proud of students for protesting but urges them now to stay in school. ( The Gazette, CPR, Denver Post )

Talk about it

A sociologist pushes back against teaching "colorblindness," has suggestions about how parents can talk to their children about race and Ferguson. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Student Voice

Boulder Preparatory high students held a school-sanctioned walk out to protest Ferguson. ( Daily Camera )

Coding Across America

Students in Longmont participate in a national hour of coding. ( Times-Call )

New Schools

A new charter school, World Compass Academy, is breaking ground on its new school site in Douglas County. ( Douglas County News Press )

chalkbeat question of the week

How do you address race in the classroom? Do you have any compelling stories about conversations about race or social justice? Tell us about it. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Spike the Robot

Woodlands Academy students in Castle Rock won a prize for Spike, a robot they created at a robotics competition. ( Douglas County News Press )


Drawings children make when they are in early elementary school reveal a lot about their worlds at home. ( KUNC )

Count to ten

Learning math may be the key to success in preschool. ( KUNC )

Living in Poverty

Colorado students living in poverty share their parents' dreams and stresses. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Dougco Vouchers

The Douglas County voucher case is heading to the state supreme court. ( Denver Post )

Rats and Mice, Oh My

East High has a vermin problem. ( Denver Post )

Reader Voice

Chalkbeat readers responded to our survey about important education moments this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

More CPS grads are getting college diplomas, though racial gaps persist

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 12/09/2014 - 09:16

Back in 2006, Chicago researchers released a startling report on the post-secondary success of CPS students. The study ultimately concluded that just eight of every 100 high school freshmen would end up getting a college degree.

The numbers were worse for black and Hispanic boys. Only 4 percent obtained a degree.

Today, more CPS students are getting college degrees – 14 percent -- but the results are still unequal across race and gender, according to a new study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago Schools Research. The difference is most stark when comparing the outcomes of boys of color: While the rate of degree attainment remains in the single digits for black boys, at 6 percent, the rate nearly tripled among Hispanic boys to 11 percent.

“These young black men have been failed by their parents, their communities, their teachers, their elected officials,” says Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, a Chicago group that seeks to eliminate the racial academic achievement gap.  “We can’t hold the colleges responsible without holding the high schools and the elementary schools and the entire community responsible.”

The Consortium’s report does not address why the rate of degree attainment grew at such different levels between different demographics groups. But senior research analyst Kaleen Healey says there are two key pieces to consider when looking at whether you’ll graduate from college: your high school GPA and the college you attend. Black students tend to have lower GPAs, which affects the type of college they have access to – often those with lower overall graduation rates, she said.

Across racial groups, females continue to have higher degree attainment rates than their male counterparts. And Hispanic girls have now surpassed black girls.

“Significant progress” driven by graduation rates

The Consortium’s so-called “degree attainment index” of 14 percent was calculated by multiplying the most recent CPS high school graduation rate, college enrollment rate and college graduation rate. Together, those three rates create a new, single metric that can be tracked over time. The rate offers a more real-time estimate than simply following a cohort of students over a decade.

In the new study, the Consortium also calculated a separate degree attainment rate that includes CPS students who did not follow a straight-forward path to college. This includes students who first enrolled in a two-year college and those who did not immediately enroll in any type of college after graduating from high school. The adjusted rate inches up to 17 percent today and would have been about 9 percent if it had been calculated in 2006.

Using either the 14 or 17 percent rate, CPS compared favorably to other large urban districts, the Consortium found. For example, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. have reported degree attainment rates ranging from 9 to 11 percent.

Nationally, less than a third of 9th-graders obtain four-year degrees by their mid-twenties.

Aarti Dhupelia, CPS chief officer of college and career success, said she was encouraged by the findings.

“Obviously the number is not high enough, but it’s significant forward progress driven by our increasing high school graduation rate, our college readiness rate and our college enrollment rate,” she said.

Indeed, researchers say the overall increase in the percentage of CPS freshmen who go on to obtain degrees from four-year colleges is due largely to improvements in the high school graduation rate, which has risen for all demographic groups. According to the Consortium’s calculations, the overall rate rose from 58 percent in 2006 to 73 percent last year. (The Consortium’s rate is higher than the 5-year rate CPS reports because of how transfers are counted.) With more students graduating from high school, a higher number are enrolling in college and getting degrees.

Still, Healey says the numbers can improve. “The next frontier is getting students through college, and this has to be a joint effort with institutions of higher education,” she said. “CPS can’t do it alone.”

Dhupelia said CPS is preparing to announce a new project called the Chicago Higher Education Compact, which will be an agreement between the district and those colleges where the most CPS graduates tend to enroll. “We’re basically asking them to join us in setting a goal around college graduation rates for CPS students,” she said. “And we’re going to work further on our high school graduation rates, college readiness rates and quality of college advising.”

Catalyst’s upcoming winter issue will take on the topic of college persistence and the sometimes challenging paths CPS grads face in getting their college diplomas. Email associate editor Melissa Sanchez at to share your thoughts.

Categories: Urban School News

As student protests continue, DPS plans forums on social justice, race

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 18:52

On the fourth consecutive school day of walk-outs by Denver Public School students, district officials moved forward with plans to host a series of student forums about race and social justice.

One of the first forums was this afternoon at South High School, where hundreds of students walked out of class earlier today.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg sent a letter to parents and community members announcing plans to hold conversations about race and social justice with students late last week. He said the district had also provided guidance to school leaders on how to discuss protests and Ferguson in their classrooms.

The letter quotes Bill de La Cruz, DPS’s Director of Equity and Inclusion: “We can do three things around race: Not talk about it and act like it doesn’t affect us, wait for a problem and react to it, or we can get past our fear and just have the conversation and talk about the impact of race. We all have a responsibility in shifting race relations, and we need to work together to create a dialogue that’s safe.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced today that he will also lead a series of conversations about race throughout the city, starting in December.

Hundreds of students have been involved in the protests. East High School students organized a walk-out out last Wednesday. Since then, students at Lincoln, Montbello, George Washington, and North high schools and the Denver School of the Arts have also walked out of school.

The students are joining protesters across the country who have raised concerns about racial discrimination and police brutality, spurred by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

“We have conveyed very strongly to our students the importance of all our students conducting themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner as we deal with these challenging conversations,” Boasberg wrote in his letter to parents. “But we also have made it clear that we at DPS believe that our students’ opinions matter.”

The district forum at South this afternoon included representatives from the police department and the school system. Students were to talk about today’s protest and the issues that prompted it.

At a similar event last week at East, Boasberg said that the district wanted to make sure “students stay safe and that these remain learning experiences.”

Across the district, schools where students have not walked out are also responding to both the decision in Ferguson and the protests. One school hosted an assembly last Friday where students could air their concerns. And students at Manual High School are planning an event where they will discuss and debate issues about social justice and Ferguson later this week.

Some students at Denver School of the Arts walked out today despite a letter to students and families from Principal William Kohut that encouraged them to stay in class, saying that the school will have an event about social justice and inequity when school returns in January.

The South High School protest today was the second to take an unexpected turn. South students had planned to walk to Washington Park this morning, but instead continued past the park to first the state capitol, and then to East High School.

Students at East also took their protest off of school grounds. Several police officers who had accompanied the students were hit by a vehicle. East students later sent flowers to one of the injured officers.

No one was injured today. The South students were accompanied by their principal, district staff, police and Americorps volunteers affiliated with the district. A fleet of school buses followed them from the park to the capitol and finally to East.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiSouth High School students protesting Ferguson and police brutality.

Once they reached East, South students encountered a separate planned press event organized by two local activists, Alvertis Simmons and Reginald Holmes, a pastor at New Covenant Christian Church, who were at the school to comment on last week’s protests at East. Simmons and Holmes spoke to the students through a bullhorn, encouraging them to stay engaged after the walk-out and to respect police officers even while criticizing the system.

The students then dispersed to school buses—some clearly glad to be off of their feet after close to two hours and five miles of marching.

How are you and your students addressing race and police brutality in the classroom?


Categories: Urban School News

Changes in Jeffco, testing defined year for Chalkbeat readers

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 18:32

As the year comes to a close, Chalkbeat Colorado asked readers to share their most memorable education-related moments of 2014 for our first digital yearbook. We heard from nearly 150 parents, teachers, district leaders, and policy experts.

There’s no question, the changes happening in Jeffco Public Schools — from how teachers are paid to how U.S. history is taught — kept our readers’ interest. We also heard concerns about how  new state standards are being rolled out and changes to the testing system.

Here’s a sample of what’s on the minds of some of our readers:

“Jeffco wanting to review AP history,” wrote Stacy Rader, of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, in answer to a question about the most surprising news story of the year. “I think it was blown out of proportion. The board wanting to review the textbooks is one thing. The school walkouts made it seem like the Jeffco board had physically removed the textbooks from the schools and burned them. I think it was an over-reaction and I was surprised how much media attention it received.”

Other folks answered the question this way:

“The student protests,” wrote a reader who identified himself only as Ron. “I wasn’t sure students would protest, but I’m proud of them for doing so. I love the fact they are becoming part of the democratic process.”

“Some teachers had enough nerve to try to fight back,” answered Kathy. “We usually just do what we’re told.”

Teacher Mark Sass said not much surprises him any more, but “the emerging role of students in education policy, be it in Jeffco with APUSH, or with opting out of testing has been surprising.”

While most responses centered on Jefferson County, the backlash against testing and standards caught the attention of some of our readers.

“Increasing opposition to Common Core, PARCC, and standardized tests from all parts of the political spectrum,” wrote a reader who identified himself only as Jim. “Odd to have right wing and left wing agreeing on something.”

Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools said the political fight around the standards has become outsized.

“Colorado has always had academic standards, and the politicization of the adoption of Common Core and PARCC was a real distraction,” she said.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign echoed Flood in his response.

“I was most surprised this year by the lack of understanding out there regarding the new standards and assessments in schools,” she wrote.  “I heard some really surprising ‘myths’ about who created the standards and what was in the tests, etc. I think when people learn more and see these new tools in action, they will really appreciate how rigorous and relevant they are to our students’ success!”

But the conversation about testing has been a good one, argued Colorado’s education commissioner Robert Hammond.

“It has given us a great opportunity to have a conversation around federal and state minimum testing requirements as well as make sure that we are doing the right amount of testing, with the right tests which will have the greatest positive impact on the students’ education experience,” he said.

Some outliers included Sean VanBerschot’s answer. He was most shocked by the dip in test scores at Denver’s STRIVE charter network. VanBerschot is Teach For America Colorado’s director.

And a few readers, who did not share their names, cited funding and the negative factor, a legislative workaround to both balance the state’s budget and meet the constitutional requirement to fund educations, as a top concern for the year.

You can read more responses to our survey in your very own copy of Chalkbeat Colorado’s 2014 yearbook. The digital download is yours when you donate to Chalkbeat’s end-of-year campaign. And when you do, your contribution will be tripled by some very kind donors. 

Categories: Urban School News

How should we talk about race in classrooms?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 14:37

For several days now, students from Denver and Aurora have left their schools to march in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and New York. The rallies are in response to separate grand jury decisions to not indict two white police officers in the deaths of two black men. In the photo above, students from Denver’s West High School walked up 11th Avenue toward the Capitol Friday.

As the protests have spilled into the streets of Denver, some classrooms and schools are grappling with how to talk about race and the U.S. justice system.

“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in my four years here,” said Azen Jaffe, a Denver East High School senior.

That leads us to our question of the week: How should we talk about race relationships in classrooms?

We’d particularly love to hear from students: how have discussions about race (or the lack of discussions about race) figured into your educational experiences?

Each Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.


Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Rahm touts City Colleges grad rate; CPS defends Confucius Institute; Lewis slowly comes back

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 10:38

Unlike four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not kick off his re-election campaign at a school, but he did talk about education, noting less controversial moves such as all-day kindergarten, the longer school day and the rising graduation rate -- which began under his prececessor. The campaign kickoff was at Cinespace Film Studios, which Emanuel said has provided hundreds of jobs.

Not surprisingly, Emanuel did not mention the closing of 50 schools in 2013, nor the many new schools that have opened amid declining enrolllment in the system, according to the Sun Times.

Emanuel highlighted his initiatives linking CPS with City Colleges of Chicago. Standing with him were students from Phillips and Senn high schools who qualify for the yet-to-be implemented scholarships that will provide free tuition for CPS students with B averages. Also, his second campaign commercial features City Colleges' college-to-careers program that helps students get jobs while in school. And he heralded the doubling of the City Colleges graduation rate during his tenure.  

However, The Chicago Reporter’s Curtis Black warns that the graduation figure is questionable. In a column he wrote last week, Black said that most of the graduation increase is due to City Colleges moving students who are taking courses for personal enrichment into the Associates General Studies Program. Of the 2,000 additional graduates (out of 115,000 students), 1,350 were AGS degrees, according to Black. Even the college system says these degrees are “not designed for transfer or as an occupational degree,” the two primary purposes of City Colleges.   

2. Summer job bonus… A new study finds that an experimental youth summer jobs program spearheaded by Emanuel did more than put a little cash into the pockets of some teens, the Chicago Sun Times reports. The participants--at-risk students ranging in age from 14 to 21--committed half as many crimes in the 16 months afterwards as those who applied but didn’t get in, according to a study published in Science Magazine.  In addition to getting a job as a clerk or a camp counselor, each student got a mentor.

In the 1980s and 1990s, almost every teenager who wanted a summer job got minimum wage work through the city, which had a large federal grant for the program. In the 2000s, that federal grant shifted its focus to serving teenagers year round through social service agencies, alternative schools and adult employment agencies. The result is that fewer young people were served.

But since the late 2000s, the city has pieced together money to bring back the summer jobs program. Last year, some 22,000  teenagers got jobs, at a program cost of about $1,000 for each.

3. Confucius Institute questioned... CPS officials are defending their partnership with the Confucius Institute, a free program that offers 8,000 students Chinese language instruction and cultural experiences, according to the Chicago Tribune. The program was the subject of a congressional hearing last week. Critics say the institute paints China in too favorable a light and glosses over events like the Tiananmen Square protest and human rights violations in China.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley brought the program to CPS, where it is housed at Walter Payton High School on the Near North Side.

Several universities, including the University of Chicago, have dropped similar programs. Beyond questions about curriculum, university officials were concerned that they could not choose the faculty. While there is now a national conversation about the institute, the University of Illinois-Chicago just started the program.

Critics say the federal government could do more to finance Chinese-language programs within the United States, rather than relying on Chinese funds to do so. "Why should we hand our young people over to an authoritarian government because they supply the funds?’ asked one Chinese-language professor at the University of California at Riverside. ‘We have enough funds for that."

4. Karen slowly comes back… CTU president Karen Lewis tells the Sun-Times' Lauren Fitzpatrick that she is doing some work though not fully back on the job. Lewis had to step down temporarily after she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. She says she has not been cleared by her doctors to go back to work full time but hopes to return to work full-time in January.

She introduced Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at Wednesday’s House of Delegates meeting, according to the Sun Times.

“It all depends on how I feel, to be perfectly honest,” Lewis told WGN Radio. “When I come back, I will come back at the space where I was, at the level of doing the work I was doing, if that’s what my doctors allow me to do.” She said she talks with Vice President Jesse Sharkey about CTU business nearly every day. “We are very close,” she said. “He keeps that ship righted and steered.”

In the 17-minute interview with WGN Radio, she talks about the upcoming mayoral election, the elected school board initiative, and what life has been like since the diagnosis: “The problem with having a disease that’s this catastrophic on one level is you don’t know why, you don’t know how you got it, you don’t know what causes it. So you’re always in this sense of frustration about what you know and what you don’t know. And that’s just the way life is.”

5. Football for the rich … State officials say that a lawsuit filed last week over concussions student athletes have  suffered could lead to the shutdown of high school football programs that can’t afford on-call doctors for practices, computer-based screenings of the brain, according to a Chicago Tribune story.

“If this lawsuit is successful, it will present challenges to high school football programs that are ... so far-reaching for many schools, they will undoubtedly adversely affect high school programs, and could eliminate some programs in Illinois," said Marty Hickman, executive director of  the Illinois High School Association. He was responding to a lawsuit filed in Cook County last week by a former quarterback at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles who says the IHSA doesn’t do enough to prevent the potential damage players suffer from concussions. The plaintiff says he still suffers from lightheadedness, memory loss and migraines related to his own injuries in the 2000s. A recent study shows that just a single season of high school football -- even without a concussion -- can lead to brain abnormalities. 

Hickman says it would be a shame for poorer schools to drop football because of expensive new safety regulations, saying that would “create a two-tier system of high school sports in Illinois, where wealthier districts can afford new safety mandates and higher insurance costs, and poorer districts are forced to drop football.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado students protested again Friday

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/08/2014 - 09:56

A change is gonna come

Jeffco Public Schools is considering an overhaul of programs and supports at some of its poorest schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

to the streets

More students in Denver and Aurora walked out of their classes Friday in response to grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and New York. ( Denver Post, CPR, 9News, CBS 4 )

Taking a stand

Colorado's lieutenant governor told an audience of school board members that the state cannot back down from its education reform efforts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Making the grade

Officials at Escuela Tlatelolco, a longtime Denver contract school, argue measures that Denver Public Schools uses to rate a school's performance aren't fair. DPS is canceling its partnership with the school due to low test scores. ( Denver Post )

Vouch for This

After three years on hold, the Douglas County School District's voucher program gets its day in court — the Colorado Supreme Court, to be exact. ( Denver Post )

And the court should rule in favor of the program, a parent argues. ( Denver Post )

Decisions, decisions

The Thompson School District Board of Education want students to have more choices, such as a dual language school and career centers at the upper levels; however, how the district creates those opportunities is still up for debate. ( Reporter-Herald )

Health and wellness

A Wheat Ridge wellness center focuses on helping teen girls with mental issues before its too severe. ( 9News )

back at it

A Boulder outdoor education center is ready to return to its original fundraising effort to establish scholarships for low-income students after re-establishing itself after the floods of 2013. ( Daily Camera )

Spread the wealth

Middle school students in the Harrison school district near Colorado are studying physics. And it looks like the rigorous course is paying off in other classes. ( Gazette )

First glimpse

A Colorado Springs police officer punched a high school student to break up a fight because he feared the situation would escalate if he did not act quickly, according to an incident report about the situation. But an internal investigation into the officer's action is ongoing. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

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