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Report: Students of color still more likely to face harsh discipline in Colorado schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 16:23

Harsh disciplinary actions were less common in Colorado schools during the 2013-14 school year than in previous ones, according to a report released by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos today.

But black, Native American, and Latino students were still significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement than their white peers.

The reports examine the impact of the 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, which rolled back zero tolerance policies and increased data collection related to discipline incidents. Padres advocated for the state law and for a number of changes to school discipline policies in Denver in recent years as part of an effort to curb rules it said were racially discriminatory and pushing students out of school.

This is the second such report by the advocacy group focused on equity in schools.

Padres says the report aims to help “uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while … highlighting the numerous ares for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed.”

The report describes state trends as promising.

Colorado’s out-of-school suspension rate fell 7 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Rates of expulsion and referrals to law-enforcement fell 15 percent apiece. Since the passage of the 2012 law, suspension rates statewide are down 17 percent, expulsion rates down 36 percent, and referrals to law enforcement down 23 percent.

Denver, Cherry Creek, and Jefferson County schools led the way in the decrease in out-of-school suspensions between 2009 and the present. In Denver, 9,567 students received an out-of-school suspension in 2009, compared to 6,328 in 2013-14. Denver and Jefferson County were also the two districts with the largest reductions in expulsions.

But in most of the state’s districts, white students were still less likely to be subject to harsh discipline than black, Native American, and Latino students. In some cases, the disparity between white students and students of color has actually grown since 2012.

Padres calculated an “inequitable discipline risk indicator” to highlight how much more likely students of color were to receive a harsh disciplinary action than a white student. Aspen, Bayfield, Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Animas were the districts with the largest disparities.

The disparities are not uniform across the state. In 89 districts, for instance, students of color are not more likely than white peers to be expelled, suspended, or referred to law enforcement.

The move toward more lenient discipline policies has not been without complications. Last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association told the district’s board that lack of consistency and training in alternative discipline approaches such as restorative justice are leading to disorder in classrooms and stress for teachers.

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Categories: Urban School News

How Colorado parents opt kids out of immunizations could soon change

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:45

Parents might have to work a little harder to opt their children out of required immunizations if the State Board of Health approves a set of policy changes on Wednesday.

Currently, parents can submit a “personal belief” or religious exemption form just once during their child’s K-12 schooling. If the new rules pass, parents would have to submit those exemption forms annually.

The rule changes also include a provision for a new public database of immunization and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and childcare facilities.

Such a database would be a significant expansion of the work Chalkbeat Colorado began in February by publishing a first-of-its-kind immunization database for schools in the state’s 20 largest districts.

State health department officials said the database amendment was a last-minute addition that came in response to feedback from stakeholders during the last two months. A state law passed last year — House Bill 14-1288 — requires schools to release immunization and exemption rates upon request.

That law doesn’t specify that the health department collect the data, but officials there believe it’s within the department’s broader legal authority as long as the Board of Health approves the plan.

Advocates of the new exemption requirements and database which would take effect in  2016, say they could help push down exemption rates and better inform the public about communicable disease risk in their communities.

Last year, about 4.6 percent of the state’s kindergarteners — around 3,000 — had “personal belief” exemptions from some or all shots.

At individual schools, those rates vary wildly. More than 140 schools in Chalkbeat’s database posted exemption rates of 10 percent or more and several had exemption rates higher than 30 percent.

It’s those schools that worry public health experts most.

That’s because exemption rates of 10 percent or higher can threaten herd immunity, which offers protection against disease outbreaks. Herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent.

Toughening exemption rules…a little

Colorado currently has one of the most lenient personal belief exemption policies in the country.

To qualify for such exemptions parents simply sign a form on a one-time basis. In contrast, many of the other 19 states that allow philosophical or personal belief exemptions make the process tougher.

Some, such as Arkansas, require parents to submit notarized documents every year. Others, such as Washington and Michigan, require that parents be briefed by doctors or county health workers one or more times during the K-12 years.

Childhood vaccination rates in Colorado and the nation | Create infographics

Advocates of the exemption frequency rule say it will require parents who exempt to put forth a similar level of effort as parents who vaccinate — a tenet know as “equal effort.” 

“It should not be easier to exempt your child than to vaccinate your child,” said Rachel Herlihy, acting director of the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Under the proposed change, the increased number of times parents must submit paperwork aligns with the childhood schedule for doctor visits. While parents of school-age children would have to submit the forms annually, parents of younger children would have to submit the forms at any point new shots are required — up to five times before kindergarten.

Better data versus extra red tape

Proponents of the new rule also say increasing exemption frequency could also yield more accurate data. For example, when family circumstances change — say a hesitant parent later decides to vaccinate — the decision is recorded and the outdated exemption is removed.

Opponents worry the provision will heap new administrative work on already stretched schools and child care providers. One large district that is speaking out is the Boulder Valley School District, which has a districtwide exemption rate of 12 percent. In a letter to the state board, the district’s director of health services calls the new requirement an unfunded mandate.

But districts like Greeley-Evans, where school exemption rates range from 1 to 13 percent, have fewer concerns about extra work.

“It would put a burden on us…but it wouldn’t be a lot,” said Lead nurse Maribeth Appelhans.

Opponents of the frequency rule also worry that it amounts to government interference in carefully considered health care decisions.

“We believe it should, like any other medical decision, rest in the hands of the people who are taking the risk,” said Theresa Wrangham, executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group opposed to vaccination mandates.

Besides worrying about new administrative burdens on schools, she has concerns about data privacy since the new exemption rule would shift from the current paper exemption form collected by schools to a new online exemption form that would go to the state health department.

“My concern is it’s not [the health department’s] job,” she said. “The law says the schools gather it… It’s information they should be handling and protecting.”

Combatting convenience exemptions

One amorphous group that comes up often in immunization discussions are parents who choose “personal belief” exemptions for convenience rather than strongly held convictions.

These might be frenzied parents who aren’t particularly worried about the risks of vaccinations, but signed the exemption form because it was quicker than searching for lost paperwork or scheduling last-minute doctors appointments.

The state health department has no firm data on convenience exemptions, but both advocates and opponents of the rule changes say they’ve heard anecdotal accounts of school staff offering parents the exemption option if their immunization paperwork is missing or incomplete.

“That’s a school problem, not a parent problem,” Wrangham said. “We need to revisit how school personnel are trained.”

But Appelhans said while some district staff may have taken such shortcuts years ago, they don’t anymore. Health clerks, and even substitute health clerks, now receive comprehensive training about immunization rules, she said.

While Wrangham doesn’t believe the rule change will reduce Colorado’s exemption rates, Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, does. 

“Other states that have…common sense parameters around how parents can claim an exemption get much more meaningful, accurate data…in terms of getting rid of the convenience factor,” she said.

She doesn’t expect the rule to affect the decisions of parents who have strongly held beliefs about vaccinations, but thinks it could impact parents who are “fence-sitters.”

A missing conversation

Regardless of what happens at the Board of Health meeting, some observers say immunization advocates need to look at how they communicate with parents who are hesitant about vaccines.

Jennifer Reich, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver, has studied how parents make vaccination decisions and found that those who opt out see it solely as an individual choice with little or no health impact on the broader community.

“The problem is that’s just not how vaccines and illness work,” she said.

Still, she said most messaging about immunization doesn’t focus on community benefits.

“We don’t talk about vaccination like that,” said Reich, who will publish a book about vaccine decision-making in 2016. “Most parents didn’t recognize the problem of free-riding.”

Even among parents who fully vaccinate, 25 percent have concerns about the standard immunization schedule, she said.

“I’m wondering more broadly how we haven’t succeeded in communicating science in a way parents can trust.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Denver teacher incentive negotiations stalled for another week

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:02

Negotiations between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association about adjustments to ProComp, the district’s 10-year-old taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay system, stalled again Thursday.

The union and district officials have not reached an agreement about how much needs to change in this round of negotiations, which was initially aimed at extending and tweaking the current ProComp system before a larger redesign of the program later this year.

In March, district officials proposed a set of changes that include shifting more bonus money to teachers in high-needs and hard-to-serve schools, tying one incentive to teachers’ evaluation score instead of directly to test scores, and altering several other incentives to reflect changes to the state’s new standardized tests.

This week, the teachers union proposed that the current incentive structure remain largely intact until the larger redesign work starts later this fall, with the exception of some adjustments due the switch in assessments. It also proposed that the union’s contract with the district be extended until 2019. The proposal suggests that additional funds for teachers in high-needs schools come from a pot of money the district might have if a bill currently being considered in the state legislature passes.

A study group this fall recommended that the ProComp should tie incentives to teachers’ career progression, be simpler and easier to understand, and that the next agreement should increase incentives for teachers in high-needs schools. In a report released in January, the district said that it had found the current incentives are not attracting and retaining teachers, especially in high-needs schools.

Union officials say they are expecting information from a laundry list of data requests to the district about who would be affected by the changes early next week.

The district and union plan to meet again next week. This is the first round of bargaining sessions between the district and union that is open to the public, after a state law requiring open meetings was approved by voters last fall.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo talks innovation zone with State Board

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:54

Testing madness

The Senate Education committee passed three bills late Thursday evening, including one that would require Colorado to drop the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams. But the fact remains that no one knows what the final compromise on testing reduction looks like. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One of the bills the Senate committee passed was Republican Owen Hill's and Democrat Mike Merrifield's more conservative Senate Bill 257. ( Denver Post )

The marathon of testing bills drew an anti-testing crowd from Colorado Springs up to Denver. ( Gazette )

As the testing debate rages at the Capitol, education officials in several states and Washington D.C. are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to manage the increase in students opting out of state tests within current policies. ( Education Week via Huffington Post )

Turnaround Talks

Pueblo City Schools, one of the state's lowest performing districts, pitched the idea of creating an innovation zone to the State Board of Education as a strategy to improve its schools. ( Pueblo Chieftain, KRDO )

An Aurora Central High School alum wonders why Aurora Public Schools hasn't done much to improve the school "until the 11th hour." ( Aurora Sentinel )

The sound of music

Coloradans donated more than 1,000 musical instruments and $60,000 to repair some of them. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education Committee advances three testing bills

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 01:26

Two major and significantly different testing bills were approved late Thursday evening by the Senate Education Committee, continuing the uncertainty about where lawmakers are headed on the 2015 session’s top education issue.

The two bills emerged from the panel after a drawn-out hearing that featured nearly six hours of witness testimony and another three hours of committee deliberation, including votes on long lists of amendments.

Senate Bill 15-233 passed on a 5-4 party-line vote, with majority Republicans supporting the measure. Given that it has an $8.4 million price tag, the bill has to be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Republican-sponsored bill would pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, reduce the number of tests and temporarily revert to old standards and tests until new state standards and tests are adopted. It would also reduce from 50 percent to 15 percent the proportion of an educator’s evaluation that has to be based on student academic growth data.

Senate Bill 15-257 was approved on a 8-1 bipartisan vote, with only Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, voting no. It also goes to the appropriations committee.

Key elements of that second measure include the cutting of state testing to one set of language arts and math tests in high school plus the ACT test, flexibility for districts to use their own tests, the creation of district pilot programs to develop new accountability and assessment systems, the streamlining of early literacy and school readiness assessments and the extension of flexibility for districts in use of student growth data to evaluate teachers.

(Get details on these bills and all other 2015 assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article.)

The committee’s votes basically kick the final Senate decision on testing down the road. With fewer than 30 days left in the legislative session, SB 15-233 isn’t likely to advance much further, given that it’s probably not acceptable to the Democratic-majority House or to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the House is working on its own testing bill, which proposes even fewer changes than SB 15-257. The House Education Committee heard testimony on a single assessment bill, House Bill 15-1323, on Monday but took no action (see story). The panel is scheduled to take another crack at that bill next Monday.

Testing has proven to be a tough issue for lawmakers, with disagreement both between the House and Senate and within the party caucuses. Legislators also have been subjected to a lot of lobbying, with teachers, districts and some parent groups pushing for significant reforms in the testing system while education reform and some business groups want fewer changes.

For good measure, Senate Education also passed a third testing bill Thursday night, Senate Bill 15-056. It would change the system of social studies tests. The bill passed 9-0, but its future also is uncertain.

One testing bill was killed. Senate Bill 15-073 generally would have reduced state standardized assessments to the minimums required by the federal government and made changes in READ Act and school readiness assessments. It was postponed indefinitely at the request of the sponsor, Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. He said many of its provisions were covered by SB 15-257.

The hearing provided a full-blown airing of the wide range of deeply held views people hold on testing, from parent Lily Tang Williams, who said, “Common Core is communism,” to Leslie Cowell of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, who said, “I urge you to stay the course on Colorado’s standards and aligned assessments.”

Individual witnesses – there were 47 — included parents, teachers, interest group representatives, business lobbyists, district administrators and more. Testimony was hard to follow at times as different witnesses spoke about different bills.

Representatives of such activist groups as the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Denver Alliance for Public Education, Stop Common Core Colorado and Seeking Equity and Excellence for Kids urged the legislators to reduce state testing and withdraw from Common Core and PARCC.

Some of those testing critics made pointed references to philanthropist Bill Gates and to his funding of education reform efforts, including Colorado advocacy groups.

Speakers representing the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Stand for Children, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform and A+ Denver stressed the importance of maintaining the state’s accountability and assessment systems without major changes.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some districts skirt open bargaining rules

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 09:55

Bargains

Some school districts have found the way to skirt the intent of Proposition 104, the state's new open bargaining law. ( Complete Colorado )

Accountability countdown

Curious what happens next for schools on the state's accountability watch list? Check out this timeline. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Optional

A health survey that raised the hackles of parents across the state is, in fact, voluntary, which means that schools don't have to specifically ask permission before administering it, according to a state attorney general ruling. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio, 9News )

Opt Out District

The St. Vrain Valley district has decided not to administer the survey at all. ( Times-Call )

Next time

The State Board of Education delayed discussion on testing waivers, the Healthy Kids survey, graduation guidelines, and science and social studies cut scores until May. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco

Westword dives into the battles over public education and teachers in Jefferson County. ( Westword )

Skills Gap

The Community College of Denver is hoping to recruit and train more women in a program focused on skills like welding and other trades. ( 9News )

Egg Babies

Where did the idea of using egg babies to teach teens about pregnancy come from, and does it work? ( KUNC )

Points of view

Two Colorado teachers discuss the Chalkbeat First Persons they wrote highlighting their views on whether there's too much testing in schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Keeping the Beat

Two Longmont drumlines took first place in a state competition. ( Times-Call )

Safety

Safe2Tell, a hotline focused on bullying and safety, gets thousands of tips in Colorado each year and is considering adding an app. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

What to expect as Colorado’s accountability timeline runs out for struggling schools, districts

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 09:00

The State Board of Education is holding a study session Thursday with four school districts that are about to pose a big test to the state’s accountability system.

The talks between the board and school officials are intended to inform board members as they begin a 16-month process to determine how the state will eventually respond to and attempt to remedy chronic low performance at about 30 schools for the first time since the system was created. The board held a similar set of meetings last year.

Since 2010, schools and districts have been rated by the Colorado Department of Education based on state standardized test scores and other measures, including graduation and drop-out rates. Schools and districts that fall in the bottom 5 percent are asked to improve.

If they don’t climb out of the bottom 5 percent in five years, the board is required to step in.

In the case of districts, the board must rescind accreditation, a move that puts student diplomas and federal funding at risk. In the case of schools, the state must recommend school improvement strategies to the local school board.

That means the first schools and districts that were identified as failing in 2010 are out of time. If students at those schools and districts don’t show enough gains on this spring’s state tests, the state will take action after the results from the exams come back in 2016.

As the state board begins to weigh its options, we take a look back at the five years since the “accountability clock” started ticking and what steps will be taken between now and Aug. 1, 2016, when it is entirely possible the state might strip a school district of its accreditation for the first time in Colorado history.

Categories: Urban School News

A big day of delays for State Board of Education

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 22:17

The State Board of Education had four big issues on its agenda Wednesday, but it delayed further discussion and decisions on all of them until May.

It was all too much for Democrat Jane Goff, usually one of the board’s most soft-spoken members.

“So far today we have produced zero,” she said. “Everything has been pushed off, delayed. We have accomplished nothing. Is there ever going to be something that comes out of this board?”

The day’s lack of action follows a pattern established earlier in the year, but Wednesday’s meeting set a record for the number of items put off.

And the day’s discussions spotlighted the philosophical differences among the members. Republican members Steve Durham, Pam Mazanec and Deb Scheffel, often allied with Democrat Val Flores, are generally critical of current state education policy, which has been set by years of legislation.

Near the end of the nearly 10-hour meeting, Durham said, “I don’t agree with” those policies.

“I’ve lived through four of five education policy crises starting with Sputnik. … None of those crises and all of the scrambling around didn’t improve education one iota.”

Referring to discontent about testing and other education policies, Durham continued, “There’s been a fundamental sea change at the legislature and in the public, and we’re dealing with a whole new set of realities.”

The four big issues facing the board were district requests for waivers from state testing, parent consent for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, possible reconsideration of an earlier vote on cut scores for science and social studies tests, and high school graduation guidelines.

Here’s a recap of the discussion and the delays on those four issues.

Testing waivers

In January the board voted 4-3 to allow districts to apply for waivers from the first part of state tests in language arts and math (see story). Attorney General Cynthia Coffman subsequently ruled that neither the board nor the Department of Education has the authority to grant such waivers. (Various forms of waivers have been requested by 29 districts.)

And, of course, the issue is moot because schools statewide have finished that first phase of testing.

Given all that, department leaders have recommended the board either deny the waivers or rescind the January motion. The board delayed action on either step in February, March and again Wednesday.

Durham, who made the January motion, said he didn’t want to take action so the board could “wait and see what the legislature does with this [testing] issue.”

The board approved the delay motion 4-3, with Durham, Mazanec, Scheffel and Flores voting yes. Goff, Republican Marcia Neal and Democrat Angelika Schroeder voted no.

Healthy Kids Survey

In February some board members raised questions about the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a questionnaire that asks questions about student health and issues like drug, tobacco and alcohol use. (Get background in this story.)

The survey has been criticized by conservative parent groups as intrusive and inappropriate. Critics also complain about the fact that in many districts parents have to actively opt their children out of the survey.

That consent issue worries some board members, and they were buoyed by an informal attorney general’s memo advising that active consent is required. But a formal — and overriding — attorney general’s opinion released Wednesday ruled otherwise (see story).

The board heard nearly 90 minutes of public testimony about the survey, with the vast majority of witnesses – health professionals, educators and members of advocacy groups — supporting the current system.

Later in the meeting, Scheffel expressed disappointment with the testimony, saying parents were underrepresented. “In some ways they [the witnesses] are paid to be here,” while parents can’t take time off work. “I’d like us to think about how we handle public comment.”

Saying the board needs more time to review the attorney general’s opinion, Durham moved to delay any discussion on the action until May. The vote was 7-0.

Science and social studies cut scores

If February, the board voted 4-3 to reject proposed cut scores for 12th grade science and social studies tests (see story).

Wednesday’s agenda included an item for possible reconsideration of that vote.

But Durham moved to put that off as well, saying, “I’d like to wait until the legislature has the opportunity to discuss the whole testing issue.”

The legislature is having its own troubles coming to a decision on the issue.

The proposed delay prompted some back and forth between Durham and Schroeder, who’s concerned that the board’s failure to set cut scores means students won’t get their results before they graduate – if ever. That’s “extremely unfair to the kids and extremely unfair to the teachers,” she said.

Scheffel questioned, as she has previously, the validity of those tests, saying they are “easy to manipulate” and are perhaps designed to create a “narrative of failure.”

The cut score discussion was what prompted Goff’s frustration.

Scheffel pushed back on that, saying, “depicting the nature of this work as confusion is misguided. … By delay[ing] and by surfacing issues and getting the public involved, we begin to have a deep discussion.”

The motion to delay passed 5-2, with Goff and Schroeder voting no.

Graduation guidelines

A 2008 law requires the board to adopt graduation guidelines for the state’s high schools.

There’s been some tension over this issue, as districts want maximum flexibility while some education advocacy groups want tougher, more standardized guidelines.

The board is supposed to make a decision on the issue by May 15. Members were scheduled to be briefed on the guidelines at Wednesday’s meeting. But the board was running so far behind by midday that Neal put the whole issue off until next month. (For more information, see this slide show that would have been shown to the board.)

The board even failed to reach agreement on a fifth, lower profile item. This involves tweaking state regulations to clarify whether students who are learning English as a second language should take state-required literacy assessments in English or their native language. It required a unanimous vote for the rule change to be approved Wednesday. The vote was 5-3. So the decision was delayed until May, when board rules allow it to be approved by a simple majority.

Categories: Urban School News

AG: Health survey is voluntary, doesn’t require advance parental permission

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 17:46

State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman released a formal opinion today saying that state and federal laws don’t require schools to get advance permission from parents when students take the biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

The decision answers a controversial question that’s been swirling around the State Board of Education for months: Must parents give permission before students participate in the survey? Some parents have complained that some survey questions about drugs, sex and alcohol are invasive and inappropriate.

Today’s opinion appears to contradict an earlier informal opinion from an assistant attorney general. That opinion stated that parents must be given advance written consent in order for their children to take the survey.

Currently, most schools use “passive consent” to notify parents about the survey. That means students are administered the survey unless their parents sign a form opting them out. The new decision suggests schools can continue on that path.

The decision reviewed whether state and federal laws requiring advance written permission for certain types of surveys apply to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The attorney general concluded that they don’t, largely because the laws apply to required surveys. The health survey is voluntary.

The opinion concludes by leaving the state board some wiggle room to determine whether the survey is voluntary or required. The opinion states, “The State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education have discretion to clarify specific factual circumstances under which participation in a survey such as the ‘HKCS’ would be ‘required’ and thus subject to parental consent provisions of [state law].”

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: How many testing bills will it take to get a compromise?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/08/2015 - 09:52

Changes are coming

Denver Public Schools is shaking up one of its main departments by breaking it into two. One office will manage innovation programs and school supports while the other will manage charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

CPR asks: How many testing bills will it take to get a final compromise on how to reduce the state's exam burden? ( CPR )

Meanwhile, the testing bill that legalizes opting out of state tests cleared the Senate Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Capitol Report

Believe it or not, there are other education issues making their way through the Capitol. Here's a look at four issues on the move this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cultural competene

Controversial posters proclaiming "101 Things Black and Latina Girls Should Know" were posted and later removed at a Denver high school. ( KDVR )

People Power

Some teachers are turning to crowdfunding to improve their classrooms. ( 9News )

Healthy schools

Colorado is doing a poor job in sex ed, according to new numbers from the CDC. ( Westword )

The early gap

Mexican-American toddlers born in the U.S. do not develop as fast as their white peers when it comes to language and pre-literacy skills, a new study found. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

The four other (non-testing) education bills that are on the move at the Capitol this week

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 17:27

While the focus so far this week at the Capitol has been on the budget and on testing, other education bills of interest are on the move. Here are the details.

Chartering authority bill heads to House

The Senate Tuesday gave 21-14 final approval to Senate Bill 15-216, which would affect the exclusive chartering authority of districts that are on the state’s accountability watch list for more than three years.

The bill would require that such districts lose that authority if they are in year three of priority improvement or turnaround and do not have an agreement with the State Charter School Institute governing placement of institute charters in the district.

The goal of the bill, according to prime sponsor Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is to give students in struggling districts more choices of high-quality schools. Under current law, the state can intervene in districts that have had low ratings for five consecutive years. Hill argues that students should have more choices after three years. (Get more information in this legislative staff summary.)

School finance study passed by House Education

A bipartisan bill that would create a legislative school finance oversight committee passed the House Education Committee in a 9-2 vote Monday.

House Bill 15-1334 would set up a 10-member panel to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts.

The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations on both statutory and constitutional changes to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

“It’s not a question in anybody’s mind that we have to do this. The question is doing it right,” said prime sponsor Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, said the current 20-year-old system is outdated, and “the original intent of equity has been skewed. … Our primary responsibility should be ensuring every child has equal access and opportunity.”

During the last decade there have been two state studies and one outside review of the school finance system. The outside study helped lead to approval of a comprehensive school-funding rewrite by the 2013 legislature. But that plan never went into effect because voters rejected the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for the new system.

The bill has a $520,000 price tag over two years. Its next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

Student learning objectives bill gets first committee approval

The House Education Committee on Monday also voted 6-5 in favor of House Bill 15-1324, a measure intended to encourage schools to use “student learning objectives.”

Student learning objectives are customized learning goals for classrooms and individual students that are used to track academic progress.

The bill is strongly backed by the Colorado Education Association, which wants to expand use of such learning objectives in teacher evaluations.

Specifically, the bill would create a $1 million grant program for districts that want to work on developing such programs. Some Colorado districts already are experimenting with the concept. The bill will be considered next by House Appropriations.

School discipline bill moves to Senate floor

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 15-1240, which would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with local law enforcement on how to handle student-police contacts. The goal is reduce the number of school problems that get referred to police.

The measure is an effort by sponsors Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, to divert more disciplinary matters to school administrators and thereby keep more students in school.

Balmer told the committee that one arrest doubles a student’s odds of dropping out of school and that “the impact of being ticketed or arrested can follow a student for the rest of their lives.”

The vote was 3-2.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS plans for cuts, additions, and shifts in central office

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 17:14

Denver Public Schools is cutting approximately 110 positions and adding several dozen new roles to its central office as part of a restructuring officials say is aimed at shifting more resources and expertise to schools.

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said the changes are part of an effort to meet the goals of the Denver Plan 2020 and to educate teachers about how to teach using the Common Core State Standards. Most of the changes are in the departments Whitehead-Bust oversees.

The restructuring is coming in advance of the district’s new academic strategic plan, which will be released later this spring.

Some of the changes related to this restructuring, including an expansion of the district’s teacher-leadership program and cuts to its peer observer team, were announced earlier this year.

“As you push more expertise in the schools, it begs the question of what’s changing in the central team,” Whitehead-Bust said. “You now want to make sure your district roles are aligned to schools and leaders’ specific needs.”

Some of the changes:

  • The Office of School Reform and Innovation, known as OSRI, will be divided into two separate departments. An Innovation and Strategy department will develop and support new schools and programs like blended learning, and a Portfolio office will focus on managing charter schools.
  • The district is cutting its “curriculum coordinator role” and replacing it with two or three dozen “content specialists.” Content specialists will spend 80 percent of their time in schools, while curriculum coordinators were largely based in the central office.
  • The district is cutting its Collaborative Strategies for Reading team, a federally-funded group of 25 who led a reading program. The federal grant that supported the team is coming to an end, and Whitehead-Bust said the district had determined that it was not getting the results it had hoped for from the program. She said some components of the training will be continued.
  • The district is reducing the size of its teacher effectiveness coaching team from 72 to 54. Whitehead-Bust said some of the mentoring, coaching, and evaluating components of this job would be filled by teacher leaders. The district is also cutting a half dozen “executive director” positions in the academic office.

Whitehead-Bust said that she was unable to say exactly what the ultimate budget impact would be. She said the end of several grants means that the central office would be “leaner” next year. The district’s school board will vote on a budget later this spring.

Nine director-level positions on the new organization chart are listed as vacant, including the deputy chief of academics, who oversees curriculum and instruction and professional learning teams, and executive director of portfolio management, who oversees the new team focused on charter schools.

In an email to teachers and school leaders, Whitehead-Bust and Chief Schools Officer Susana Cordova said that the changes were partly prompted by feedback from teachers and a report from the Council of Great City Schools that said the district was not doing enough to prepare its teachers for new academic standards.

The email says the district is focusing on making sure teachers are more equipped with curricular resources that are aligned to the standards; on making sure support staff can help teachers with standards alignment; and making sure district professional development is aligned to standards.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New state campaign focuses on awareness of child abuse

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:44

Awareness

The Colorado Department of Human Services has launched a new campaign to raise awareness about child abuse. ( 9News )

Staying in Line

George Washington High School's newspaper featured an editorial on discipline polices in Denver Public Schools. ( GW Surveyor )

opting out

A bill that would protect parents' ability to opt students out of standardized tests made progress in the Senate yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Colorado Public Radio, 9News )

Testing, Testing

But there was no vote in the state House on a bill that would cut the number of standardized tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

My Brother's Keeper

Saturday was Denver's first My Brother's Keeper Summit, an event organized in keeping with Barack Obama's initiative focusing on young men of color. ( Denver Post )

Exercise Gap

A report finds that lower-income students in Colorado spend less time in physical education classes than their wealthier peers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Neighborhood Schools No More

In New Orleans, where there are no longer neighborhood schools, families search for the right fit. ( KUNC )

Cutsbu

Larkspur's town council rallied to support Larkspur Elementary after the Douglas County school district proposed cuts, but the future remains unclear as the school's enrollment is dropping. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Online Higher Education

Centennial-based Jones International University, an online school, is closing. ( Arvada Press )

3-D

Colorado Springs students are using 3-D printers way before I have gotten to try. ( The Gazette )

Look Inside

A look inside Success Academy, a charter school in New York City known for its high test scores, long wait lists, and intense model. ( New York Times )

Dotting Is, Crossing Ts

A new study has found that board certified teachers are more effective than non-certified peers. ( Education Week )

Fund Me, Please

Superintendent transitions in districts sometimes make funders wary. ( Education Week )

Categories: Urban School News

Issues get aired, but vote delayed on House testing bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 23:18

The House Education Committee Monday evening delayed voting on a bill that would make modest cuts in the state’s standardized testing system, including elimination of most tests in the 11th and 12th grades.

“I am torn at this point about taking action before we attempt to resolve some of these issues,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, before asking that the bill, House Bill 15-1323, be laid over. That puts off any vote on the measure until at least next week.

That decision came after nearly three hours of testimony and committee member questions. The panel didn’t even start on the bill until after 4:30 p.m., a few afters the meeting kicked off.

A major focus of discussion was whether ninth grade students should continue taking state tests in language arts and math. Such assessments aren’t required by the federal government, and the bill proposes dropping them but allowing individual districts to test ninth graders if they want.

A parade of well-orchestrated witnesses from education reform advocacy and business groups mounted a full-court press to urge that mandatory ninth grade testing be maintained. They argued that the data from those tests is needed to maintain the state’s growth model and track students who need academic help.

On the other side, Colorado Education Association lobbyist Julie Whitacre argued that ninth grade testing isn’t necessary and that social studies tests should be dropped. The CEA also would like language added to the bill to create a three-year time-out in use of student academic growth data for teacher evaluations.

For this school year districts have the option of whether to use growth in evaluations.

Despite more than a year of rising public concern and policymaker debate about the amount of state testing, House Bill 15-1323 is the first testing reduction bill to have a full committee hearing, which was held on the 90th of the 2015 session’s 120 days.

(A more narrowly focused bill related to opting out of state tests has advanced further and won preliminary Senate approval Monday. See story here.)

Although 11 testing-related bills have been introduced this year, statehouse attention currently is focused on two measures, HB 15-1323 and Senate Bill 15-257.

The House bill, sponsored by nine of House Education’s 11 members, is considered the more limited of the two bills and is somewhat more attractive to interest groups that want minimal tinkering with state assessments.

The Senate measure is backed by seven of the nine members of Senate Education and includes provisions that would cut back on state testing but also create ways for districts to ultimately use local tests in place of state assessments. Some school district interests lean toward that bill.

The Senate bill, and a handful of other testing measures, are set for Senate Education consideration on Thursday afternoon.

The bigger question may be not whether Buckner and cosponsor Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, can reach interest-group compromise on HB 15-1323 but whether they can reach agreement with the Senate.

Neither bill would pull Colorado out of the PARCC testing system or the Common Core State Standards. Conservative Republican in both chambers want to do that, but those ideas appear to be dead in the water for this session.

Get more information on the two bills in this story, and see the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article for links to detailed information about all 2015 testing bills.

Here are the key provisions of HB 15-1323 as it was introduced:

  • State language arts and math tests would be given only in grades three-eight and 10
  • Science and social studies would be given once each in elementary, middle, and high school
  • The state can’t require any tests in 11th and 12th grades, except for the ACT test
  • Local districts can choose to use state tests in those grades, and in ninth grade
  • The state would have seek federal approval to allow non-English tests for up to five years for ELL students
  • Paper tests must be made available at district request
  • If a READ Act early literacy test is given in first 60 days of school, the literacy section of the school readiness test doesn’t have to be given
  • K-3 students reading at grade level don’t have to be tested again in the same year
  • Paper early literacy tests must be available
  • Makes other administrative changes to school readiness tests
  • Repeals existing requirements for postsecondary and workforce readiness assessments

The bill follows many – but not all – of the recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, which studied testing last fall and made recommendations to the legislature. See this story for details on the task force report.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Colorado kids aren’t getting enough exercise

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 18:40

Only 46 percent of the Colorado’s high-schoolers take at least one physical education class each week, according to a new report from the Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Health Institute.

Illustrating the impact of place, the “Extra Credit: Get Active” report highlights the vast differences in physical education participation in the state’s geographic regions. Nearly 70 percent of teens in northeast Colorado take physical education classes at least once each week, compared to just 25 percent of students in northwest Colorado.

Overall, Colorado ranks 24th among states when it comes to daily physical activity among school-aged children. In contrast, adults and senior citizens rank first and second respectively.

The report, an offshoot of the annual Colorado Health Report Card, also cites major disparities in the amount of physical activity experienced by kids of different income levels. Only about 58 percent of kids with family incomes under the federal poverty level got at least 20 minutes of exercise four or more days a week, compared to 74 percent of kids living in the wealthiest homes.

Gender disparities also exist, with far fewer girls (40 percent) than boys (58 percent) getting the recommended hour of daily exercise five days a week.

Noting that Colorado is one of the few states that has no physical education requirements, the report advocates for creative approaches to physical education programming, exercise opportunities targeted at girls and interventions for regions with few out-of-school exercise options.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Testing opt-out bill gets final Senate approval

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 17:42

Updated 9:45 A.M. April 7 – The Senate voted 28-7 Tuesday morning to pass the bill designed to protect parents’ right to opt students out of state standardized tests.

There were a few minutes of final debate before the vote on Senate Bill 15-223. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, again warned about the bill’s impact on school and district accountability. “We overreached dramatically … we will eliminate any meaningful information” about performance, he said. Supporting the bill is “a vote against transparency and a vote against accountability.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said she would vote no, saying, “I want accountability. I want transparency.”

But prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said, “This bill is not about gutting assessments and evaluations, this bill is not about getting rid of report cards for schools and districts. This bill is about honoring the rights of parents.”

Voting no were Democrats Irene Aguilar of Denver, Mary Hodge of Brighton, John Kefalas of Fort Collins, Johnston, Linda Newell of Littleton and Pat Steadman of Denver. Roberts was the only Republican to vote no.

Although SB 15-223 doesn’t address the core issue of testing burden, it’s the first testing-related bill to reach the floor this session, so it has drawn wide attention.

The hour of preliminary debate on Monday was spirited but one-sided.

Holbert described the bill as a response to the legitimate concerns of parents and an affirmation of their rights.

“Thank you again to the parents of Colorado” for raising the issue, he said. “This is not an encouragement for people to opt out.”

Johnston came to the microphone to oppose the bill.

“I just think it dramatically misses the target,” Johnston said, calling the bill “grandstanding.”

As originally introduced, the bill would have required districts to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts and banned imposing any “penalties” on students, teachers, principals or schools for low test participation.

The issue of defining “penalty” emerged as a key question during committee debate on March 26. Amendments adopted quickly on the floor Monday narrowed that definition.

One clarifies that the bill doesn’t apply to local tests, so if a student declines to take a class final exam that can still affect her grade. A second change specifies that school and district accreditation ratings and educator evaluation levels aren’t defined as penalties, meaning that test scores and student growth data derived from scores could continue to be used for accreditation and evaluation.

Another amendment specifies that schools and districts should make good-faith efforts to have students take the exams and not encourage opting out. And an amendment adopted earlier in the education committee requires districts to inform parents about the purpose of statewide tests, in addition to informing them of their opt-out rights.

Much of Monday’s debate focused on parent pushback against testing.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he had reservations about the bill but said, “I think we need to respond to the parents who have expressed deep concerns.” The Boulder Valley schools, in Heath’s Senate district, are a hotbed of testing resistence.

Heath referred to an open letter opposing the bill that was distributed by business and education reform groups, saying many of the signers are his friends (read the letter).

Other Democrats, including prime sponsor Nancy Todd of Aurora, Matt Jones of Louisville, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Minority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora supported the bill. Kerr, like Heath, said his vote was reluctant. Carroll said she thought the bill was necessary to reduce the atmosphere of “punishment” in schools.

Johnston came to the microphone a second time to speak against the bill, saying, “I think we spent a lot of time building a fair system” of assessment and accountability. “This is contrary to the spirit of everything we’ve done over the last 10 years.”

Johnston’s argument is that test results based on participation rates of less than the currently required 95 percent of students won’t yield accurate data on school, teacher, and student performance. He said that could undermine the foundation of data that underlies all state education reforms of the last several years. He also warned that the state could lose $360 million in federal education funding for violating federal testing participation requirements.

While the bill has 20 bipartisan sponsors in the Democratic-majority House, it may face a bigger challenge there than in the Senate. And Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, reportedly has serious concerns about the bill. Finally, it’s possible the opt-out bill could be held up or even bypassed as lawmakers turn to and perhaps advance more comprehensive testing measures.

Categories: Urban School News

What do you think: Does parent engagement matter?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 14:31

In our weekend reading roundup, we shared a story about a report that found parental involvement yielded no benefit for students.

From The Atlantic’s “Don’t help your kids with their homework”:

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. …

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

But like all education stories there’s a counterpoint. The New York Times’ Upshot responded with the headline “Yes, Your Time as a Parent Does Make a Difference.

The upshot of the Upshot article was that the study was flawed because of how it measured parent engagement:

This nonfinding largely reflects the failure of the authors to accurately measure parental input. In particular, the study does not measure how much time parents typically spend with their children. Instead, it measures how much time each parent spends with children on only two particular days — one a weekday and the other a weekend day.

That brings us to our question of the week:

//

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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

Why should we keep our state exams? Because they shine a light on the path toward education equity

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 11:41

Last month, the Colorado Children’s Campaign released its annual Kids Count data, highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing kids across the state. Among the data was the startling fact that children of color in Colorado are more than three times as likely to live in poverty than their white peers with more than one in three Latino children living in a family of four earning less than $23,500.

This has implications not only for these children, but also for our state’s prosperity and future development as our population changes and becomes more diverse.

As Coloradans committed to our great state, we know that our future relies on ensuring that every child in this state has access to the best education and is held to the highest standards possible. Believing that what gets measured gets improved, it is critical that we shine a light on where we are achieving high educational outcomes and where we can do better.

Real progress has been made in the past several years in Colorado as a result of an increased focus on educational disparities and the promise of improved tools to address them. According to statewide assessments administered in Colorado, 23 percent of low-income students were proficient or advanced in math in 2004. Today that rate has risen to 40 percent. Grade level proficiency in reading increased from 44 percent to 52 percent in the same period.

Of course, testing didn’t accomplish these gains — dedicated educators, supportive parents and hard-working kids did.

But without annual assessments, we would not have consistent, comparable data on how every child is progressing and how well schools and districts are serving them. Not knowing makes it easier for gaps in student learning to go unidentified and unaddressed.

Consistent assessment data provide a big-picture view of student learning and allow districts and schools to tailor their resources and focus them accordingly.

The Colorado Academic Standards set high expectations for every child, no matter where they live or their background. The assessments aligned with those standards tell parents whether their children are reaching their highest academic potential.

Recently parents, educators, advocates and policymakers have joined in a robust conversation about the value of testing in public schools.

We agree that too much testing is not an effective use of time or resources, and that assessments should be streamlined and improved to provide better and more timely feedback. We agree that “teaching to the test” must evolve into teaching kids the skills they need to excel in the 21st century, and then measuring progress against that goal.

We’re discouraged, though, to see much of the current discourse in education focused on eliminating some basic measures that allow us to shine a light where problems exist by measuring student growth consistently and comparing performance across all students. These discussions miss the point that the ultimate goal of assessment is to ensure that kids in every community of our state are being prepared for future success.

As a nation, we don’t have a particularly strong track record of holding ourselves accountable for the achievement of all kids. There was a time when low-income, minority and disabled students weren’t held to the same expectations as their peers or were excluded from access, opportunity, and assessment altogether.

We stand firm on consistent testing for every child because we know that the data provided by annual assessments will help teachers, parents and students focus attention and resources more precisely. A combination of streamlined annual assessments, transparency around results, and real accountability for schools to improve outcomes for all children has helped create urgency, momentum, and results. That momentum is critical to a stronger and more equitable system for all of our kids and a brighter future for our state.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Top exec at CDE to lead Colorado Springs-area school district

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 09:45

By the numbers

Denver families are flocking to middle schools run by local charter networks DSST and STRIVE, according to new SchoolChoice data. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

Keith Owen, who is finishing his fourth year as deputy commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, will be the new Fountain-Fort Carson School District chief July 1. ( Gazette )

Teach For America Colorado and Denver Public Schools are leading the nation in hiring teachers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. ( AP via ABC News )

Teaching and learning

Building fluency is the goal of a program run by the Mile High United Way. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

Chalkbeat readers share how their students spent their time when they weren't taking the state's standardized tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

teachers without borders

Several Colorado educators plan to head to Liberia to open a school this summer after original plans were pushed back due to Ebola. ( 9News )

Girls rule the world

An after-school program across the Front Range strives to empower girls through running. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

The science of fun

Twenty-five students from Highlands Ranch High School launched a weather balloon at Red Rocks Amphitheater Saturday morning. ( 9News )

summer reading

A coalition in Summit County is seeking books and volunteers to help students read this summer. ( Summit Daily )

Two cents

The Denver Post argues changes should be made to a school immunity bill — and the Davis family, who lost their daughter in a school shooting, should support those changes. ( Denver Post )

A Colorado lawmaker argues school violence reporting in Colorado needs to be more transparent. ( Statesman )

Health advocates opine that access to information helps parents make the best decisions for children. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

In Denver enrollment zones, charter middle schools are clear favorite (and 4 other takeaways)

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 09:00

A shift away from neighborhood schools in some parts of Denver is highlighting the fact that in families’ eyes, not all schools are created equal.

Data from this year’s first round of school choice applications show that in five of Denver Public Schools’ seven “shared enrollment zones,” one school is significantly more popular than others. In one case, one school received more than three times as many applications than the other four in the zone.

In zones where one school is overwhelmingly popular, students were least likely to get into their first choice school.

DPS  created enrollment zones to promote diversity and open access to higher performing schools to more families. Families who live in a shared enrollment zone are guaranteed placement at one of several schools in their general geographic area, but aren’t assigned to any one school.

Three of the district’s zones are new this year: the West and Southwest Middle School Zones and the Southeast Elementary Zone. [Maps of the zones]

Families who live in a zone have an extra incentive to participate in the district’s SchoolChoice enrollment system. If they don’t, they have no way of knowing which school in their zone their children will attend. In parts of town without enrollment zones, students are assigned directly to a neighborhood school.

Close to 25,000 students across the district submitted SchoolChoice applications this year. More than 4,000 of those lived in shared enrollment zones.

Dominant schools and top-choice rates

Districtwide, 78 percent of students who applied got their first choice schools. In the enrollment zones, the rates varied: In the Far Northeast, just 69 percent of students will attend their first choice school, compared to 84 percent in the Southwest. Across the district, 95 percent of students were placed in one of their top five schools.

The smallest percentage of students got their first-choice school in zones where one school was overwhelmingly popular.

What percent of people got their top choice school? | Create infographics

 

New zones and southwest Denver plans

Participation rates in SchoolChoice in southwest Denver increased dramatically this year, after an extensive “get out the application” effort. More than 90 percent of students in the two zones in southwest Denver submitted applications, compared to 67 percent last year.

The West zone includes Kepner Middle School, which is being phased out by the district as several new schools are being introduced. It looks like students are moving away from Kepner: Just 51 opted into the district-run school, while 76 opted into the Compass Academy Middle School, a new charter school opening later this year in the Kepner building. The most popular school in the West zone was STRIVE Prep at Westwood, also a charter.

West Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Southwest zone, 134 students listed DSST: College View, a charter, as their top choice, while just 84 students opted into district-run Henry World Middle School. The district says that information drove a recent decision to bring a new program into Henry.

Southwest Middle School Zone | Create infographics

 

Park Hill Zone and McAuliffe

In the Park Hill / Stapleton Zone, McAuliffe International, a district innovation school, drew more than three times more applications than any other school. It was the most popular school in any zone.

Greater Park Hill / Stapleton Middle School Zone | Create infographics

That’s led to some contention. McAuliffe’s waiting list has been the topic of private Facebook comment threads reviewed by Chalkbeat in which parents vent about having to attend a school outside of their neighborhood.

McAuliffe has applied to the district o open a new school in 2016-17 in the near northeast part of the city, but if that school is approved, it would open too late to host this year’s disgruntled families.

DPS officials say that the fact that not everyone is getting their first choice doesn’t mean the system isn’t working.

“I understand people’s frustration,” said David Suppes, Denver Public Schools’ Chief Operating Officer. “But I don’t think it’s because we’re doing something different than we said we would. What we’re seeing is the incredible popularity of some schools.”

Charters dominate middle school

Across the middle school zones, charter schools were the first choice for many families.

The most popular options in West, Southwest, Lake, and Far Northeast middle school zones are all part of either the STRIVE or DSST charter networks.

Far Northeast Middle School Zone | Create infographics

Lake Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Park Hill / Stapleton zone, the second most popular option after McAuliffe was DSST – Stapleton. Significant numbers of students in that zone also applied to attend DSST: Cole and DSST: Conservatory Green.

The trend favoring charters doesn’t carry over to elementary zones, where the most popular choices were district-run programs.

Stapleton Elementary School Zone | Create infographics

Far Southeast Elementary Zone | Create infographics The long tail

In each of the zones, there is a long tail of schools listed as the top choice by just a handful of students. There are too many of these schools to include in these graphs. Among them are programs for students with special needs.

The district plans to release more information about this year’s first round of school choice later this spring.

Categories: Urban School News

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