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Jefferson County school district, union reach tentative agreement

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 22:48

GOLDEN — Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association Thursday evening reached a “ground breaking” 10-month tentative agreement that some feared would devolve to a total impasse.

While officials from the teachers union expressed — repeatedly — their opposition to the length of the contract, the two sides compromised Thursday on a plan to reduce classroom size for elementary schools, require schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian, and delay the rollout of a new system of tracking teachers’ personal leave time.

“We are horribly disappointed in the 10-month duration of the contract because it does not demonstrate any commitment to the teachers,” Arik Heim, a teacher at Wheat Ridge High School, said, accepting the district’s final terms and asking for those changes in writing. “But in the interest of having an agreement in place when our teachers show up to work on Monday, and so they can focus on the interests of our students, we hope that [the district] can doctor up language quickly so we can sign a temporary agreement tonight.”

After some minor tweaks to the contract language, a tentative agreement was signed by Heim and the district’s lawyer Jim Branum.

Five months in the making, the new contract must be ratified by a majority of the union’s members and win approval from the county’s school board in order to go into effect.

Union President John Ford said he’ll present the contract language to his some 3,500 members at an Aug. 21 meeting. If ratified, the board will have its chance to vote on the contract at its Aug. 27 meeting.

The union’s current contract expires Aug. 31.

Relations between JCEA and the school board’s majority have been strained since the board began linking teacher pay to their performance on evaluations. Previously, teacher pay was linked to years of service.

The new contract language, which was drastically reduced in length compared to its predecessor, emphasizes collaboration between teachers and principals to make decisions on issues like staffing and resources, codifies the district’s teacher evaluation process, and streamlines the grievance process.

“This innovative contract is a result of nearly 150 hours at the negotiating table by the negotiating team as well as a commitment to collaboration by the JCEA and Jeffco School Board,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While both sides compromised on contract components, we believe this agreement is good for Jeffco students and Jeffco teachers. I am looking forward to its implementation during this next school year.”

But it’s unclear how the union’s rank-and-file will respond to the contract language.

“I’m not celebrating much,” said Neva Sutter, a teacher at Wilmore Davis Elementary School who attended Thursday’s meeting.

Sutter said the contract fails to improve the district’s evaluation system that she and others believe is unreliable, and provides no assurances on teacher pay in the coming years.

“Myself and my husband (who is also a Jeffco teacher) had two very different experiences with evaluations this year,” she said. “The feedback was completely different. I had 14 observations. He had two.”

While contract negotiations between the district and union started off on a positive note, talks came to halt twice. And the specter of a strike popped up in the spring.

First, the union sued the district over a compensation plan for new teachers. The district and union eventually came to an agreement over compensation. Then, union officials took a time out when the district refused to budge on the length of the contract.

“Some folks I talked to before I took this job told me this wouldn’t end well,” said moderator Jon Numair.  “… But I want to congratulate you over what you’ve done these last few months. … Each of you stepped out of your comfort zone to make this happen.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate member count of the Jefferson County teachers union.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board selects commissioner search firm

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 18:48

The State Board of Education has selected Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based company, to conduct the search for candidates to be commissioner of education.

The board is searching for a replacement for Commissioner Robert Hammond, who resigned at the end of June (see story). Elliott Asp, a former Hammond advisor and veteran Colorado administrator, is serving as interim commissioner.

Ray and Associates, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, is a national company that specializes in searches for education administrators.

According to the group’s website, it’s currently doing superintendent searches for the Kansas City and Fort Worth districts, plus searches for top administrative positions in the Oklahoma City and Milwaukee schools.

It’s also doing a principal search for Aspen High School. According to information Ray gave the State Board, the firm has done recent searches for various jobs in the Jeffco, Colorado Springs 11, Eagle County, Westminster and Boulder districts.

The firm recently closed searches for superintendents in Albuquerque, Austin and the Brevard and Palm Beach districts in Florida, as well as a search for state superintendent in Michigan.

The State Board voted 6-0 to hire Ray during a special meeting Wednesday.

The board will back to full seven-member strength Saturday after a Republican Party vacancy committee chooses a successor to board chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this year. Eight candidates are seeking the post. One applicant, Center school board member Michael Lobato, has withdrawn. (Read about Neal’s resignation here, and learn about the people vying to succeed her here.)

The board is scheduled to select a new chair at its regular monthly meeting next Wednesday. Most observers expect Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican who joined the board last January, to be selected.

Also on the board’s agenda are discussion of the commissioner search, of possible data privacy requirements for companies that provide data services to the state and of high school graduation guidelines, which developed into a touchy issue for the board earlier this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New school could be full from the start

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 10:40
Score gap A majority of U.S. Hispanic students planned to enroll in college last year, but nearly half weren’t ready for college-level courses, according to a recent report from ACT. There’s good reason to believe Denver’s Hispanic students mirror this national trend. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Growing pains The High Plains School could be at capacity by the time it opens in 2016 due to growth on the east side of Loveland and the lack of schools in that area. ( Reporter-Herald )

Helping hand A scholarship fund created by a Denver community group is intended to help refugees get an education. ( 9News )

Elections loom It’s a big education election year in Garfield County, with board seats up for grabs Nov. 3 in Roaring Fork School District, Garfield Re-2, Garfield 16 and on the Colorado Mountain College board. ( Post-Independent )

Consumer guide Careful shopping can yield savings on school supplies. Get info on metro-area prices. ( The Denver Channel )

Oops Nearly two months after appointing a retired elementary school principal to fill a vacancy on the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education, district officials on Wednesday removed her from the position because of residency issues. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Data from ACT and DPS shows that Hispanic students aren’t college ready

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/05/2015 - 14:43

A majority of U.S. Hispanic students planned to enroll in college last year, but nearly half weren’t ready for college level courses, according to a recent report from ACT.

In 2014, 83 percent of Hispanic students, who make up the largest demographic in public elementary and secondary schools in the country, said they planned to enroll in college but 47 percent of those students didn’t meet any of the minimum scores ACT uses to determine college readiness.

While this specific report didn’t include results at either the state or school district level, there’s good reason to believe Denver’s Hispanic students mirror this national trend. The average ACT subject scores for Hispanic students were all below the ACT benchmarks, according to data from DPS.

“Part of the information we get from the ACT is that we have too many kids who are not ready [for college],” said Susana Cordova, the Chief Schools Officer at Denver Public Schools. “So even though we see scores going up — our Latino students had a full point gain over the last year — we still know that white students have double college readiness rates, according to ACT, than our Latino students do.”

The benchmarks, which are set by ACT, are scores on subject tests that predict how a student will do in college courses. These scores indicate whether a student has a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding first-year college classes.

In 2014, only 14 percent of Hispanic students in the country who took the ACT met all four benchmarks, compared 26 percent of all students. The performance gap is even larger in Colorado where only 10 percent of Hispanic students met four benchmarks compared to a state average of 25 percent, according to a state-specific report from ACT.

The district is struggling to help Hispanic students for a number of reasons.

One problem is that a large portion of Hispanic students in DPS are also English language learners, Cordova said. The ACT is in English and includes reading and writing portions, which could be especially difficult for a student who isn’t fluent in the language.

In addition, the problem is cumulative, she said. Students don’t just suddenly fail to meet benchmarks their junior year of high school; they most likely didn’t meet minimum requirements long before the ACT.

“A lot of the work that we think about as ACT prep happens in high school, but it happens long before high school,” Cordova said. “It starts as early as elementary school…kids who are most likely to meet those college readiness benchmarks met those benchmarks along the way in elementary school.”

To help raise those student’s scores, DPS offers different resources to help high schoolers with ACT preparation.

Last year, about 1,300 students in 11 different Denver schools used the ACT preparation program Princeton Review. The program allows students to take practice ACT tests and provides feedback on what they need the most help in. Cordova said the number of students using Princeton Review at DPS is expected to double this academic year.

It isn’t clear how many of those students were Hispanic or English language learners. But according to enrollment data, nine of the schools that use Princeton Review have a Hispanic student population above 60 percent. In addition, those nine schools have an ELL student population that ranges from 40 to 80 percent.

However, as the data shows, Hispanic students still slip through the cracks and don’t meet the ACT benchmarks. But DPS finds other ways to help them be college ready, Cordova said.

Students who don’t meet ACT benchmarks in the 11th grade are encouraged to take remedial college courses the following year through concurrent enrollment. So if the district fails to help a student get adequate test scores, they can at least show they’ve met the minimum core requirements through college credit.

“We’ve had a very large push to make sure that students whose ACT scores show they’re not ready have the opportunity to take developmental education courses while they’re in high school,” Cordova said. “We think it’s important to look at what else we can do to ensure that kids are ready.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pot money for school facilities is up, but it’s not enough to build new schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/05/2015 - 07:48
Election 2015 About a dozen of the state’s 178 districts are considering tax proposals for the November election, according to results from a preliminary survey by the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization. But there's still time for school boards to consider asking voters for more money. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Going to pot Colorado schools will likely see more tax dollars for facilities from pot sales. But it won't be enough to build new schools. Here's why. ( The Cannabist )

To AP and beyond Pushing students — regardless of skill level — into advanced courses can put them on a clear path toward college. ( 7News Denver )

Jeffco Interuptted Members of the Jefferson County Education Association were asked by police officers to leave a school campus Tuesday. The veteran teachers were distributing invitations to new teachers for an afternoon luncheon. ( Colorado Independent )

An independent investigator concluded school board president Ken Witt did not bully a student last May. ( Complete Colorado )

A helping hand A 10-year-old nonprofit organization that helps feed students and their families in Jefferson County says its services are needed more now than ever. ( 9News )

Volunteers helped stuff 1,600 backpacks for Thompson School District students from low-income homes ( Reporter-Herald )

STEM A defense contracting giant will pay for an interactive traveling math exhibit that will be open in Colorado Springs from January until May of 2016. ( Gazette )

College rankings Colorado ranked the ninth best state for student debt on Tuesday, according to a WalletHub study. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, CU-Boulder dropped to No. 7 on the Princeton Review's "Reefer Madness" list, which ranks colleges and universities by the popularity of cannabis on campus. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Most districts may take a pass on asking for tax hikes

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 16:41

It looks like that a relative handful of Colorado school districts will ask their voters for tax increases this year, a sharp contrast with the crowded ballots of 2014.

About a dozen of the state’s 178 districts are considering tax proposals for the Nov. 3 election, according to results from a preliminary survey by the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization. (See current list at bottom of this article.)

The only larger district on the list is Brighton 27J, the state’s 16th biggest district with about 17,100 students. In the 2014 election voters rejected a proposed $148 million bond issue by Brighton, which has been one of the state’s fast growing districts.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any big districts” going to the voters, said Tracie Rainey, executive director of CSFP.

The project’s list is preliminary, both because some districts haven’t yet responded to the group’s survey and because school boards still have about a month to decide if they want to propose bond issues or property tax overrides for operating expenses. Districts have a Sept. 4 deadline to submit final ballot language to county clerks.

Rainey doubts that any large-enrollment districts will take the plunge because “for a big district to decide it takes some time. … You’re talking a year out to set everything in motion.” Large districts typically use special panels to decide on potential uses for bond and override revenue and on independent committees to gauge possible voter support and to run campaigns.

Denver and Cherry Creek reportedly are considering tax elections in 2016. “I would think that next year you’re going to see bigger districts and more Front Range districts” going to the voters, Rainey said.

The fact that 2015 is an election year for school boards may be a factor in the apparent low number of tax elections.

Bond & Mill

  • Bond measures are voter-approved increases in property taxes for facilities needs. Districts sell bonds to raise the cash to pay for construction, then use the additional tax revenues to pay the bonds off.
  • Mill levy overrides are voter-approved hikes in a district’s general property tax rate that a district generally uses for operating expenses or special needs like technology purchases. (A mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent and is used as a mathematical device to calculate taxes.)

“You have board elections this fall,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of Schools Boards. “For some districts they want to keep it [the ballot] as uncomplicated as possible.” She also said some district leaders may not want to push tax increases until after new boards are seated.

Rainey agrees. “I know they all are really focusing on board elections.” She added that bond and override proposals on ballots sometimes draws anti-tax voters, and “having anti-tax sentiment isn’t exactly helpful” in board races.

Urschel noted another reason why some districts may be hesitant. “There are so many of them who feel they can’t pass anything.”

Rep. Millie Hamner agreed, saying, “I think districts are afraid because it’s hard to ask your voters for more money.” The Dillon Democrat is incoming chair of the legislative Joint Budget Committee and an expert on school finance.

And Rainey also noted that the number of bond proposals may be down because the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today construction grant program has reached its cap on large grants. With BEST making fewer grants, fewer districts are asking voters to approve local matching bond funds.

Recent years have been busy for tax elections

In 2014 about two-dozen Colorado school districts sought some $1.5 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and operating funds. About half were rejected. Boulder voters approved a record $576.4 million bond issues, but nine proposed increases in five Adams County districts were defeated.

The year before voters also passed only about half of measures proposed in about two-dozen districts. The 2013 election was overshadowed by Amendment 66, the proposed $1 billion income tax increase to provide more school funding. It was defeated overwhelmingly.

The 2012 election saw voters in 29 districts approve 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion.

The state’s 10 largest districts have a mixed record on bond and override elections. In the last decade those districts have had 45 ballot measures, of which 25 passed and 20 were defeated.

The Aurora, Boulder, Cherry Creek, Denver and Poudre districts passed all their proposals, while Adams 12-Five Star, Douglas County and Jefferson County had more mixed success.

The combined bond debt of all state districts was $7.2 billion in 2013-14.

Are local taxes an untapped resource?

Bond issues are a straightforward piece of school funding. A district decides on needed construction and renovation projects and asks voters to approve a property tax increase to pay for them. If voters say yes, the district sells bonds, uses the proceeds to pay the contractors and then uses the annual revenue from the tax hike to repay bondholders over several years.

Tax overrides pose more nuanced policy issues, ones that drawing increasing attention from some policymakers.

The first is equity. It’s sometimes easier for large districts to win voter approval for overrides. And in large districts with substantial property values, a small increase in the property tax rate yields significant revenue.

Smaller, poorer districts often face voter resistance and have lower property values, so an increase in the tax rate doesn’t produce much revenue.

Because of Colorado’s unique constitutional limits on government revenue and spending, paying the bills for education is a never-ending challenge for educators and policymakers. Learn more in this backgrounder, which includes links to our archive of funding stories.

State budget issues in recent years have squeezed the amount of extra support the state can provide to those poorer, smaller districts, heightening concerns about equity. Revenue from tax overrides isn’t included in the state K-12 funding formula, so large districts with overrides can supplement their budgets. Districts without override revenue have to survive on what the state formula gives them.

The second issue is untapped capacity. State law sets a cap on override revenue. That aggregate limit for districts that currently have overrides is about $1.6 billion.

But those districts currently raise only about $826 million a year from overrides.

Hamner sees that untapped money as one way to ease district budget problems. “At a time when the state budget is definitely strapped I’m really encouraging g districts to rally at the local level. …. I think people are more inclined to support local increases than statewide increases.”

She said she’s sometimes “frustrated” by district leaders who complain about tight state funding but won’t consider asking voters for local increases. “That’s where I would at least start, to remind districts that they have that option. …. I definitely would encourage them to go for the local ask.”

Hamner acknowledges the wide differences in districts’ capacity to raise local revenues. She said the legislature needs to look at the issue, but she hasn’t developed any specific proposals yet.

Urschel hopes that districts will think more seriously about overrides after they realize that state budget pressures may get worse and after this November’s board elections. “That’s when districts take stock of the financial picture and see if they need mill levy elections.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver teachers union shut out of new teacher orientation

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 09:09
on boarding Three have announced their candidacy for the Jefferson County school board. Yes, there is a regular — non-recall — school board election this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Candidates for the Thompson School District Board of Education may begin circulating nomination petitions on Wednesday. So far, four candidates have announced their intention to run for three of the four open seats. ( Reporter-Herald )

(dis)orientation The Denver teachers union said it was shut out of a program Monday welcoming new teachers to the district. ( CPR )

closing the opportunity gap A Pueblo elementary school principal organized a community meeting to address socioeconomic barriers his students face. ( KRDO )

Steady course Stability seems to have settled in at Falcon School District 49, which starts classes for the 2015-16 school year Tuesday. And that is making all the difference. ( Gazette )

Human Resources Teach for America, a national nonprofit that recruits college graduates and other professionals to work in schools in high poverty neighborhoods, has accepted three Colorado Springs-area locals into its 2015 teaching corps. ( Gazette )

a picture is worth 1,000 words This is what the Common Core — and life in general — looks like at three schools in the Silicon Valley. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

In Jeffco school board election — the one that’s not the recall — three vying for seats

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:27

Did you hear about the school board race in Jefferson County?

No, not the potential recall. The other one. Like, the regularly scheduled school board election that happens every two years.

So far, three candidates have announced their intentions to run for two seats on the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. Both seats are open because current board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper are not seeking re-election.

Competing for Fellman’s District 3 seat are former commercial real estate manager Kim Johnson and former teacher Ali Lasell. District 3 covers most of the northwest corner of Jefferson County, including the city of Arvada.

And so far running unopposed for Dahlkemper’s District 4 seat is former teacher Amanda Stevens. District 4 includes most of the city of Lakewood, which is directly west of Denver.

Ali Lasell

Because both of the open spots are currently occupied by members of the board’s left-leaning minority, the outcome won’t upset the current balance of the board, which has been run by Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Those three board members won their seats in 2013 and are now subject of a recall effort by a group of parents, community members, and teachers. If the recall effort is successful and placed on the November ballot, Jefferson County residents will have the opportunity to reshape the school board entirely.

Both Lasell and Stevens have been vocal critics of the school board’s majority. But in interviews with Chalkbeat, both said they want to run positive campaigns. And while they support the recall effort, they say they’re focusing on their individual campaigns.

Kim Johnson

When asked where there was agreement between themselves and the board majority, Stevens applauded board member Williams for her deciding vote to expand a science and technology program at a local middle school. She also said she appreciated Witt standing up for the Colorado Academic Standards during a discussion earlier this year.

And Lasell said she believed Williams was a true advocate for students with special needs. She also said she shared a desire to be fiscally responsible like Witt and Newkirk.

Johnson, in an interview, said she couldn’t answer where she would side with the board’s majority, because too often the information she would want to influence her vote wasn’t presented at school board meetings.

Amanda Stevens with her daughter

“I consider myself good at asking the right questions, listening carefully, and making rational decisions,” Johnson said. “It’s not about ideology for me.”

All three candidates are mothers of Jeffco Public Schools students and hope that civility can be restored after the November elections.

“I’m not interested in my kids or the other 86,000 kids in Jefferson County being a proxy for a political battle,” Stevens said. Adding, “I might have to be the first to compromise.”

Among the issues the candidates wish to address if they’re elected:

  • Lasell said she’d like to review how Jeffco recruits and retains teachers, which includes the district’s evaluation system.
  • Stevens said she’d like to provide more access to extracurricular opportunities to student’s from low-income homes.
  • Johnson said she’d like to establish a five-year plan supported by the entire board to address overcrowding in many of the district’s schools.

The candidates appear to agree broadly on some of the hottest topics in education. Each believe there has been too much testing, the state should fund schools more, and that charter schools and parent choice are important. As the campaign progresses, it will be the finer policy stances that will separate the candidates.

“I’m where everyone is on testing — there’s too much,” Lasell said.

“I would be really happy to see what I could with a fully funded school,” Stevens said.

“Choice is a critical piece of the Colorado education system,” Johnson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Kim Johnson’s previous career. She was a commercial real estate manager, not a broker. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Inside the battle for a school district’s salary records

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 09:57
Funding puzzle Gov. John Hickenlooper told school administrators that something must be done to improve Colorado K-12 funding — he just wasn’t specific on what exactly that something should be. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No hunger pains A one-year-old federal program that allows school districts to offer universal free meals at some or all schools is growing in Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Records battle More than five months after her initial request, former school board member and president Marilyn Flachman is getting the employee salary information she requested from Adams County School District 50. It took four Colorado Open Records Act letters, assistance from an attorney and $745. ( CFOIC )

NCLB Colorado senator Michael Bennett is leading the push to rewrite the long-standing federal education law No Child Left Behind. The legislation that is still being debated in Congress and many of the reforms started in Denver could soon be part of a new federal law. ( Denver Post )

PARCC All last week, educators from a dozen states crouched met in Denver to decipher the meaning of scores from a new era of standardized tests meant to be tough. But more states are backing out of the tests. ( Denver Post )

History repeating itself Last fall thousands of students in Jefferson County walked out of school in protest of a proposal by Board Member Julie Williams to review and possibly change the curriculum of Advanced Placement U.S. History. Now, the curriculum has been changed. ( 9News )

Out with the old Greeley-Evans School District 6 is in the midst of a huge asbestos removal project. ( Greeley Tribune )

Pikes Peak school board Pikes Peak region school districts will be holding information sessions for prospective board candidates. All 17 public school districts in the Pikes Peak region have seats open on the Nov. 3 ballot. ( The Gazette )

back to school As Pikes Peak schools start up again, students will notice new programs, new buildings, and in some cases, new superintendents. ( The Gazette )

New year, new look The House of Neighborly Service is helping kids prepare for the new school year by providing students with clothing and supplies. ( Reporter-Herald )

ACE-ing summer Greeley-Evans School District 6, with support from the city of Greeley, rolled out the Achieving Community Excellence internship program this year. The district paired students with local governments and businesses to give them a glimpse of real world jobs. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: A deep dive into the school-to-prison pipeline in St. Louis and beyond

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 16:40
  • A plan to integrate an under-enrolled California school in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood represents a new, more cooperative approach between school districts and housing developers. (Hechinger Report)
  • Comedians Key and Peele got a viral video hit by imagining a world in which teachers were treated the way we treat professional athletes that includes a draft, incentive pay and lots of classroom game tape. (YouTube)
  • A California high school teacher lists seven things he wishes the public understood about teaching, including that the “cult of the superteacher” is a myth. (Vox)
  • The first thing that schools often get wrong about their newly-arrived immigrant students is their names, a basic error that can have repercussions far into the students’ education. (Chalkbeat Indiana)

  • The Justice Department investigation found that vastly disparate treatment of black and white children in St. Louis County’s juvenile justice system that “cannot be explained by factors other than race.” (HuffPo
  • In an analysis of data from more than 60,000 schools, a sociologist found that schools with more poor students and students of color were more likely to respond to behavioral problems with criminalized disciplinary action rather than referring students to psychological or medical care. (Vox)   
  • Another new study finds that academically talented black and Hispanic students often turn away from the chance to attend elite universities in favor of schools closer to home with larger numbers of students of their race. (EWA’s Latino Ed Beat)
  • Here’s a quick guide to the research behind education buzzwords like motivation and grit. (The Atlantic)
  • The most popular high school plays over the past seven decades are “Our Town” and “You Can’t Take It With You,” plus more fun facts from an analysis of high school theater productions. (NPR Ed)
  • An intense summer program aimed at getting Mississippi third-graders who have repeatedly failed state reading tests on grade level is getting mixed results and a bit more time to succeed. (Hechinger Report)
  • A quarter of teachers who responded to a survey on teacher satisfaction reported that lack of opportunity to use the bathroom as an everyday stressor — and that seemingly small problem could have big implications for the profession. (The Atlantic)
  • A New York City education advocate sees parallels between Mayor Bill deBlasio’s fight with the car-sharing service Uber and his conflict with city charter school operators. (The 74 Million)
Categories: Urban School News

Hick: Educators need to make grassroots case for more money

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:48

Gov. John Hickenlooper told school administrators that something must be done to improve Colorado K-12 funding — he just wasn’t specific on what exactly that something should be.

School finance is usually Topic One when the governor appears before education advocacy groups, and that was the case Friday when he spoke to more than 700 people attending the summer conference of the Colorado Association of School Executives in Breckenridge.

“At some point we obviously are going to need to find additional resources and work on the negative factor and get more resources in the classroom,” the governor said, referring to the state’s school funding shortfall.

Doing that probably doesn’t include repealing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the constitutional provision that requires voter approval of tax increases and sets limits on annual increases in state spending, he said.

“I don’t think there’s a will to get that passed,” Hickenlooper said, saying advocates need to “work within” TABOR to increase school funding.

Creating public support for TABOR changes that would increase school funding needs to start at the grassroots, he said.

“All of us can collect the stories and the narratives … in a way that it [school funding] becomes about real people. … We’ve got to collect stories of individual people that are affected in a very, very significant way” by inadequate funding. “Just giving statistical numbers and trends has been insufficient to drive people to make changes.”

Educators are close to their communities and can drive public attitudes, he said. “You know what kind of stories it’s going to take to change their opinions.”

The governor also said voters want to know what they’ll get from any ballot measure to increase school funding. “What are voters going to get for it, what are they going to see, what outcomes?”

Hickenlooper said “deliverables” could include things like “more art and music … it could be a longer school day.”

Asked about equity and the continuing squeeze on funding for low-income and at-risk students, the governor said, “That’s got to be included in whatever solution we come up with.”

The governor also asked for CASE members’ support in persuading the legislature to change the classification of a fee imposed on hospitals to help provide Medicaid funding. Even though the fee’s uses are earmarked, it counts against the state’s overall revenue limit and has helped push revenues to the level that requires taxpayer refunds.

Reclassifying the fee so it didn’t count against the limit could free tax revenue for other spending. “We would be able to take some pretty big bites out of the negative factor,” Hickenlooper said.

A proposal to change the fee died in the 2015 legislature, but the administration plans to try again next session.

Speaking after Hickenlooper finished, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger said, “I heard the governor say he’s going to work with us to get more money for public schools. … He looks to use to create the network around the state to accomplish that.” He urged CASE members to get legislators into schools “so they understand the impact of inadequate funding.”

Messinger is co-chair of CASE’s lobbying committee and has been a prominent advocate for increased funding.

In 2005 voters approved a constitutional change that eased some of TABOR’s limits on state spending. But in 2013 voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed $1 billion increase in income taxes to provide more school funding.

Various civic and business groups are discussing ideas for a possible 2016 ballot measure on school funding and other programs, but no definitive proposals have yet emerged.

Categories: Urban School News

After hesitation, more Colorado districts join federal program to give out universal free meals

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:13

A one-year-old federal program that allows school districts to offer universal free meals at some or all schools is growing in Colorado.

A dozen districts, most small and rural, are planning to participate in what’s called “Community Eligibility Provision” or CEP this year. The program, which no longer requires families to fill out applications in order for kids to receive free breakfast or lunch, launched with eight districts last year.

At the time, administrators in some eligible districts passed on CEP because of concerns it could jeopardize funding for at-risk students. A year in, that trepidation appears to have eased a bit.

CEP represents a shift from giving meals only to students who fall below the government’s income bar to all students in high poverty schools or districts. The goal is to increase access to school meals with the hope of reducing hunger and some of the issues that go along with it, such as spotty attendance or discipline problems.

Julie Griffith, program specialist in the state education department’s Office of School Nutrition, said CEP has been a good public relations step in the districts that have signed on.

“It is offering free meals to all students so there’s no barriers really,” she said.

“There’s no stigma attached…whereas maybe there used to be.”

PHOTO: Sarah GlenMostly rural districts in southern Colorado have confirmed participation in CEP for 2015-16.

In the 18,000-student Pueblo City Schools, administrators sat out CEP last year, but after much discussion this spring got the go-ahead from the school board.

Jill Kidd, nutrition services director for Pueblo City Schools, said in addition to making parents happy, she expects the program to increase meal participation by 5 percent districtwide and bring much-needed funding to her department. .

“I need refrigeration. I need upgraded electrical. I need ovens…I need new vehicles,” she said.

“There’s just not that kind of money in the district’s general fund to do those things, so this is an opportunity to get that kind of funding.”

The hitch in the giddyup

While CEP has the potential to achieve goals that food service directors strive for—feeding hungry kids and bumping up meal participation—it comes with a risk.

That is, the loss of millions in at-risk funding if districts can’t successfully transition from the old system of tallying low-income students to the new system under CEP.

The old system was based on counting free and reduced-price meal applications, which parents were required to fill out in order for their kids to receive free or subsidized lunches.

But under CEP, things are different. The application is gone, replaced by a similar form called the “Family Economic Data Survey.” The trick is ensuring that parents fill it out even though their kids get free meals either way.

Kidd said the possibility that parents won’t comply and the district will lose at-risk funding is the biggest con of CEP.

“The superintendent is still quite nervous about it,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said the district’s principals know the importance of collecting the new forms and there are procedures in place to ensure that it happens.

Low-income schools

Schools or entire districts are eligible for the CEP program for four years if 40 percent or more of their students are identified as low-income because they receive certain types of government benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program), or are classified as homeless, migrant or in foster care.

CEP districts
Continuing participants from ’14-15

  • Harrison-19 schools
  • Alamosa-districtwide
  • Centennial-districtwide
  • Moffat Consolidated-districtwide
  • Mountain Valley-districtwide
  • Sierra Grande-districtwide
  • South Conejos-districtwide

New participants for 2015-16

  • Huerfano-districtwide
  • East Otero-2 of 3 schools
  • Rocky Ford-2 of 3 schools
  • Pueblo 60-districtwide
  • Center-districtwide

Discontinuing districts

  • Mesa County Valley 51-1 school

This “identified student percentage” is typically lower than a school or district’s free and reduced-price meal rate.

For example, Pueblo City Schools, the largest Colorado district participating in CEP this year, has an “identified student percentage” of 61 percent. In contrast, 72 percent of its nearly 18,000 students were eligible for free or subsidized meals last year.

While many districts don’t qualify for CEP on a districtwide basis, they are allowed implement the program in select schools that exceed the 40 percent threshold. That, however, has not been widely embraced in Colorado.

In part it’s because it requires two different systems of data collection to occur simultaneously—the traditional meal applications and the family economic data surveys. While a combined form is now available, there are still two sets of requirements to navigate.

Only three of this year’s 12 CEP districts–Harrison, East Otero and Rocky Ford—are opting for partial implementation. (All three districts qualify for the program districtwide, but stand to benefit more financially if they do it at their highest needs schools rather than all schools.)

Griffith said the education department’s goal for next year will be to recruit more districts for partial CEP implementation. This year the focus was districts eligible for full implementation, she said.

The deadline for CEP adoption this year is August 31.


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: AP U.S. History gets — another — rewrite

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 08:40
PARCCING in denver Denver is ground zero for setting the performance levels of students in Colorado and other states on last spring’s PARCC language arts and math tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Central Quesion In a letter to parents, the Aurora Public Schools superintendent hailed Aurora Central High School's new principal as a strong leader. ( Aurora Sentinel )

(ICYMI: Here's our Q&A with the principal Gerardo De La Garza.) ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Revising (AP) History (Again) The College Board, designers of the Advanced Placement program for high school students, has released an update to its U.S. History course that addresses the concerns of conservatives, including Jeffco school board member Julie Williams, who said it focused too much on the negative aspects of the country. ( Newsweek )

Pundits cheered (and said the Common Core could learn a lesson) ... ( Ed Week )

... and jeered. ( Think Progress )

Human Resources When state school superintendents decide to leave their posts in favor of running districts, it usually isn't a step down. ( Ed Week )

Two cents Early results hint that the Common Core is helping close the some academic gaps. ( US News & World Report )

Title I funding should stay with the poorest schools and not derail the work on rewriting No Child Left Behind. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

For a few weeks, Denver at center of PARCC testing world

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 09:50

The basement conference rooms of a Denver hotel are ground zero for setting the performance levels of students in Colorado and other states on last spring’s PARCC language arts and math tests.

Dozen of educators gathered Monday to begin setting the five performance levels – sometimes called “cut scores” – for the two sets of tests given to Colorado students in grades 9-11.

“It’s exhausting,” said Marti Shirley, a high school math teacher in Mattoon, Ill. “But it’s invigorating in a way, too.”

Shirley and about 120 other teachers, administrators and college professors are meeting in Denver this week to set cut scores for high school language arts and math tests. Similar panels will gather in Denver during the last two weeks of August to set proficiency levels for elementary and middle school test results.

The educators do their work in panels of about 20 members each. Six groups are working in Denver this week.

Officials from PARCC and a group of panelists met with reporters Wednesday to explain the process and reflect on what it means.

Because the PARCC tests are designed to be harder than Colorado’s old TCAP exams and other states’ past tests, smaller percentages of students are expected to be ranked in the top proficiency levels. Panelists were asked repeatedly about that gap between how students actually perform and how they should perform.

They all came down on the side of setting high expectations.

“We’ve got to raise the standard if we want to do better. … The only way to do that is to keep raising the bar,” said Robin Helms, a math teacher at Wray High School on Colorado’s eastern plains. She’s serving on one of the panels.

“Students only give you what you ask them, so you have to push,” said Katherine Horodowich, an English teacher at Hot Springs High School in Truth or Consequences, N.M. “We have to set the bar higher.”

Shirley said there’s wide agreement among educators “that these standards are attainable. Are they attainable tomorrow? That’s not the case. … Trust us. Give us the benefit of the doubt that we know what we’re doing.”

The overall goal of the Common Core State Standards, on which the tests are based, and of the tests themselves is that high school students should be ready for college or to go to work and that younger students are prepared for the work in the next grade.

How performance setting works

The panels will be setting the scores needed for a student to be ranked in one of five performance levels.

“They are making recommendations about how good is good enough,” explained Mary Ann Snider, a Rhode Island education official who works with PARCC.

Each PARCC member state selected 20 educators to serve on the panels. The high school panels started this week with two days of intensive training and began setting levels on Wednesday.

The five levels

  • Level 5: Distinguished understanding of subject matter
  • Level 4: Strong understanding
  • Level 3: Adequate understanding
  • Level 2: Partial understanding
  • Level 1: Minimal understanding

A key tool for the panels are the detailed “performance level descriptors” that lay out the knowledge and skills that students need to demonstrate to be rated in each performance level. (See an example of a descriptor as the bottom of this article.)

Here’s how the panels work:

  • Members work through test question one by one.
  • Panelists individually decide what scores on a particular question should be assigned to each performance level.
  • Members then share their individual scores with each other, learn what the group’s median score was for each level and also learn the median score of all students in a particular grade on a test.
  • Based on that shared knowledge, individual panelists reconsider their individual decisions, and the whole process is repeated until the group reaches consensus.

The panelists who met with reporters had positive things to say about the process.

“None of us are shy. We have no problem telling people we disagree,” said Loretta Holloway, an English professor at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.

“It’s not like we all sit down and make one judgment. It’s a conversation,” said Helms. “We’re spending a whole week looking at this.”

What went on before

Before the panelists could begin work, the tests taken by 5 million children had to be scored.

The Pearson testing company used about 14,000 scorers at home or at more than a dozen centers around the country to score the tests, which took about a month per content area. Scoring was done by grade level, not by state. And individual scorers worked on individual questions, not entire tests.

Scorers assigned points for each answer, which could be as many as six points, depending on the question. To be hired, scorers had to have a four-year degree in a relevant field and pass a scoring “test” after being trained. Samples of scorers’ work were double checked by testing experts.

What’s next Learn more

After the high school panels finish their work, the education commissioners from the eight PARCC governing board states (including Colorado) will meet to review the recommended cut scores. The commissioners can make changes. Higher education executives from the states also will review the cut scores on high school tests.

The education commissioners will meet again Sept. 9 to review the middle and elementary school cut points.

Public release of scores, including parent reports similar to the one pictured above, will come in late fall or early winter, PARCC officials said Wednesday. In future years results should be available in June or July.

Colorado uses test scores, plus growth data based on multiple years of scores, as part of the system that rates schools and districts. A law passed by the 2015 legislature created a one-year timeout in the accreditation system, so PARCC scores from last spring won’t be used to rate schools and districts next year.

The state’s non-PARCC tests for science and social studies use four performance levels – distinguished, strong, moderate and limited. Students with distinguished or strong command are considered to be ready for college work, or for the next grade.

The State Board of Education will have to fine-tune the existing accreditation system in order to account for PARCC’s five performance levels.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Agreement reached in lawsuit over religious activities in Florence schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 09:03
diversity A CU professor says that while recruiting a more diverse teaching force is an important goal, policymakers and school and district leaders also need to think about how to keep them in the classroom. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Church and school The Florence-Penrose School District and a former teacher have reached an out-of-court agreement that would drop the federal lawsuit presented by the teacher and limit religious activities by district personnel and in school facilities. ( Daily Record, Chieftain, Denver Post )

Getting ready for school The Thompson School District is helping parents save money by creating a pared-down, universal school supply list for all elementary schools. ( Reporter-Herald )

Colorado Springs car dealerships are collecting school supplies for kids in need. ( Gazette )

(Re)Call Me Maybe The Jefferson County school board recall is a microcosm of polarized politics. ( KUNC )

Teacher talks A Greeley school board work session Wednesday featured little sympathy for the Greeley teachers union, prompting some union representatives to ask for meetings with board members. ( Greeley Tribune )

Training teachers Adams State University and the Boettcher Teacher Residency Program are partnering to launch a new master’s degree program for teachers. ( Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

CU professor on teachers of color: “We’re bringing them in, but we’re losing them”

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 19:08

In Colorado, close to 90 percent of teachers are white, compared to just 57 percent of the student population. While a handful of programs across the state have sprung up to address that discrepancy, one academic thinks more can and should be done.

Terrenda White, an assistant professor of education at the University of Colorado Boulder who has studied urban education and the teacher workforce, says that while recruiting a more diverse teaching force is an important goal, policymakers and school and district leaders also need to think about how to keep them in the classroom.

According to a Chalkbeat analysis of teacher turnover data, an increasing number of Colorado teachers are leaving their classrooms in Colorado, which is causing some school districts, including Denver Public Schools, to rethink how they recruit and retain teachers.

Chalkbeat sat down with White for a conversation about why teacher diversity matters, what drives teachers to stay or leave their schools, and how policies intended to improve schools may have led to more teachers of color leaving the classroom. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Why is teacher diversity an issue worth focusing on?
We know our kids in U.S. schools are diverse, and increasingly so. But our teaching force does not look that way.

Teachers of color bring so much to the classroom. They act as role models for all students, not just students of color. And there’s evidence that teachers of color become cultural brokers for students of diverse backgrounds, which means they tend to have insight on issues of race, issues of racism and discrimination, the cultural practices in the homes of Latino or African-American families, and they infuse some of that knowledge into their teaching, their relationships with parents. That matters. There’s also evidence that the representation of kids in gifted programs is higher when that school has more teachers of color.

We are actually recruiting teachers of color at a higher rate than we were before because of programs like the Pathways2Teaching program here in Colorado. The issue isn’t that we aren’t bringing them into the profession. The issue is that they’re leaving at a higher rate. And that’s a new phenomenon.

These are policy-related trends. That means we can do something about that.

PHOTO: University of Colorado BoulderTerrenda White

Why are teachers of color more likely to leave the classroom?
Some of the research suggests that teachers of color leave at higher rates than white teachers not because of the students. It’s not even salary. It’s the lack of autonomy, lack of decision-making authority, having trouble with discipline policies at their schools, as well as poor leadership.

These are all things we can address. They’re things we can change in terms of how we organize schools and how we make teachers of color feel like they can make a valuable contribution .

In order to have an education that supports a diverse democracy, we have to have democracy for diverse educators. And what that means is creating school conditions that allow diverse educators’ voices and their practices to matter and shape their schools.

This comes from survey responses come from Richard Ingersoll’s work using nationally representative surveys from the U.S. Department of Education, where he looks not only at turnover patterns but at the reasons teachers indicate.

He finds that issues around autonomy and school conditions are a thing for all teachers. But it’s distinct between white teachers and teachers of color.

Another piece of this is that historically, teachers of color have been placed in or choose to work in hard-to-staff schools. Now that they’re leaving at unprecedented rates, we have to think about how we’ve structured those schools in ways that don’t give teachers as much control.

How do charter schools fit into the issue of representation in the teaching force?
Since the early 1990s, the number of charters has grown exponentially, especially in urban areas. That’s where teachers of color tend to work. Nationally, there are more teachers of color in charter than in traditional district schools.

Some of the concerns are that charters have much higher turnover rates than traditional district schools. So they may be providing options for teachers of color to work, but they have certain conditions that may not be lending themselves to the retention of those very teachers. It’s a double-edged sword.

Is this just an urban schools issue?
No, it’s not. We know diversity in suburbia is alive and well. They have just as much sake in diversifying the teaching force as in urban communities.

But overall, I think we spend a lot more of our resources and research trying to improve recruitment and the pipeline. But we know from the data that it’s actually retention that’s the issue. We’re bringing them in but we’re losing them.

It seems that some of the schools that have been the subject of turnaround efforts are the schools that are the most likely to have the kind of teaching environment you describe as problematic. So do efforts to improve schools actually lead to these kinds of working conditions?
There is some new research being formed around the issue that, with all of our effort to improve low-performing schools, these are schools that often happen to have teachers of color. These are the schools that are being hit the hardest with accountability policies. We don’t know this from research yet, but this may be a driving factor in the underrepresentation of teachers of color, who are leaving at a higher rate.

On the one hand we say we want diversity, we need to support schools that support teachers of color, but we’ve turned a blind eye to the push-out of teachers of color who didn’t want to leave.

The case in New Orleans [where teachers in most of the city’s public schools were laid off in the wake of a state takeover of schools after Hurricane Katrina] is a symbolic case of, here we are restructuring schools in a particular way that’s disenfranchised a particular group of teachers at the same time we’re saying we want diversity in teaching.

I think some would push back and say, well, yes, they were teachers of color, but were they doing a good job?

The ethics around evaluating teachers and defining teacher quality gets complicated with issues with race when we look at the actual teachers who are losing jobs and who’s gaining jobs.

The standard of what’s considered a failing school can shift. There are issues around how we evaluate schools that isn’t quite clear.

Also, in some places, novice teachers who don’t have a credential yet are sometimes getting hired in places where they’re not defined as highly qualified. That’s happening at the same time we’re pushing out as highly qualified teachers.

Are there efforts to improve the situation that you’d point to?
NYU adopted scholarships for teachers of color to attend education graduate schools schools. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation also has a fellowship.

I think that where we are, though, is that we’ve identified that retention is the issue, and the next step forward is research to determine what has a better outcome in terms of retention.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Is a Japanese style of budgeting helping Dougco schools save money?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 09:51
(Re)Call Me Maybe Organizers behind an effort to recall three school board members turned in double the amount of signatures required to put the issue in front of voters. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The county clerk now has 15 days to certify the signatures. There will be another 15-day period for challenges. ( Denver Post, KDVR )

Board President Ken Witt: "I'm disappointed that there is a distraction, but we're going to remain focused on what we heard loudly from voters (in 2013)." ( 9News )

Board member Julie Williams: "I believe this is an opportunity and I am looking forward to engaging with the voters of Jefferson County about the issues they care about. This is not about me, this is about making sure our Jeffco students receive an excellent education and have bright futures." ( Arvada Press )

starting early Some preschool parents in Aurora have made an odd request to school and district officials: homework. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

dollars and sense A Japanese system of budgeting and decision making is leading to savings in Douglas County schools, officials reported. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Learning from experince Middle school students in Greeley spent part of their summer vacation with elders at nursing homes. ( Greeley Tribune )

A different type of learning Here's why there are few — if any textbooks — at this Douglas County school. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Healthy schools Colorado students are breathing cleaner air thanks to a program that aims to reduce emissions cars in school parking lots. ( Durango Herald )

Global learning About 130 students from more than 30 countries are learning how U.S. schools work in New York City. ( Durango Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Organizers say they have double the signatures necessary for a Jeffco school board recall

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 21:08

GOLDEN —  Jefferson County residents want an electoral do-over in November, supporters of an effort to recall three school board members in suburban Denver said today when they turned in double the necessary signatures to put the issue in front of voters.

In the 17 days since the recall effort was launched, more than 37,000 Jefferson County residents signed the petitions to seek a recall of school board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, organizers with Jeffco United For Action said outside the county clerk and recorder’s office.

Organizers had 60 days to collect just 15,000 signatures per board member.

“The message is clear, the people of Jefferson County want to hold this board majority accountable and demand a recall vote on November 3,” said Tina Gurdikian, one of the Jeffco United’s leaders.

The county clerk now has 15 days to validate those signatures. There will be another 15-day period for any resident to challenge the signatures. At that point the clerk may set a date for the recall election.

State law leaves some room for ambiguity when it comes to putting voter initiatives on the ballot. But advocates of the recall believe they’ve hit the sweet spot on a complicated timeline in order to put the decision before voters in November.

PREVIOUSLY: Why the Jeffco recall effort matters to a classroom near you

“As parents, as a community, we did everything we could to put his on the November ballot,” said organizer Wendy McCord. “Now it’s up to our opponents to respect the voters and put this on the November ballot.”

If the recall is not placed on the general ballot, then Jeffco Public Schools will have to pick up the costly six-figure tab for a special election.

Jeffco school board president Witt, who is being targeted for recall, said he welcomes the opportunity to have a dialogue with the public about his track record. But he declined to discuss whether he had any plans to counter the recall effort with a campaign of his own.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “We heard loudly from voters that they want a focus on academic achievement, an expansion of choice, and ensuring we have accountability. I intend to remain focused on those goals. I am committed to ensuring Jeffco students get the great education they deserve.”


Categories: Urban School News

Homework for preschoolers? Aurora parents make the case

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:57

A group of preschool parents from Aurora Public Schools made a surprising request last spring.

They asked administrators to give their 3- and 4-year-olds homework.

More specifically, they asked for a year-round homework calendar detailing things they should be working on at home with their kids — not hours of pencil-and-paper work, but rather daily activities with an educational twist. They also asked the district’s Colorado Preschool Program Advisory Council to add a section on homework to the parent handbook.

These requests, which district officials have agreed to address, may sound unusual in an age when many parents and educators worry that inappropriate academic work is weaseling its way into kindergarten and preschool.

But they also bring up compelling questions about the definition and value of homework, and how those things should be articulated for both parents and teachers. They also raise the thorny issue of how homework resources will impact children whose parents don’t have the time or ability to work with them at home.

Nevertheless, for Aurora parents active in the recent campaign, homework represents a commonsense approach to helping their children succeed in a district and metro area studded with race- and income-based achievement gaps.

“We’re just looking for simple things,” said Diana Castro, whose 4-year-old daughter Miranda attends the Jamaica Child Development Center. “Most of us, which are minorities, don’t have access to printers and computers, so we don’t really know what to do to help them.”

Getting started

The Aurora parents active in the preschool homework campaign came together through a nonprofit called RISE Colorado. The group, founded in 2012 by two Teach for America alumni and a third co-founder, aims to educate and empower low-income parents and parents of color.

More than 80 percent of Aurora students are minorities, about 70 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and more than one-third are English language learners. Districtwide, fewer than half of students scored proficient or advanced on state reading tests in 2014.

The preschool parents banded together last fall after RISE held education events at the district’s preschool centers detailing the “opportunity gaps” children would encounter during their educational careers.

As the parents talked together about their biggest concerns, homework quickly rose to the top of the list.

There was no consistency, they agreed. Some teachers didn’t send any assignments or activity suggestions home at all. Others did, but sporadically and they didn’t always tie in to what children were learning at school.

Parent Sipinga Fifita-Nau described getting homework “here and there” last year for her middle child Lisia, who will soon begin her second year at Laredo Child Development Center. Sometimes, the mother of three turned to Pinterest to come up with activities for Lisia.

“With 3- and 4-year-olds you’re educating them about the habit of doing homework,” she said, echoing a sentiment voiced by several parents.

RISE co-CEO Veronica Palmer said while the organization coached parents on how to raise concerns, navigate district bureaucracy and join decision-making bodies, it was parents who spearheaded the homework charge.

Castro, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at age 15, said before getting involved in RISE, “I didn’t even think about talking to the principal about these things that I wanted to happen.”

The impact of homework

For older students, the research on homework is mixed, without clear connections to increased achievement. For the youngest learners, there’s little data either way.

In part, it’s a terminology issue. That’s because what some people might call preschool homework — things like counting shapes around the house, thinking of words that start with “A,” or reading books together — others would  call “nurturing,” “playing” or “spending quality time.”

Kyle Snow, director of the Center for Applied Research at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said “parent engagement” is the best way to think of homework at the preschool level.

“We know that engaging families in children’s learning, helps child development,” he said.

A 2013 report on parent engagement by the National Center for Children in Poverty demonstrated the positive effects of parent-led extracurricular activities. Things like playing alphabet games, telling stories, doing art projects, or visiting the library were associated with improved language, literacy, social, and learning skills in preschoolers. Similarly, parent-child activities like board games, counting, and comparing amounts of items, were associated with preschool math skills.

One potential drawback to these activities when they’re framed as homework is the assumption they makes about parents’ ability to comply. For example, notes or written materials sent home by teachers assume that parents can read proficiently, that they understand the language in which instructions are written, and that they have time to work with children after school.

District spokeswoman Patti Moon said homework calendar activities are meant to be easy and quick for parents to undertake.

Palmer acknowledged that some parents, perhaps some from the district’s large refugee community, may not be able to read the homework calendars, but said they are a resourceful group likely to seek help from friends, neighbors or teachers.

In addition, with some parents already doing enrichment activities on their own, she believes the daily calendars will better equip the parents who weren’t doing much at home.

“To me its closing the gap as opposed to widening it,” she said.

Regardless of what form homework takes, Snow said districts should have homework policies for students at every grade level, including preschool.

“If there’s no policy at all that’s the worst-case scenario for everyone involved,” he said.

While there are no current plans to establish a school board-approved homework policy in Aurora, Moon said by 2016-17, the preschool handbook will include “language about how individual sites support homework.”

Homework in a cultural context

With Aurora students coming from more than 100 countries, it’s no surprise that some RISE parents come to the homework debate with different cultural perspectives.

Kumar and Shova Dahal, who immigrated here from Nepal several years ago and have a 4-year-old daughter at Laredo, talked about the “homework culture” in which they were raised.

“Since childhood we have been bombarded by homework, no matter how small you are,” said Kumar, who is a business development manager at an electronics company.

“That’s how we grew up and we come here, it’s a little bit of a shock,” said Shova.

The Dahals said in addition to homework that aligns with school lessons, they want parents to be held accountable for ensuring it gets done—perhaps by having teachers check off the work each day.

Snow said both parents and teachers should be accountable to each other, but how that looks will depend on continuing conversations in the district.

“Homework is a product of the relationship between the school and the family,” he said. “This all has to be driven by a dialogue about what the relationship should look like.”

The response

School and district administrators say they are happy to work with parents on the homework issue and have them as members of the Colorado Preschool Program Advisory Committee.

Laredo’s principal, Cynthia Andrews, said that when parents asked to meet with her in the spring she wasn’t expecting homework to be their focus, but she’s glad they brought it up.

“I love that they came to me,” she said. “I knew it was important and knew … I wanted to start engaging parents more in those conversations.”

She quickly convened a homework committee of about 10 staff members and is working with parents to develop a “homework brochure” that will describe what form preschool homework will take and what research recommends.

“We wanted it to be the right kind of homework, the things that are developmentally appropriate for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.”

Andrews knows that some parents might not feel it’s rigorous enough.

“Even when we say this is our idea of homework, I’m not sure it will match their idea,” she said. “I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out.”

For now, the RISE parents are pleased with the results of their efforts. They say the summer homework calendar, published in both English and Spanish, and the eventual handbook language on homework represent a good start.

Perhaps even better was the reception they got from district staff—a bit hesitant at first, but ultimately receptive.

“They heard us. That’s the main thing,” said Shova Dahal. “They are really respectful of what we want for our kids.”


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado’s biggest districts use teacher evaluations to drive pay

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 09:55
Evaluations Colorado school districts are using teacher evaluations to drive pay, even as feedback on the evaluation systems themselves is mixed. ( Denver Post )

Opt Outs Most Colorado school districts appear to have had more than 5 percent of their students opt out of standardized tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Q&A The new principal tasked with leading Aurora Central High School during a time of rapid change talks about his hopes for the school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing, Testing The first year of mostly-online standardized testing in Colorado went smoothly, district tech administrators report. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Data Use Jeffco Public Schools is one of a group of 27 school districts focusing on creating guidelines for the use of students' data. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

AVID Student leaders from a college readiness program called AVID say they're learning about more than academics. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Incentives A program in Greeley pays students to keep them in high school. ( KUNC )

Supplies The Action Center School Supply Distribution has the gear needy students need to start the school year at discounted prices. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

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