Future of Schools

Wednesday Churn: Metro name change

Updated 2 p.m. – The trustees of Metro State College voted 5-2 today to change the college’s name to Denver State University.

It will require legislative approval to change the name officially, and Denver Democrats Sen. Mike Johnston and Rep. Crisanta Duran reportedly will introduce a bill to do that.

Metro is preparing to offer its first master’s degrees, and the name change also is seen as a way to raise the college’s image in general. (Get a full report on the trustee meeting from The Metropolitan student news service.)

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The seven members of the State Board of Education will be busier today than a teacher with a 40-student classroom.

Their agenda includes two charter school appeals, a proposed rule requiring districts to notify parents when employees are arrested, a possibly precedent-setting innovation application from the Kit Carson district and an interesting but non-binding resolution urging school boards to do more with less.

Here’s the schedule:

10:30 a.m. – Hearing and decision on the appeal by the Lotus School for Excellence at Longmont of the St. Vrain Valley school board’s decision not to award a charter.

1:30 p.m. – Hearing and decision in the case of the Youth and Family Academy vs. the Pueblo City schools. The academy is an alternative education charter that serves high-risk students. It’s had a long-running dispute with the district and wants the board to order the district to give it a three-year renewal.

3:30 p.m. – Hearing and possible vote on a proposed regulation that would require schools to notify parents within 24 hours when an employee has been arrested or charged with any felony or any of several sex-related misdemeanors. This issue has been pushed by Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, stemming from past notification controversies in the Poudre schools. Text of proposed regulation.

4 p.m. – The board will discuss and vote on the innovation application from the tiny Kit Carson district, which wants exemption for a variety of state rules, including some provisions of the educator effectiveness law. Application (part 1 and part 2); CDE staff recommendations.

No time specified – Colorado school districts are bracing for big budget cuts, and a proposed board resolution calls on them to be creative, saying, “Some of the standard structures and practices in place in many Colorado school district represent inefficient uses of tax dollars, as well as obstacles to secondary-school completion and increased academic achievement for all learners.”

The resolution continues, “The Colorado State Board of Education encourages Colorado’s local Boards of Education to implement cost efficiencies” and follow recent advice by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan “to improve the productivity of the education system through smart, innovative and courageous actions including, but not limited to” streamlined administration, competitive contracting, digital learning, enhanced education options and “performance-based compensation systems.” Full text.

The board gets to dial back a bit on Thursday, when adjournment is set for 1 p.m. and the agenda consists mostly of reports.

What else is on tap:

Douglas County school board members have scheduled a special meeting to begin at 7 p.m. at the district’s administration building in Castle Rock, 620 Wilcox St. School board members are expected to vote on a resolution directing district staff to explore putting a tax increase on the November ballot and Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen will make a presentation on district choice options, including vouchers, though no vote is expected. Click here to check the agenda.

The St. Vrain Valley school board convenes at 7 p.m. at the Educational Services Center, 395 South Pratt Parkway, Longmont.

Good reads from elsewhere:

New tactic: NYC considers another option – turnaround, rather than shutdown – of failing schools. New York Times.

Using Youtube: Students at a Maryland high school post fight videos to draw attention to safety concerns. Washington Post.

Follow the money

Groups with a stake in Colorado’s school board elections raise $1.5 million to influence them

The nation's second largest teachers union is spending $300,000 to support a slate of candidates running for the Douglas County school board. Those candidates posed for pictures at their campaign kick-off event are from left, Krista Holtzmann, Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, and Kevin Leung. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Union committees and various political groups have raised nearly $1.5 million so far to influence the outcome of school board elections across the state, according to new campaign finance reports.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform, a political nonprofit, are spending big in an effort to help elect school board members that represent their positions.

It’s become a common storyline in school board elections in Colorado and across the country: On one side, teachers unions hoping to elect members that will improve working conditions and teacher pay, among other things. On the other, education reformers who generally back candidates who support expanding school choice for families, more autonomy for schools and accountability systems that measure school quality, usually based on test scores.

The complete fundraising and spending picture, however, is often murky and incomplete.

State law lays out different rules and disclosure requirements for different types of political committees. The most prevalent this election year appears to be independent expenditure committee, which can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money but are forbidden from coordinating with candidates. (Campaign finance reports for the candidates’ campaigns are due at midnight Tuesday).

Both the union and reform groups operate independent committees. Those committees must report donations and expenditures to the secretary of state. But the donations captured in campaign finance reports are often huge lump sums from parent organizations, which aren’t required to disclose their donations under federal law. (Dues collected out of teachers’ paychecks are often the source for political contributions from unions.)

Several groups are spending money in Denver, where four of the seven school board seats are up for election. The ten candidates vying for those four seats include incumbents who agree with the district’s direction and challengers who do not. The Denver teachers union has endorsed candidates pushing for change.

The Every Student Succeeds group, which has raised almost $300,000 in union donations, is spending the most on one Denver candidate, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running for a seat in southwest Denver, and on a slate of four Aurora school board candidates endorsed by Aurora’s teachers union.

The group’s largest donations came from the Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, a fund from the Colorado Education Association. Aurora’s teachers union contributed $35,000 to the committee. The DCTA Fund, a fund created by Denver’s teachers union, also contributed $85,000 to the committee.

Some of the group’s union money is also going to a slate of school board candidates in Mesa County and another in Brighton.

The Students for Education Reform Action Committee has spent equal amounts on two Denver candidates. One, Angela Cobián, is running in Denver’s District 2 against Gaytán and has been endorsed by incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who isn’t running again. The other is Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent running in northeast Denver’s District 4. The funds, which were collected during a previous campaign cycle and carried over into this one, have gone toward phone banking, T-shirts and campaign literature.

The group has endorsed Cobián, Espiritu and incumbent Barbara O’Brien, who holds an at-large seat. It did not endorse a candidate in the central-east Denver District 3 race, explaining that it prioritizes “working with communities that reflect the backgrounds and experiences of our members, which are typically low-income and students of color.”

Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado, a committee affiliated with the pro-reform Stand for Children organization, has spent a sizable portion of the more than $100,000 it’s raised thus far on online advertisements and mailers for O’Brien. It has also spent money on mailers for incumbent Mike Johnson, who represents District 3.

Stand for Children has endorsed O’Brien, Johnson and Cobián. The group chose not to endorse in the three-person District 4 race, explaining that both incumbent Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed its “threshold for endorsement.”

Another big spender is Raising Colorado, a group reporting $300,000 in donations from New York’s Education Reform Now — the national affiliate of Democrats for Education Reform. That group is spending money on mailers and digital media for four candidates in Denver: Espiritu, Cobián, Johnson and O’Brien, as well as two candidates for Aurora’s school board: Gail Pough and Miguel In Suk Lovato.

In Douglas County, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers unions has pumped $300,000 into a committee backing a slate of candidates that opposes the current direction of the state’s third largest school district.

The committee, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, has spent most of its war chest on producing TV, digital and mail advertising by firms in Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

The Douglas County arm of AFT lost its collective bargaining agreement with the district in 2012.

A group of parents that also supports the union-backed slate have formed a committee, as well. So far it has raised $42,750, records show. Unlike the union donation, most donations to this committee were small donations, averaging about $50 per person.

The parent committee has spent about $28,000 on T-shirts, bumper stickers, postage and yard signs, records show.

what is a good school?

New York policymakers are taking a closer look at how they evaluate charter schools

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Erica Murphy, school director of Brownsville Ascend Lower Charter School in New York, oversees students in a fourth-grade English class.

New York is rethinking how it judges whether charter schools are successful and deserve to remain open — a discussion that comes as some top education policymakers have asked tough questions about the privately managed schools.

The state education department currently decides which of the more than 70 charter schools it oversees can stay open based largely based on their test scores and graduation rates, though other factors like family involvement and financial management are also reviewed. A set of changes now being considered could add additional performance measures, such as the share of students who are chronically absent and student survey results.

Policymakers also discussed whether to change how they calculate charter-school student enrollment and retention.

The move — which got its first public discussion Monday during a Board of Regents meeting and is expected to become a formal proposal in December — would bring charter schools in line with a shift underway in how the state judges district-run schools. Under the new federal education law, the board has moved away from using test scores as the main metric for evaluating schools and will begin to track absences and eventually suspensions.

Since state’s current system for evaluating charter schools was last revised in 2015, the board has added several new members and elected a new leader, Betty Rosa. Several members at a previous board meeting questioned the enrollment practices at a charter school in Brooklyn.

At Monday’s meeting, some suggested the schools attain high test scores partly by serving fewer high-needs students — and that the system for evaluating charters should take this into account.  

For instance, Regent Kathleen Cashin implied at Monday’s meeting that some charter schools achieve high test scores by pushing out students. Their motivation, she said, “is not pedagogic, I’ll tell you that.” She suggested that, in addition to tracking how well charter schools retain students, the state should survey parents who leave those schools to find out why.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rosa suggested Monday that it’s unfair to compare charter schools that serve few high-needs students to traditional schools.

Charter schools receive autonomy from many rules, but in return they agree to meet certain performance targets — or risk closure if they do not. The state judges charters based on a variety of metrics, everything from their enrollment figures to how they respond to parent concerns. However, test scores and graduation rates are “the most important factor when determining to renew or revoke a school’s charter,” according to state documents.

Even if the state adds new measures that move beyond test scores, those will still hold the most weight, according to state officials.

The state is also considering whether to change how it measures charter schools’ enrollment and retention targets. Currently, schools must set targets for students with disabilities, English learners, and those eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch. If they fail to meet those targets, they must show they are making yearly progress towards meeting that goal.

During the state’s presentation, officials also floated the idea of a “fiscal dashboard,” which would display charter schools’ financial information. They also said they may compare charter high school graduation rates and Regents exam scores with those of the districts where they’re located, instead of using only the state average or their targets as a comparison point.