Chalkbeat https://chalkbeat.org Essential education reporting across America Mon, 02 Mar 2020 01:14:28 -0500 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Parents of students with autism want behavior therapists allowed in Colorado classrooms https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/03/01/colorado-aba-therapy-legislation-autism/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/03/01/colorado-aba-therapy-legislation-autism/#respond Mon, 02 Mar 2020 00:56:58 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247818 School districts are pushing back, arguing that they need to retain authority over deciding which services students need to be successful.

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David Quinlan’s 9-year-old son, who has autism, has experienced great progress in how he communicates and copes thanks to 30 to 35 hours a week of applied behavior analysis therapy.

But the only way Quinlan can fit that much specialized therapy into the week is to pull his son out of his Cherry Creek School District classroom halfway through the day, every day. Even so, he doesn't get home until well after 6 p.m.

“If therapy happened in school, his day would look a lot more like a normal kid,” Quinlan said. “He could go to karate or swimming after school and be home in time for a normal dinner.”

Quinlan and other parents of children with autism are pushing for legislation that would require all school districts to allow applied behavior analysis therapists into the classroom. Parents say ABA therapists can be more effective when they work with children in the classroom and can be an asset to general education teachers.

But school districts are pushing back, arguing that they need to retain authority over who comes into the classroom and over deciding what services children need to be successful at school. The Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Rural Alliance, and the Consortium of Directors of Special Education all oppose the bill.

So does the organization that oversees the Medicaid Student Health Services program in Colorado. Its director is worried the legislation could open the door to other private providers in the classroom and undermine a funding model that has paid for school nurses, health aides, and medical supplies that benefit all Colorado students.

Faced with so much opposition, bill sponsor state Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat, is planning to significantly amend the bill when it’s set to be heard Tuesday by the House Education Committee. Instead of requiring that therapists be allowed into the classroom, it would require school districts to set a written policy on whether to allow them.

It’s a concession to the principle of local control for school boards — and to political reality, Froelich said.

One parent called the change “heartbreaking,” even as she said she would still support the modified bill.

“My hope is that it will still move us forward,” said Maureen Elliott, who said she was once told she would have to choose between school and therapy for her son, who has autism caused by tuberous sclerosis complex. “Maybe an inch and not the mile we hoped for. If we have a written policy, at least that’s something we can lean on.”

Elliott’s son J.R. gets 24 hours a week of behavioral therapy and has experienced major regressions when he hasn’t had access to it, she said. Beyond the scheduling problems, J.R. needs more help during the school day, she said. Transitions are particularly hard for him, as they are for many children with autism.

J.R. at Special Olympics
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Maureen Elliott

Applied behavior analysis therapy is frequently recommended for children with autism. It can help them learn how to communicate and interact with others, gain basic life skills, and, critically, manage the frustration that can lead to angry outbursts. ABA therapists often work alongside children with autism in preschools, helping them apply their developing social skills in context.

But most Colorado school districts don’t allow outside providers, including ABA therapists, into classrooms. Many parents say their children go over a cliff in terms of support when they enter kindergarten.

Froelich said the fact that Medicaid and private insurance covers ABA therapy made it seem like a no-brainer to admit them into the classroom. Her original bill focuses on practical concerns, such as requiring outside providers to undergo background checks and carry liability insurance.

“When these parents first came to me, I said, ‘There are a whole host of things we wish our schools could do, but they're chronically underfunded,’” Froelich said. “But this therapy is already covered by Medicaid. There is an opportunity here to integrate this without adding to the school budget.”

But school districts still oppose it.

Lucinda Hundley, head of the special education directors group, said the teams that develop educational plans for children with disabilities — and not individual parents — need to retain the authority to decide which services are offered in school. If ABA therapy isn’t one of those, parents can pursue that approach on their own time.

“The district was not party to that decision, and the district may not agree that the child needs those services during the school day,” she said.

Districts also vary in their ability to accommodate outside providers, she said. And even though ABA therapy is covered by Medicaid, lower-income parents are less likely to know how to obtain a prescription for the services, creating inequities among students.

Kimberly Erickson, executive director of The Consortium, the group that administers the Colorado School Health Services Program, said allowing private providers into the classroom threatens to undermine a system that has drawn extra federal dollars for school nurses and other healthcare providers for more than two decades.

Schools can bill Medicaid for certain services. That money is then reinvested in programs that support healthy schools, including hiring more school nurses and developing suicide prevention programs.

But if a private provider bills for a service, “that money doesn’t benefit all kids,” Erickson said. “It only benefits the one child.”

The Consortium expects that schools soon will be able to get Medicaid reimbursement for ABA therapists employed by districts, potentially increasing the number of districts that provide behavior therapy themselves.

Erickson has broader concerns. If private ABA therapists are allowed into the classroom, what’s to stop other providers from joining them?

Denver Public Schools has allowed some private providers, both ABA therapists and others, into the classroom on a case-by-case basis. Robert Frantum-Allen, the district’s special education director, said that wherever students receive services, they make more progress when there is strong communication and coordination between teachers, parents, and outside providers. In some cases, it makes sense to allow a specialist into the classroom. Written agreements governing those relationships establish clear roles for everyone involved.

“We have to maintain the integrity of what we do in school, which is teach, but at the same time, we need to coordinate to meet student needs,” he said.

Robin Koncilja’s 6-year-old son receives ABA therapy in his northeast Denver elementary school through such an agreement. Koncilja calls her case a “success story” that shows what’s possible when districts work with families.

“It’s giving these kids the tools they need to learn,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a blind child in school without Braille. A child with severe behaviors needs their therapist to participate and thrive.”

Jack Robinson, the Colorado attorney who argued the landmark Endrew F. case, which raised the standard schools must meet in educating students with disabilities, said school districts have long made a distinction between educational needs and medical needs, but that distinction often isn’t cut-and-dried, particularly for children with autism. Education includes both academic material and functional skills. Behavior therapy helps children with autism, as well as those with other conditions, get more out of the school day.

“I do think there is a strong argument under the Americans with Disabilities Act that if this is a medical necessity, you have to provide it during school hours, just like a child with insulin,” he said.

For parents, making these therapists accepted in the classroom isn’t just about what their children experience in school today. It’s about those children reaching their full potential as adults.

“I still hold public school as a primary goal for him,” Quinlan said. “If he has any chance of success beyond school, he’ll need to integrate with society at large. The more he can integrate into the public school setting, the more that sets him up for success.”

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9 things to know as Chicago reconsiders its high-stakes test, the NWEA https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/28/9-things-to-know-as-chicago-reconsiders-its-high-stakes-test-the-nwea/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/28/9-things-to-know-as-chicago-reconsiders-its-high-stakes-test-the-nwea/#respond Sat, 29 Feb 2020 01:37:12 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247786 Chicago has already taken action in response to the report about the untimed test known as NWEA MAP.

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Chicago education officials are reconsidering how the district uses standardized tests in light of a critical report from the top schools investigator that points to unusually long testing times and other timing irregularities. 

Chicago has already taken action in response to the report about the untimed test known as NWEA MAP, from outgoing Inspector General Nicholas Schuler. 

The report has stirred up lingering concerns about the high-stakes nature of this particular test and standardized testing in general. 

Here’s what to know about the investigation, the potential outcomes, why it matters, and why it has struck a nerve. 

 

1. The report flagged a big problem. 

Inspector General Nicholas Schuler said he found a dramatic difference between the amount of time Chicago students took to complete the untimed test known as NWEA MAP during one testing cycle and the average time nationwide. The discrepancies could “be an indicator of cheating or of attempts to game the test,” according to a report provided to the Chicago Board of Education.

Schuler’s office reviewed nearly 321,000 tests taken by third through eighth graders in spring 2018. It found that 36% of tests took at least twice as long, and up to five times as long, as the national average.  The report noted that Chicago was not timing the test the same way among schools, and that some students took three or four times as long to complete their tests, and paused them more often, as the average national rate. 

And, as time went on, the tests took longer. The average time Chicago students spent on the test got progressively longer from 2016 to 2018.  

2. Still, Chicago Public Schools points to a record of academic growth independent of the disputed test.

A 2017 report by Stanford University Professor Sean Reardon found that from 2009 to 2014, Chicago’s students grew academically at a rate that was faster than 96% of other urban districts. 

That report did not review NWEA results. Schuler’s findings do not question the study, which Chicago has frequently cited as evidence of districtwide improvement.

More recently, results of the 2019 NAEP TUDA, a national test covering about two dozen big city school districts, show Chicago posted among the largest gains in scores since 2009.

Reardon and his researchers used low-stakes tests, in part, to minimize the chances that pressure would push teachers and students to cheat. 

He said that Schuler’s report now makes it more difficult to use the NWEA test to compare Chicago with other districts. It is also "a troubling finding, and reasonable people might worry about whether it reflects a larger pattern of testing irregularities in CPS."

3. There is disagreement over whether the frequent pauses and long test times contributed to better scores.

Schuler said he found a dramatic difference between the amount of time Chicago students took to complete the NWEA during one testing cycle and the average time taken nationwide, discrepancies which could “be an indicator of cheating or of attempts to game the test,” according to a report provided to the Chicago Board of Education. The report found long tests had a “strong relationship” with unusual growth in achievement. 

But the district has questioned those results, saying they didn’t show a correlation between duration and academic growth. 

At a board meeting this week, several board members appeared visibly frustrated by the term “ cheating.” 

“It’s a serious accusation to our teachers, students and school communities, and I don’t see the evidence here,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said.

Experts said it’s difficult to draw the line between cheating, gaming the test, or just trying to do your best quickly on a test.

Daniel Koretz, an expert on educational assessment and testing policy at Harvard University, said he views any type of test prep that can only produce misleading gains, rather than real growth, as cheating.

4. The NWEA is just one of several tests Chicago students take. 

Chicago Public Schools has used the NWEA since 2012 to assess how well students are learning what are called the Common Core standards. Other tests also measure proficiency. 

Illinois requires districts to give the Illinois Assessment for Readiness, or IAR, starting in third grade. 

Chicago district officials have said they want their own test, in part because it takes longer to get the results from the IAR, making it more difficult for teachers to evaluate how well  students are learning during the year. 

There are a battery of other assessments, too. Fifth and eighth graders statewide take a science assessment, and students in early grades often take reading and math assessments. Every two years, some Chicago fourth and eighth graders also take the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is called the “nation’s report card.” High school juniors take the college-entrance exam SAT.

Parent groups often complain about the number of tests and the time devoted to them.

5. Some teachers are critical of the NWEA.

Brentano Math and Science Academy teacher Aaron Bingea said schools take a long time on the NWEA test because they know the scores carry big consequences. For his seventh grade students, the NWEA is a significant portion of the score that helps decide which high school they will be accepted to. 

Getting a good score on the test involves extra work from both teachers and students, he said. Teachers have to teach harder material because the adaptive online test adjusts the difficulty based on correct answers. Students will go slowly on the test, Bingea said, and will research content above their grade level. 

Bingea, who wants the district to unlink the test from high school entrance, said that otherwise, “we are going to continue to put a lot of stress on kids, it will take a lot of time, and you are going to get a lot of bogus data.”

6. Current board members and others also question using the NWEA to rate schools. 

Chicago is revising its School Quality Rating Policy, which assigns schools a rating on a scale from 1-plus (the highest) to 3 (the lowest) based on factors including attendance and NWEA score growth. 

The NWEA can make up nearly 50% of a school’s score. Board Vice President Sendhil Revuluri suggested the district also use school visits to evaluate schools.

At a recent public meeting, a parent also said she would like to see the city draft a ratings policy that doesn’t rely so much on standardized test scores in reading and math, but that also considers the availability of arts programs, technology, and social emotional investments for students.

7. District officials defended their use of the test, but promised change. 

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Chicago’s Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade pointed out that the NWEA is useful because it delivers results relatively quickly and allows the district to more fairly assess individual student growth and school-level growth. 

Administrators said they would adopt the majority of the report’s recommendations including defining a time limit for the test, more closely reviewing how it is administered, hiring a testing security firm and prohibiting teachers from being the sole person overseeing a test on which they are graded. 

8. Chicago has an opportunity to contract with a new testing company. 

The $2.2 million contract with Northwest Evaluation Association expires in June. Schuler said on Wednesday, “At some point, CPS might want to consider whether this test is the right test for its multiple high-stakes needs.”

9. The report has raised questions about the veracity and utility of all high-stakes testing.

The district said this is an opportunity to reevaluate all the district’s standardized testing. 

Board member Todd-Breland said Schuler’s report was spurring top-level thinking about whether the district should continue to use the NWEA as a high-stakes test. 

“I am very critical, frankly, about the way the NWEA is used, and I think we need to have that discussion.”

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Chicago student protesters demand Lightfoot live up to campaign promises on environmental protection https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/28/student-protesters-demand-lightfoot-live-up-to-campaign-promises-on-environmental-protection/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/28/student-protesters-demand-lightfoot-live-up-to-campaign-promises-on-environmental-protection/#respond Sat, 29 Feb 2020 00:38:08 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247787 Students urged Lightfoot to follow through on her campaign promise to reopen the environment department, which former Mayor Rahm Emanuel eliminated in 2012.

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More than two dozen Chicago young activists Friday called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to reinstate a city department of environment to combat heavy pollution in black and Latino neighborhoods and increase efforts to fight climate change.

About 30 people, mostly students, rallied outside the mayor’s office on City Hall’s fifth floor. They urged Lightfoot to follow through on her campaign promise to reopen the environment department, which former Mayor Rahm Emanuel eliminated in 2012.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to breathe,” Alexandra Shelby told the crowd, explaining she was born with asthma. “Tell me, Ms. Lightfoot. Do you really want to live off this reputation of robbing healthy lives from those in the black and brown communities?”

A high school senior at the Progressive Leadership Academy charter school on the South Side, Shelby joined other members of a school student group focused on environmental issues at the protest. Demonstrators circled in the lobby in front of Lightfoot’s office and chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Environmental racism has got to go,” and “Clean air is what we need. Lori Lightfoot, I can’t breathe.”

Members of several activist groups at the rally criticized the mayor for not moving quickly on her vows to better city environmental enforcement and develop plans for climate change — two issues the protesters said inordinately damage minority communities.

“It’s important that black and brown people are up here at the front line of this conversation of environmental injustice because we know that we live in communities that are directly impacted by the climate change crisis,” said Alycia Moaton, a leader of the group GoodKids MadCity. “It shows where Lori’s priorities are at with her not wanting to invest in reopening this environmental department. She criticized Rahm Emanuel for not giving attention to it and yet she has done nothing herself.”

The protest comes as pressure has mounted on Lightfoot to “bring back the city’s department of environment,” a key promise she made while running for mayor. Lightfoot vowed the department under her administration would protect residents from polluters, lead in water and poor air quality.

In December, eight months after Lightfoot took office, the Better Government Association reported the mayor was backing away from the initial campaign promise, saying the city didn’t have the money to immediately fund it. But she was promising to hire a chief sustainability officer as a first step toward providing more environmental oversight.

Lightfoot still hasn’t hired anyone for the post.

“In order to meet an ambitious climate agenda, the administration is currently in the process of hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer who will ensure a dedicated focus on current climate and environmental issues from the Mayor's Office,” according to a statement released by Lightfoot’s office. “The CSO will work ​with subject matter experts and community stakeholders to develop forward-looking policy solutions that center racial equity and growing quality jobs, and protecting communities from pollution.”

In January, Elise Zelechowski, city deputy director of policy, was named acting chief sustainability officer. Zelechowski was a former city environment department employee under former Mayor Richard Daley.

“I honestly don’t know what the hold up is,” said Peggy Salazar, director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Overall, Salazar said she’s been disappointed at the lack of any movement on environmental protection under Lightfoot. “When it comes to the environment, she falls real short.”

The calls for action follow eight years of Emanuel’s administration in which city environmental inspections and enforcement plunged, the BGA reported last year. A few months ago, the city’s inspector general mirrored some of the BGA’s findings, warning that residents across Chicago are potentially exposed to risks from hundreds of sources of toxic air emissions that went unchecked for a three-year period.

Ahead of Friday’s demonstration, the students said in a statement announcing the protest they are concerned about the “environmental racism and the disproportionate pollution experienced by black and brown youth on the South and West sides of Chicago.”

They also want to hold the mayor to city goals converting buildings to renewable energy. Lightfoot has set those goals of city-owned properties by 2025 and converting the entire city to renewables by 2035.

Earlier in the week, activists from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization called on Lightfoot to reassess the city’s planning practices that they say have increased pollution in communities near industrial areas, such as the West and Southeast sides.

For Moaton and others, they would like to see the mayor follow up her rhetoric with action.

“She has run a campaign on progressive tactics but has not followed up on anything she has said she’s going to do,” Moaton said.

This story was produced by the Better Government Association, a nonprofit news organization based in Chicago as part of the “Lens On Lightfoot” project, a collaboration of seven Chicago newsrooms examining the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Partners are the BGA, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. It is managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

 

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Proposed grading scale would give more Tennessee students access to scholarships https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/28/proposed-grading-scale-would-give-more-tennessee-students-access-to-scholarships/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/28/proposed-grading-scale-would-give-more-tennessee-students-access-to-scholarships/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 23:46:43 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247769 A bill would move high schoolers to a 10-point uniform grading scale.

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Tennessee high school students would be able to access more academic scholarships for college both in state and out of state under a proposal that’s working its way through the legislature.

The state’s uniform grading policy for high school — which now awards A’s for point percentages between 93 and 100 and B’s for 85 to 92 — would return to a 10-point scale beginning next school year under the bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Hodges.

The shift would align Tennessee’s high school grading scale with its colleges and universities.

But the primary goal, Hodges said, is to put Tennessee students on an even playing field with their peers elsewhere, including eight bordering states.

“In Southeastern Conference states, every school goes by a 10-point grading scale except for Tennessee,” said the Clarksville Democrat. “The problem is that it’s really given our children a disadvantage when they’re applying for scholarships out of state.”

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The change also likely would have the effect of increasing the number of students qualifying for the HOPE Scholarship, Tennessee’s lottery-funded, merit-based award that requires either an overall high school GPA of at least 3.0 or a minimum ACT composite score of 21.

While officials with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission said they are uncertain how many more students might qualify under the laxer grading scale, the legislature’s fiscal agent estimated the state’s annual cost would be more than $2 million.

The bill is scheduled for consideration next Wednesday before a House finance panel after passing unanimously through two education committees.

Under a 2004 law, Tennessee adopted its current grading scale as a way to even the playing field for determining eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship. While grading practices traditionally have been set locally across the U.S., some states like Tennessee have moved to uniform systems out of a growing concern about grade inflation for high-stakes awards.

Even so, some districts still calculate GPAs using both the state’s grading scale and their own: one to determine HOPE eligibility and the 10-point scale to determine class rankings and valedictorians. Both are included on high school report cards and transcripts, with one designated as the HOPE Scholarship GPA to indicate it’s a required state calculation.

Rep. Jason Hodges

Hodges filed his bill out of concern for military families in his district who move frequently and whose children must adapt to multiple grading scales when changing schools across states. He cited one high schooler whose GPA dropped after moving to Tennessee, prompting him to move back to North Carolina to avoid losing his college scholarship there.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns about lowering the bar in a state that has worked hard to raise its academic standards over the last decade.

“We’re not dumbing it down, are we?” asked Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, a Republican from Lancaster, during a House subcommittee meeting earlier this month. “The HOPE Scholarship should be something that people challenge themselves and want to get."

Lou Hanemann, representing the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, acknowledged that the goal posts for obtaining the scholarship would be moved, but not by much. “It is less stringent, although still a 3.0 on a 10-point scale is probably not that different than a 3.0 on the current scale,” he said.

Other lawmakers didn’t see anything wrong with broadening eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship. “Would it be so bad to give kids a chance?” asked Rep. John Mark Windle, a Cookeville Democrat. 

Local school leaders have said a change could be challenging logistically if they’re required to adjust grades retroactively for current high school students. Otherwise, the state superintendents organization does not oppose the bill.

“Most teachers would adjust their level of difficulty to those grades,” said Neel Durbin, director of Dyersburg City Schools. “They know when a kid doesn’t get the information and they don’t deserve the credit, so they would adjust the grades accordingly, I think.”

The current grading scale is:

  • A: 93 to 100
  • B: 85 to 92
  • C: 75 to 84
  • D: 70 to 74
  • F: 0 to 69

The proposed grading scale is:

  • A: 90 to 100
  • B: 80 to 89
  • C: 70 to 79
  • D: 60 to 69
  • F: 0 to 59

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Calls for smaller class size grow louder: NYC parents, students and educators say there’s a big need to rein in student seats https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/28/calls-for-smaller-class-size-grow-louder-nyc-parents-students-and-educators-say-theres-a-big-need-to-rein-in-student-seats/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/28/calls-for-smaller-class-size-grow-louder-nyc-parents-students-and-educators-say-theres-a-big-need-to-rein-in-student-seats/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 23:08:02 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247764 New York City classes remain, on average, 15% to 30% larger than those in the rest of the state.

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Manhattan high school senior Tiffani Torres started out in an AP calculus class this year with 35 students — one more than the uppermost limit high school classes are supposed to have under teacher union contracts. 

It was overwhelming.

Students weren’t getting proper support, and four ended up dropping the course this spring, Torres said at a City Council hearing Friday focused on class size. She contrasted it with her experience at a small middle school where she felt like she could always go to a teacher for help and she didn’t have to worry about disrupting lessons with her questions.

“When there are over 30 students in a room with a single teacher, all struggling yet unable to receive the attention they need, we begin to understand how black and Latinx students are consistently left behind,” said Torres, a member of Teens Take Charge, a student-led group focused on improving equity for the nation’s largest school district. 

Bill de Blasio pledged to lower class sizes when he campaigned for mayor in 2013. But he never delivered on that promise. New York City classes remain, on average, 15% to 30% larger than those in the rest of the state. Classes are currently capped at 25 in kindergarten, 32 for elementary grades, 33 in middle schools (though it’s 30 for some of them) and 34 in high schools.

Nearly a third of New York City students were in classes of 30 or more students this fall, according to advocacy group Class Size Matters. The number of kindergarten classes with 25 or more has increased 68% since 2007, and the number of children in grades one through three in classes of 30 or more has increased by nearly 3,000%. 

Many parents, educators and academics testified about the problems of overcrowding in schools — and ironically, many were barred from the hearing room because it was too crowded. Several blamed the class-size issue on the state for failing to live up to a decade-old court mandate to provide more funding to New York City

Some pointed out that the city’s priciest private schools tend to have small classes, and public schools with powerhouse PTAs often fundraise for assistant teachers in the lower grades. Meanwhile, teachers in overcrowded classes with high-needs students can often miss important signs of dyslexia or other learning disabilities, parents and educators said.

Brooklyn City Council member and former teacher Mark Treyger said that he and many others left the teaching profession because large class sizes burned them out. That’s what happened to him when he had 34 students who were all English language learners.

I think this is an issue that disproportionately affects a vulnerable population,” he said. 

Although the state wasn’t fully funding the school system, he said, “at the same time, we can’t let the city off the hook.”

Class Size Matters called on City Council to earmark $100 million in next year’s budget to reduce class size, starting in the early grades and in struggling schools. The amount represents less than 0.3% of the education department’s $34 billion budget, noted Leonie Haimson, who runs the advocacy group. The group says it would pay for about 1,000 new teachers, and it could reduce class size in as many as 4,000 rooms.

The most influential study on class size was conducted in Tennessee during the late 1980s. The Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, study randomly assigned students and teachers to a small class, with an average of 15 students, or to a regular class, with an average of 22 students. The achievement of students in the smaller classes translated into about three additional months of schooling four years later, according to Brookings

Stanford’s Erik Hanushek, however, has challenged this study, noting research hasn’t proven academic benefits of class size reduction. He also pointed out that the study isn’t widely applicable, since most schools can’t get to 15 students.

New York City has never undertaken its own study on class size, Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark said, though she acknowledged that there is “strong” research showing the correlation between small class size and improved student outcomes. She also noted that teachers and families often cite class size as a top concern on annual school surveys. 

“Do we wish class size was lower across New York City?” Goldmark asked. “We do. Do we think we can do that with the funding that we have? We don’t.”

Class size depends not only on the classrooms available, but also the education department’s ability to recruit and retain teaching staff, Goldmark said. 

“It is also an issue of funding resources. It is important to note that the current budget outlook at the state and local level is very concerning,” she said. “Achieving class size reduction is contingent on funding, in particular from the state.” 

The state has failed to fully fund a “sound, basic education,” as required by a New York State Court of Appeals decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity more than a decade ago, she said, saying the state owes the city $1.1 billion this year alone.

City officials said the administration allocated $640 million to reduce class size in the two 5-year capital plans under the de Blasio administration. The city’s schools with the highest concentration of poverty have an average class size of 23.8 while those with the lowest concentration of need have an average class size of 28.4. 

Additionally, the current 5-year capital plan provides $18.8 billion to create approximately 88 new school buildings and more than 57,000 seats, officials said. 

But the city needs the money owed from the state to further reduce class size, Goldmark said. (The state disagrees with this interpretation and Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to change the funding formula entirely.)

Goldmark is also a former teacher. Her first year, she taught a class of 36 students. Later in her career, she had a class of 18. There was indeed a “big” difference.

“I wish it could have been the reverse,” she said, explaining how she would have found it easier as a new teacher with a smaller class, and said that principals often make those kinds of decisions on the school level — when they’re able to.

The education department this year charged superintendents with responding faster to class size issues, since enrollment projections sometimes fall short of the actual number of students who register at many schools.

“You never quite know how many children you will have on the first day,” Goldmark said. “Every year we have more children in some schools and fewer in others.”

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After a marathon of feedback, IPS board backs overhauling two struggling schools with charter partners https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/28/after-a-marathon-of-feedback-ips-board-backs-overhauling-two-struggling-schools-with-charter-partners/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/28/after-a-marathon-of-feedback-ips-board-backs-overhauling-two-struggling-schools-with-charter-partners/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 22:47:07 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247755 Supporters of innovation schools turned out in force to board meetings this week.

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Indianapolis Public Schools is moving forward with plans to overhaul two struggling campuses in a decision that came after a large contingent of parents and advocates weighed in, with most speaking in support.

The IPS board tentatively backed proposals to restart School 48 and School 67 as innovation schools, which would be managed by charter operators under the oversight of the district. If the board approves the changes at its March meeting, the principals, teachers, and other staff at the neighborhood schools likely will be replaced.

Whether to restart School 67, also known as Stephen Foster, has become one of the most controversial overhaul decisions the board has faced. The neighborhood campus has dismal scores on state tests, but many parents and staff were stunned by the decision to hand the school to a charter manager, and vocal opponents came to the board meetings last month.

That made the two board meetings this week something of a test of whether the operators that may take over the schools had been able to persuade anxious parents that the overhauls would be best for their children. And supporters of innovation schools turned out in force — including a large contingent of families and staff from other campuses who spoke about their positive experiences.

It was clear that the public feedback weighed heavily on board members, several of whom shared long statements about their decisions. Board member Evan Hawkins said the district’s low passing rates on state tests and the especially low passing rates for children of color cannot be ignored.

"Though I do not believe that test scores tell the whole story of any school community, these statistics are intolerable,” Hawkins said. “For generations across this nation, this state, and this city, we have seen what happens to our children and what they lose access to when they are not given the mere opportunity to be prepared academically.”

On Thursday, Hawkins was joined in supporting both overhauls by Michael O’Connor and Diane Arnold. Venita Moore, who was absent Thursday, said on Tuesday that she supported continuing the process for both schools. Elizabeth Gore supported the restart of School 48 but not School 67. And Taria Slack and Susan Collins said they opposed both overhauls.

Many family members of children at School 48 and a few from School 67 spoke in favor of the new operators — including some parents who had initially opposed the restarts.

No one exemplified the change of heart that some parents felt as much as Angela Cordova, who has four children at School 67, a westside elementary and middle school. When the plan to restart the school and replace the educators was announced, Cordova helped lead unusually vocal opposition.

This week, Cordova focused on her frustration not on the potential change, but on the district. “Every child in that school deserves a chance — a chance that you failed to give them,” said Cordova, during the public comments portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “You saw us failing and didn’t help.”

Cordova, who is one of many parents at restart schools who didn’t realize the campus had an F grade from the state, now says she loves the potential operator selected to restart School 67. Cordova told Chalkbeat that in the days since she initially opposed the overhaul, she researched innovation schools on her own and visited an existing campus.

She also met with Alicia Hervey, the local educator who is founding the PATH, a planned charter school the administration recommended as the new operator of School 67. Cordova said she connects with Hervey “on a mom level,” and she trusts her to help the school.

“I think this would be very beneficial to all the kids,” she told Chalkbeat. “I think a change is what we need.”

In contrast with School 67, the resistance to the proposed overhaul of School 48, also known as Louis B. Russell, was muted. In part, that’s likely because the elementary school on the near northside has received years of failing marks from the state. The district administration previously attempted to improve it by placing it in its transformation zone, a group of struggling schools that receive extra resources and attention. Superintendent Aleesia Johnson is recommending that the campus be taken over by Phalen Leadership Academies, a charter network that also runs two other Indianapolis Public Schools campuses.

Several parents from the school told the board Thursday that they support overhauling the campus and want Phalen to take charge.

Joseph White, a parent at School 48, became a supporter after visiting an innovation school. White’s daughter attends the pre-kindergarten program for students with special needs, and last month he told Chalkbeat he was skeptical about the restart. But at Thursday’s meeting, he told the board he supports the overhaul.

“I do believe innovation would be the best way for this school,” White said. “I can tell you one thing, if it’s not restarted, she will not be going there. My daughter deserves the best.”

More than 70 people signed up to speak for the public comment period at Thursday’s meeting, which O’Connor estimated was the largest crowd since he joined the board, and each speaker’s time was reduced to 2 minutes.

But even though the proposed operators had support from many parents, the meeting was tense. A smaller number of family and staff members from School 67 spoke against the plan. And as the meeting came to a close, an uproar broke out with a handful of angry parents and educators yelling at the board and superintendent because they had expected a formal vote based on flyers from the district.

Since Indianapolis Public Schools began overhauling failing campuses as innovation schools five years ago, six schools have been turned over to outside managers. The schools have freedom from some district requirements, and educators at the schools work for the charter managers and are not covered by the district teachers contract.

School board member Venita Moore said at the Tuesday board meeting that she believed the district waited too long to overhaul School 48. But in the future, she suggested the district should try to bring families into the conversation sooner. “Would it be better for us to allow more time on the front end?” she asked.

Jamie VandeWalle, who oversees innovation schools for the district, said officials have begun asking themselves “how do we make sure that everyone within the schools and then families who send their students to schools every day truly understand the performance of their schools?”

The board also supported partnering with Adelante Schools to run Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School. Adelante would be the first charter school run by Eddie Rangel, who previously led a Tindley charter school, and Matthew Rooney, an Indianapolis native who led a charter school in New York City.

The Donnan elementary school was launched as an innovation school run by Charter Schools USA in collaboration with Indianapolis Public Schools after the state seized the middle school from the district. Earlier this school year, Indianapolis Public Schools ended its partnership with Charter Schools USA, and the state board voted to return the campus to the district in January.

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After 15 rocky years, NYC’s teacher union no longer wants to run a charter school https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/28/uft-charter-high-school-conversion/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/28/uft-charter-high-school-conversion/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 22:34:03 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247740 The UFT’s charter school has struggled to prove its original point: That charter schools’ didn’t need independence from unions to thrive.

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A charter school operated by New York City’s teacher union doesn’t want to be a charter school anymore.

The UFT Charter High School in Brooklyn is seeking to morph into a traditional district school, officials said Friday, a highly unusual maneuver that would end a long-running political bet that the union could run a successful charter school of its own.

“Our students, parents and teachers love their high school, and are proud of the individualized support our school gives our students, but they have told us that they want to be a part of a broader community,” United Federation of Teachers chief Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

Union officials said the transition, which will require city approval, would give the school access to additional resources such as advanced placement courses, sports teams, and dual-language programs.

The union’s interest in giving up its sole charter school makes sense politically. Charter schools have increasingly fallen out of favor with Democrats and have come under more scrutiny from the Trump administration. Union officials are also routinely critical of the sector, a position in tension with running a charter of their own.

Most importantly, the UFT’s charter school has struggled to prove its original point: that charter schools didn’t need independence from unions to thrive. The school was set up to “dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success,” said then-UFT President Randi Weingarten when the school was originally conceived in 2005. (Weingarten now helms the national American Federation of Teachers.)

The East New York school was initially designed to serve students in grades K-12, but never found solid footing. It became one of the city’s lowest-performing schools and officials closed its elementary and middle school in 2015, an embarrassing setback.

The high school, by contrast, has been more successful. About 79% of students graduate on time, slightly above the city average. The State University of New York, the school’s authorizer, gave it a five-year renewal in 2017, finding that the school is “an academic success.”

Still, union officials may be eager to get out from under SUNY’s microscope. The school has struggled in some key areas, including meeting its enrollment targets. City data show the school enrolls a lower percentage of students with disabilities and English learners than the city average, a common critique of charters (though the school tends to retain those students). About half of the school’s students are chronically absent, meaning they miss at least 10% of the school year.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, suggested the union may be looking to avoid strict oversight. “If Mulgrew thinks the district is the better, and perhaps more forgiving model, for operating a public school, I would hope that he would support the creation of a high-quality new charter school in its place,” he said. 

Danielle Goodwin joined the union’s school as a guidance counselor in 2008. She said the proposal to become a district school “wasn’t an overnight decision” and being able to take more advantage of the district’s resources would be a plus.

Asked whether the conversion to a district school would amount to relinquishing the argument that the union could run a successful charter, she said: “We’ve always wanted what’s the best for the students — the contract didn’t necessarily get in our way.”

The process for transitioning from a charter to district school will require a vote from the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which signs off on proposals to create new district schools. Education department officials said they support the proposal, all but guaranteeing it will be approved.

“We’re excited to work with the UFT Charter community to help students at this school have the opportunity to attend a new DOE district high school that will enjoy the supports and resources that all of our district schools have," said Katie O'Hanlon, a department spokesperson.

In addition to the UFT Charter High School, the union represents teachers at 24 other city charters, union officials said, a small slice of the city’s 260 current charter schools.

If the union’s proposal to convert the school to be a traditional district school is approved, the school’s charter would become what’s known as a “zombie” charter — meaning it would return to a pool of previously issued charters.

While New York City has hit the cap on the number of new charters that can be issued, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed allowing those “zombie” charters to be reissued, a move that would require approval from the legislature — and is far from certain.

A SUNY spokesperson said they had not yet received an official proposal from the union, but would review it when it’s submitted.

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Cory Booker sponsors bill to improve school air quality in areas like Newark https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/28/cory-booker-sponsors-bill-to-improve-school-air-quality-in-areas-like-newark/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/28/cory-booker-sponsors-bill-to-improve-school-air-quality-in-areas-like-newark/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 20:25:46 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247719 New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will introduce a bill aimed at improving air quality in schools, with a focus on needy districts in highly polluted areas, such as Newark.

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New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will introduce a bill aimed at improving air quality in schools, with a focus on needy districts in highly polluted areas, such as Newark.

The Clean Air, Sharp Minds Act, which Booker, a Democrat and former Newark mayor, is sponsoring in conjunction with Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, would provide grants to schools for purchasing, installing, and maintaining air filters. Should the bill pass, $20 million in grants would be given over three years to at least 175 schools. All U.S. public schools would be eligible, with priority given to those most in need. 

“In Newark, we have one of the highest rates of child asthma in the country and this impacts not just our children’s physical health, it impacts their academic performance and their family’s economic well-being," Booker said in a statement. "This bill is a common-sense way to deliver immediate help to students and their parents struggling every day with poor air quality in their schools.”

Booker’s press release on the bill cited two Chalkbeat articles on air pollution and asthma.

One in every four Newark children lives with asthma — a rate three times higher than the national average. 

Better school air quality has been shown to improve test scores. Poor indoor air quality increases the risk of severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions, and asthma is the leading cause of missed school days in the country. Newark Superintendent Roger León has cited asthma as one of four health issues that impede student achievement in the district; the chronic respiratory illness is one of the leading causes of absenteeism in Newark. 

Air pollution also disproportionately impacts students of color. Schools serving largely low-income students of color are three times more likely than those serving predominantly white students to be located near highways, which are a major source of air pollution. In Newark, where semi-trucks thunder down city streets on a daily basis, children with asthma are hospitalized at 30 times the national rate. In addition, New Jersey’s air quality has been named one of the worst in the nation

Although asthma-related deaths are rare in children, Newark experienced an average of one death a year from 2010 to 2017, when there were eight asthma-related deaths among Newark minors, according to the New Jersey Department of Health. Asthma mortality rates are higher for people of color and people living in low-income communities, as many Newark residents are. 

Experts say improving building conditions, along with staff training and parental awareness, can help curb asthma rates and hospitalizations. Mold, dust mites, and other pests — conditions that can be found in some school buildings — can all trigger asthma episodes. There’s currently no documented link between Newark children’s deaths and school conditions, but Newark parents have complained of classroom air quality.

“I don’t think the air quality was the best in the school. The school was old and dusty, and he had more complaints during school than when he was home,” said Takua Anderson, whose son, T’Kai, died of a severe asthma attack in October 2016. While her son died at home, she said in an earlier interview with Chalkbeat that she fears school building conditions contributed to his asthma. “My son was suffering.”

Dozens of Newark’s crumbling schools require major fixes, and indoor air quality expert Arthur Pierfy, who regularly conducts air quality trainings throughout the state, said older school buildings in Newark have outdated air filtration systems.

“The system hasn’t been upgraded for the amount of occupants that are now living and working in those buildings. It exists and works, but the more people you throw in the room, the worse people will feel,” Pierfy, a member of the environmental education organization New Jersey Association of Designated Persons, said. “A lot of inner-city schools ... haven’t had the luxury of having things rebuilt, and there’s only so much you can budget for. This bill is absolutely needed in Newark.”

Do you have experience with asthma in Newark schools? Share your story here.

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Indianapolis Public Schools cancels busing Friday after "rogue" drivers call in sick https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/28/indianapolis-public-schools-cancels-busing-friday-after-drivers-call-in-sick/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/28/indianapolis-public-schools-cancels-busing-friday-after-drivers-call-in-sick/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 20:13:12 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247722 The driver shortage came about a month after the school board approved a controversial plan to outsource all of its transportation. 

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Fewer than half of Indianapolis Public Schools students showed up to school on Friday after the district was forced to cancel bus service because too many bus drivers called in sick, officials said.

The district canceled all bus service after 95 of the district's roughly 550 drivers and monitors said they could not come to work, according to IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. The driver shortage came about a month after the school board approved a controversial plan to outsource all of its transportation.

The union representing bus personnel, however, said it did not support or organize Friday’s sick-out.

"We strongly condemn the actions of these rogue employees who chose to make this decision, despite the guidance of their union leadership to not move forward with these actions,” Johnson said at a press conference Friday. “Their lack of concern for the safety of students in elementary through high school in the middle of winter is disappointing."

The district buses about 22,000 students each day.

Schools remained open Friday, but with only about 14,000 of the district's 31,800 students reporting to school, those who did not show up were not marked as absent.

District officials are talking with leaders from the union, AFSCME, to ensure that drivers show up for work on Monday, said Johnson.

David Robertson, executive director of AFSCME Council 962, said drivers were not demonstrating as part of an organized union action. In a written statement, the union said that “the leaders of our affected locals assured us that there was no union endorsed effort to disrupt operations.”

The union statement acknowledged that many of its members have been disappointed with the district’s decision to contract out routes. As a result, “some employees may be acting independently based on these feelings,” it said. “However, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Last month, the Indianapolis Public Schools board approved a contract with a new outside transportation provider, First Student, which is expected to replace the current combination of buses run by a contractor, Durham, and district-managed buses. District officials said that outsourcing would save Indianapolis Public Schools about $7 million annually. Current drivers will need to reapply for jobs with First Student. The new contract goes into effect on July 1.

At a school board meeting before the board approved the contract, dozens of bus drivers and union members turned out to oppose the change and plead with district leaders not to outsource transportation.

The outsourcing decision is part of a broader IPS push to reduce spending in non-academic areas. The district embraced the approach two years ago in order to garner support from the Indy Chamber for a tax increase to pay for higher teacher salaries.

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‘Dysfunctional homes,’ ‘Play the radio’: When Biden talks about poverty and parenting, criticism often follows https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/28/why-biden-criticized-black-parents-poor-families/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/28/why-biden-criticized-black-parents-poor-families/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 17:13:40 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247689 Joe Biden has made statements referring to black parents and students from low-income families on the campaign trail that have been seen as tone-deaf or racist.

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Joe Biden confused debate-watchers this summer when, in a response to a question about how to remedy the legacy of slavery, he instructed parents to turn on their record players so that “kids hear words.”

He shocked and frustrated a group of black mayors last year when he said one problem the black community faces is that “parents can’t read or write,” according to a New York Times report.

And he drew heat for seeming to equate low-income children with children of color at a campaign stop in Iowa last year. “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” Biden said. 

“I meant to say ‘wealthy,’” he told reporters at the time, noting he quickly corrected himself. “I don’t think anybody thinks that I meant anything” else.

The former vice president has long been criticized for his tendency to make gaffes. But over the course of his latest presidential bid, Biden has made a series of statements referring to black parents and students from low-income families that have been seen as tone-deaf or racist — enough for some to see a broader pattern.

It’s a striking one, given how crucial African American support is to Biden’s campaign heading into this Saturday’s primary election in South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is majority black. And while many of Biden’s black supporters say occasional off-color statements shouldn’t overshadow his legislative record — which includes fighting racial discrimination on many fronts — others say his words feed harmful narratives about the causes of educational inequality.

“From my standpoint, it does matter,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, economics, and African and African American studies at Duke University. The repetition of these ideas, he said, “does affect the kind of social policies we choose to adopt.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, Biden and his campaign have said his comments were calling attention to differences of class, not race, or were made in reference to his family’s personal experiences.

Bebe Coker, a longtime education activist in Biden’s home state of Delaware, says she understands people could be offended if they didn’t know Biden or his work.

“He was there with us,” she said of her fight to pass laws against racial discrimination in housing and public accommodations when Biden was in the Delaware legislature. “He sees humanity as humanity.”

Coker, who is black, sees Biden’s words as an attempt to highlight the struggles of children in poverty and the need for schools to better serve them. “Whether you like it or not,” she said, “he’s telling the truth.”

His language has evoked stereotypes about black families

One of the major problems with Biden’s comments, critics say, is that they sometimes recall a racist stereotype that black families are dysfunctional — whether he means to or not.

During the third debate of this Democratic primary cycle last September, a moderator asked Biden about race and inequality in schools, mentioning a 1975 interview about school segregation in which he said he did not “feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather.” Then she asked what Americans should do “to repair the legacy of slavery in our country.”

In response, Biden spoke about his education plan, drawing attention to his proposals to triple federal funding for low-income schools, raise teacher pay, and bring “social workers into homes” to help parents “deal with how to raise their children” — likely a reference to his plan to expand a home-visiting program aimed at improving school readiness.

“It’s not that they don’t want to help,” Biden said of parents. “They don’t know quite what to do.”

While Biden didn’t explicitly say the families who need help raising their children are black, some interpreted it that way because his answers came in response to a question about slavery and reparations. 

A few months later, in a December interview with the New York Times editorial board, Biden was pressed again about how the country should confront its legacy of slavery. He made a similar pivot, mentioning black parents.

“I remember how much trouble Barack [Obama] got in when he said that parents, black parents, should take responsibility,” Biden responded. “That wasn’t my point. My point was to make it clear that there are a number of things we can do now to help parents who have been disadvantaged as a consequence of lack of opportunity, to be able to provide more guidance and better guidance for themselves and their families.”

That emphasis on parenting reinforces thinking that there is something “culturally pathological about black Americans,” said Darity — thinking that has played a prominent role in American culture and politics for decades, from racist scholarly writings in the 19th century that argued black Americans were culturally inferior to the influential 1965 Moynihan report, which said black poverty was rooted in a high rate of single-parent households.

As Biden noted, Obama also faced criticism for comments he made as a presidential candidate about black families and fathers.

“For the African American community, that path [forward] means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past,” Obama said in his famous 2008 speech about race. “And it means taking full responsibility for our own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them.”

He zeroes in on parent literacy and ‘word gaps’

Biden has also faced criticism for implying that black Americans struggle to read, affecting their ability to help their children.

In response to the Times’ question about how the country should address the legacy of slavery, Biden told a story about his father — a “well-read, high-school-educated guy” — not wanting to tour colleges with his son because he was embarrassed he hadn’t attended college himself. Then he mentioned his wife’s experience as a teacher in public schools and at community college.

“The people who don’t show up on the nights when there’s a parent-teacher meeting are not people who in fact don’t care, but folks from poor backgrounds,” Biden said. “They don’t show up because they’re embarrassed. They’re embarrassed the teacher’s going to say — and it’s hard to say, ‘Well, I can’t read.’ I’m talking about not just people of color, but poor folks.”

Recently, Biden’s campaign didn’t deny the Times’ reporting that in response to a question about education reform he told a group of black mayors that one problem black communities face is that the “parents can’t read or write themselves.” Instead the campaign provided a statement saying Biden “regularly talks about how his father’s experience has shaped the way he feels about and views the relationship between parents and their children’s learning.”

Another common touchstone in Biden’s education speeches is “word gaps,” or differences in the number of words children hear in their first years based on family income — a concept based on popular but widely debated research. Biden has sometimes veered far from the research findings, though, implying that low-income or black parents don’t read or speak to their children.

For example, Biden brought up word gaps in a 2007 interview with the Washington Post editorial board while discussing differences in school performance.

“It goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with,” he said, during his second run for president. “When you have children coming from dysfunctional homes, when you have children coming from homes where there's no books, where the mother from the time they're born doesn't talk to them — as opposed to the mother in Iowa who's sitting out there and talks to them,” he said, going on to mention the word gap research.

Biden said this after pointing out that Iowa has a much smaller black population than cities like Washington, D.C., “leaving the impression,” the paper wrote, “that he believed one reason so many Washington D.C. schools fail is the city's high minority population.” (At the time, Biden’s campaign said he was calling out disadvantages stemming from socio-economic differences, not racial ones.)

The original 1992 study, of 42 families in Kansas, found large differences in the number of words that young children heard each hour during monthly observations. The researchers came to the conclusion that children from the lowest-income families would hear 13 million words by age 4, compared with 45 million words for children from higher-income families.

These findings have been used to help expand Head Start and early intervention programs. The Obama administration, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, worked to raise awareness about the importance of closing the word gap — which likely contributes to why Biden cites it so often.

Since the publication of the original study, some critics have taken issue with how it was conducted, including that all six of the lowest-income families in the study were African American and only one of the 13 high-income families was African American.

Attempts to replicate those findings have found gaps do exist, but that they are smaller. Biden seems aware of that: On the campaign trail this time — when he called on parents to “play the radio” so that “kids hear words” during the September debate — he cited newer research that found a 4-million word gap between children from low- and high-income families.

“It’s so much more complex than politicians or people listening to debates would like to think it is,” said Douglas Sperry, an associate professor of psychology at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. His own research found that the number of words children heard varied widely within income groups and across five different places. His research also found children from low-income black families in Alabama heard almost three times as many words per hour as the original study’s lowest-income black families in Kansas.

So why have word gaps continued to be such a focus for Biden and many others? 

Sofía Bahena, an assistant professor of education at The University of Texas at San Antonio, who has critiqued how the original word gap research was conducted, thinks it’s partly because word gaps fit with preconceived notions many Americans have about the language abilities of students of color, and the idea that structural inequities can be toppled with individual hard work.

“We have this whole American theme of ‘pick yourself up by the bootstraps,’” she said. “It’s not just Biden.”

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A Denver school bus driver called police on a 6-year-old girl with special needs https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/27/denver-school-bus-driver-called-police-on-6-year-old-girl-special-needs/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/27/denver-school-bus-driver-called-police-on-6-year-old-girl-special-needs/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 04:53:06 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247595 Before police arrived, a district transportation employee used a physical restraint on the girl, who has special needs.

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The Denver school district said it is responding to an incident on a school bus in which district transportation personnel restrained a 6-year-old student Wednesday and called police.

The student has special needs. In a video taken by the girl’s mother when she arrived at the scene, the girl can be heard crying and screaming.

“Come on, honey,” the mother, Kristin Stark, says on the video. “Mommy’s here.”

“I’m not going to let you on the bus,” says a Denver Public Schools campus safety officer standing next to the bus door. “She can walk out to us.”

“Cecilia, you gotta come to me,” Stark says. “They won’t let me on the bus.”

Stark posted the video to social media.

“As you can see on the video, my daughter was absolutely terrified and hysterical when I got to her,” she wrote on Facebook. “And no one would allow me to help her gather her belongings from the bus, nor would they help her.”

Denver Public Schools said in a statement Thursday that its staff had reviewed video footage from a security camera inside the bus. The statement says the bus driver called 911 after bus staff “were unable to get the student back into a safety vest.”

While bus staff were waiting for police to arrive, at least one employee from the district’s transportation department showed up to help.

“After efforts to de-escalate the behavior of the student were unsuccessful, the transportation employee used a physical restraint with the student,” the district statement says.

The district said it is turning the bus security camera footage over to Denver police “for further investigation regarding the actions taken by the transportation employee.”

Stark has not seen the recording from the bus security camera. But she said her daughter told her she became upset when another student kicked her on his way off the bus.

Her daughter also said that an adult, who Stark assumed was a campus safety officer, held her face down on the floor of the bus with her arms behind her and his knee on her back. According to Stark, her daughter said, “He was holding me down and I couldn’t breathe.”

A district spokesperson confirmed it was a transportation employee, not a campus safety officer, who restrained the girl. There were no other students on the bus at the time.

By law, only armed campus safety officers are allowed to hold students face down on the ground in a “prone restraint” — and only under certain circumstances. Campus safety officers must be trained in restraint techniques and must have made a referral to law enforcement. Prone restraints can be dangerous because they can restrict a child’s ability to breathe.

Stark said her daughter has been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and PTSD. She said she was waiting at home for her daughter when she got a call from the school district’s transportation department. The caller said Stark’s daughter was having behavioral issues on the bus, that the driver had pulled over at a certain intersection, and that Stark would have to pick her up there. The caller also said the police were on their way.

“I was really confused why they couldn’t deal with it and they were calling the police,” Stark said.

School districts are under increasing scrutiny for using police to deal with safety and discipline issues. Advocates say it can put children in what’s known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

In a recent incident in Florida, body camera footage shows a 6-year-old crying and saying “Help me!” as officers arrest her on suspicion of misdemeanor battery after a tantrum at school. In Pueblo in southern Colorado, school board members have asked hard questions about tickets issued for classroom misbehavior. Denver Public Schools banned the use of handcuffs on elementary school students last year after a family spoke out about their 7-year-old being handcuffed at school.

Stark doesn’t have a car, so she had to call a family member for a ride to where her daughter's bus was pulled over. She estimates it was 40 minutes before she got there. When Stark arrived, she saw several Denver police officers, campus safety officers, and bus staff standing outside.

Stark said she gathered her daughter as quickly as she could and left. The incident was traumatizing, Stark said, and she didn’t want to prolong it.

“I felt so sick to my stomach,” Stark said. “I was worried about them hurting her.”

Stark said the incident has left her daughter shaken, and afraid of the police.

“She’s had traumas in her life, and this just adds to it,” Stark said.

The staff at her daughter’s school have been supportive, Stark said. On Thursday, she said they told her they’d be providing a special car service for her daughter so she won’t have to ride the bus.

While that’s getting set up, Stark said the school offered to pay for Uber service.

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After years of waiting, Indianapolis Public Schools will purchase new English textbooks https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/after-years-of-waiting-indianapolis-public-schools-will-purchase-new-english-textbooks/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/after-years-of-waiting-indianapolis-public-schools-will-purchase-new-english-textbooks/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 01:34:05 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247529 Amid years of budget freezes, it has been more than a decade since the district purchased new English textbooks for middle and high schools.

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For the first time in seven years, Indianapolis Public Schools is buying new English materials for dozens of schools across the district.

The school board in the state’s largest district approved a plan Thursday to spend up to $4 million to adopt new English curriculums, which include textbooks.

Districts typically replace books every six years, but amid years of budget freezes, it has been more than a decade since the district purchased new English textbooks for middle and high schools. At elementary schools, it’s been seven years.

The current textbooks and other materials schools are using are “pretty patchwork,” said Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. That puts additional pressure on teachers to fill in the gaps.

“I want [teachers] spending time planning and thinking about the lesson and how to make it fit for the students they are serving,” Johnson added. “I don’t want them spending hours on the internet trying to find materials to use in class.”

The new curriculums have been vetted by district officials, Johnson said, to ensure materials reflect student diversity, are high quality, and align with state standards, last overhauled in 2014, for what students should be learning.

Read: Overdue for a change: IPS is poised to roll out new English curriculums

Along with new textbooks, the district will also increase fees by about $50 per student. Indiana is one of a handful of states that allow material rental fees, a controversial practice that shifts the cost of school supplies to families. Total per-student fees vary widely by school. Because many of its books are older, an Indianapolis Star report found that Indianapolis Public Schools has low fees compared to many of its neighboring districts. The IPS board also approved a contract Thursday with a collections agency that will attempt to recoup some unpaid textbook fees through letters and calls to parents.

All of the neighborhood schools will use the new English materials. But some campuses will not use the new books, including many magnets with special focuses, such as the district’s three Montessori schools, and innovation schools — considered part of the district but independently managed. (Innovation schools are responsible for choosing and purchasing their own curriculums.)

The district chose a single curriculum for elementary grades and two options for middle schools. At elementary schools, the district will use Into Reading by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a newly released curriculum that includes many lessons and supplementary materials. At middle school, schools will either use Into Reading or Wit & Wisdom from GreatMinds, which emphasizes high-quality texts.

Most of the district’s high schools will use myPerspectives from Pearson and materials from Bedford Freeman & Worth for honors and Advanced Placement courses. Shortridge High School will use textbooks from Hodder Education for International Baccalaureate courses, another advanced program.

District officials chose curriculums in part because a large portion of the texts focus on science and social studies, said Jessica Dunn, the interim curriculum officer for the district.

The district will also run teacher training in the summer and fall to encourage educators to integrate the new curriculums so they “are not sitting on shelves collecting dust,” Dunn said. “We want these materials to be used.”

The decision to adopt a single curriculum for most elementary schools is a shift for the district, which has emphasized the importance of giving principals more independence in recent years. When Indianapolis Public Schools purchased math curriculum three years ago, it adopted several programs so schools had options.

But Johnson sees advantages to using the same English curriculum at most schools. It will make it easier for students who transfer between district schools mid-year, and it will improve support for schools because central office staff will know the materials well, she said.

“We don’t ever want autonomy to be for the sake of autonomy,” Johnson said. “Having autonomy is so that we can move the needle on student outcomes.”

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Michigan school leaders and health officials take proactive steps to ease fears of a possible coronavirus outbreak https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/27/michigan-school-leaders-and-health-officials-take-proactive-steps-to-ease-fears-of-a-possible-coronavirus-outbreak/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/27/michigan-school-leaders-and-health-officials-take-proactive-steps-to-ease-fears-of-a-possible-coronavirus-outbreak/#respond Fri, 28 Feb 2020 00:56:13 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247606 Michigan’s education and health departments are joining forces to create guidance for school districts across the state in the event of a novel coronavirus epidemic.

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Michigan’s education and health departments are joining forces to create guidance for school districts across the state in the event of a novel coronavirus epidemic. 

The joint effort comes after federal health officials on Tuesday said schools must prepare now for the potential of the virus being found within their communities and determine what protocols are in place for school dismissals and closures. 

Alternatively, they said districts should explore if online learning options are available.  

In Michigan, decisions about whether a school needs to close because of a coronavirus exposure should be made with input from local health officials, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We will be providing further guidance, along with MDE, to schools in the coming days,” Sutfin said, referring to the Michigan Department of Education.

Officials in the Detroit Public Schools Community District plan to send home a letter to parents regarding what actions the district will take if a coronavirus case appears. They’re also working with local health authorities to provide resources and tips for families and staff to avoid spreading the virus. 

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, is a respiratory virus much like the flu and is highly contagious. Symptoms include severe cough, fever and difficulty breathing. In the worst cases, it can cause organ failure. 

Illinois schools are currently advising students and staff students to wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizer. 

There are currently no active cases of coronavirus in Michigan, according to information on the state health department web site. The department is monitoring more than 300 people. 

The virus has rapidly spread across the globe, stirring anxiety here in the U.S. There are more than  80,000 reported cases internationally, including the U.S., Italy, Iran, Japan, and China, where the outbreak originated in December, and almost 3000 reported fatalities. There's also the first case of the virus in California with no prior travel history to the affected areas.

Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, emailed his membership Thursday about the ongoing discussions at the state level.

Wigent underscored that the association is not seeking to raise more anxieties around the topic but is taking the steps to equip school districts with information and best practices. He also recommended that school districts begin contacting their local health departments on the issue. 

“In short, the purpose of this email is not to raise any additional concerns or to sound an alarm on this topic, but merely to let you know that we are working hard with others to ensure that we are being as proactive as possible,” he wrote.  

Are you worried about coronavirus at your school? Tell us here

You can read the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators’ email sent to public school leaders below.  

 

Coronavirus Update

Sent 8:31 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2020

All MASA Members,

As the Coronavirus continues to be in the headlines more and more every day, and school related articles such as the one recently published by Education Week continue to show up in the media, I wanted to reach out to all of you and let you know that there are currently state-wide discussions taking place regarding this important issue between MDE, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other organizations. MASA will work closely with these partners to provide information and resources to districts as soon as they are released with the intent being to make sure that you have the most up-to-date information.

In short, the purpose of this email is not to raise any additional concerns or to sound an alarm on this topic, but merely to let you know that we are working hard with others to ensure that we are being as proactive as possible, and that superintendents and school districts are as equipped to respond to this ever growing matter. I would also suggest that if you have not done so already, that you reach out to your local/county health department just to touch base with them on this topic and ensure that the lines of communication are open.

More to come on this one, but for now please know that this is high on our radar.

Sincerely,

Chris

Chris Wigent
Executive Director, MASA

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No coronavirus plans yet, but Tennessee schools are on alert https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/27/no-coronavirus-plans-yet-but-tennessee-schools-are-on-alert/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/27/no-coronavirus-plans-yet-but-tennessee-schools-are-on-alert/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 23:50:49 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247565 School districts across Tennessee are being told to stay on top of developments involving the coronavirus and to start crafting contingency plans now.

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School districts across Tennessee are being told to stay on top of developments involving the coronavirus and to start crafting contingency plans now.

In a spot check of the largest districts and several others from around the state, superintendents are instructing principals to prepare for the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak in their areas and heed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and their local health departments. 

However, few if any districts have issued specific protocols for schools to follow, such as planning for remote online classes should schools be forced to close. New York City education officials said Wednesday they are working closely with health officials and have no plans to close schools at this time. In Chicago, school officials are advising that students who have recently traveled to China not attend school for 14 days and that districts should excuse their absences. The education department also said it is not recommending that school personnel wear masks or cancel large gatherings. 

Shelby County Schools sent an internal memo to principals reassuring them that as many of their teachers, staff, and families prepare to travel during spring break, the district is working with the health department to share information about the highly contagious disease.

The Shelby County Health Department has confirmed there have been no reported cases of the novel coronavirus in Shelby County, district officials told principals in a recent memo. 

The district referred staff to its coordinated health and communication departments as well as to the health department’s  list of frequently asked questions

Earlier this week, federal health officials warned that a coronavirus outbreak was inevitable in the United States and could result in major disruptions, including closing down schools. “It’s not a question of if but rather a question of when and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said in a national media briefing

In Memphis, health officials held a press conference Wednesday to tamp down fears and encourage individuals to wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and stay home if they’re sick.

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, spreads much like the flu, through sneezing or coughing. The virus may also be transmitted when a person comes into contact with an infected surface and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes. 

While no cases have been confirmed in Tennessee, last month a Tennessee Tech University student was temporarily isolated for possible coronavirus before he tested negative. And an East Tennessee couple has been quarantined in Japan all month after the wife tested positive for coronavirus following a 13-day cruise. 

The Tennessee Department of Health hasn’t yet given specific guidance to schools, but federal health officials are warning employers to prepare for increased absences due to illness and dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools.  More information about the federal guidance can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

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What should it take to graduate high school? NYC families and educators sound off on exit exams and more. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/27/what-should-it-take-to-graduate-high-school-nyc-families-and-educators-sound-off-on-exit-exams-and-more/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/27/what-should-it-take-to-graduate-high-school-nyc-families-and-educators-sound-off-on-exit-exams-and-more/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 23:37:58 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247572 “We need the Regents exam to basically be eliminated,” Caitlyn Pace, a special education teacher at Bay Ridge’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology.

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As the state’s Board of Regents reconsiders the requirements to earn a diploma in New York, it kicked off the city’s participation in the two-year process with a meeting Wednesday at Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton High School. It was the first of 11 such events scheduled in the five boroughs. 

Officials plan to collect feedback from these discussions and send it to a commission that will eventually come up with ideas for changes to diploma requirements. (The commission has not yet been formed.)

State officials have stressed that they’re looking at much more than making changes to the Regents exams, or high school exit tests, and will dig into what it means to be ready for college or a career after high school. Still, the fate of the Regents came up repeatedly during the 90 minutes that teachers, education advocates, parents, and students brainstormed. Many of those in attendance argued that test preparation takes up too much classroom time.

“We need the Regents exam to basically be eliminated,” Caitlyn Pace, a special education teacher at Bay Ridge’s High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, said to loud applause at the Brooklyn meeting.

Pace described feeling “chained” to the tests, keeping her from teaching students what they need “to be successful in the 21st century.” Another Brooklyn high school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said she recently spent 40 uninterrupted minutes lecturing her students to prepare for exams instead of doing an “inquiry-based or engaging” classroom activity. 

“That is literally everything I have been taught not to do,” the teacher said. 

These were the key topics discussed Wednesday. 

The future of the Regents exams and multiple ways to earn a diploma 

Students are required to take five Regents exams, in English, social studies, math, and science, to graduate. In recent years, the Board of Regents has moved to ease these requirements by allowing students to substitute one of those tests for one in an alternate subject area, such as arts or career and technical education. But a relatively small number of students take advantage of this option — about 7% of New York City students who graduated last year took an alternate pathway to fulfill their Regents requirements.

Many educators and parents voiced support for removing the Regents exams as a diploma requirement, some noting that New York was among 11 states that still required high school exit exams.

Teachers shared stories about being unable to focus on “engaging” lessons because they had to make sure students were ready for the exit exams. 

But some at the meeting pushed back on eliminating the exams. They said the tests helped ensure teachers were held accountable, and it was a measurable way to show how students have progressed. 

One teacher noted that the city’s consortium schools allow students to graduate based on their work and projects, but must still pass the English Regents exam. (Schools wanting this approach must get state approval, and there are 36 such schools in New York City.) 

Several educators talked about giving students different ways to earn a diploma based on their specific interests, such as a particular vocational program, and assessing them based on that interest. Attendees worried there aren't enough career and technical education programs available for students.

“More value should be placed into technical programs,” said Nancy Cummings, a middle school teacher in Brooklyn. 

The need to focus on the ‘whole child’

Some parents and teachers talked about giving schools more resources that offer extra support for students and families, such as more social workers. That, they said, would help address some of the underlying issues that can make it tough for students to attend school consistently and be less likely to fall behind.

Several parents and educators praised the city’s community schools model, which provides wraparound services, such as more counselors and on-site eye exams, at 267 high-needs schools. They wondered about the effects of installing a single washing machine or having a pantry at more needy schools in an effort to get children to attend more consistently. 

“These are issues [that] have to be able to be addressed,” one parent, who identified herself as a local PTA president, later told the whole room.

A few teachers said they were charged with figuring out the social-emotional needs of students who have experienced trauma or are dealing with massive change, such as those who are newly arrived immigrants in the United States. 

A recent study of community schools showed an improvement in graduation rate, as well as attendance, math scores, and the rate at which students move up a grade. The researchers did not, however, find improvements in middle or elementary school reading scores. 

The importance of preparing students to solve 'real problems'

Several people argued that students needed more skills to help prepare them for the workplace and civic life, like understanding the importance of voting, or learning how to approach a job interview.

Maria Lima, a junior at Sunset Park High School, said she wanted to see teachers encourage empathy among students and teach them how to fix problems, such as racism and inequality.

“It’s not just about getting a diploma, not about just solving X and Y,” Lima said. “It’s about solving real problems, and allowing others to be able to solve problems if you help them.” 

There is an increasing appetite in New York and around the nation for better civic readiness curriculums, as the country’s political polarization grows and voter participation remains low. A civic readiness task force recently suggested a slew of recommendations for New York to adopt, such as pursuing an advocacy project as an alternative pathway to graduation. But proponents of that plan have said it’s hard to implement without enough funding to support districts with rolling out a new curriculum. 

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Parent group pushes Democratic presidential contenders on charters, winning audience before Biden and Warren https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/27/powerful-parent-network-democrats-warren-biden-charter-schools-sarah-carpenter/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/27/powerful-parent-network-democrats-warren-biden-charter-schools-sarah-carpenter/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 23:25:44 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247589 But one of the group's leaders said that the candidates had made no specific promises to address the group’s concerns that they would limit parental choice. 

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The Powerful Parent Network is getting meetings, but not concrete promises, from some leading Democratic candidates for president.

In South Carolina yesterday, the group of parents who favor school choice met with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Today, one of the group’s leaders, Sarah Carpenter, talked with Tom Steyer by phone, and the group met with his wife. Each of the candidates has been critical of charter schools, indicative of a recent shift in political winds against charter schools.

Carpenter said in an interview that the candidates made no specific promises to address the group’s concerns that they would limit parental choice.

Thursday night, Carpenter also spoke with former mayor Pete Buttigieg, who later answered a question from the group during a public event.

The meetings highlight the strides Powerful Parent Network — a group that supports school choice and drew headlines last November for confronting Warren at a campaign event — has made in getting the ear of some leading Democratic presidential candidates. It remains unclear, though, to what extent these meetings will translate into different policy proposals from a field of candidates who have generally been highly critical of school choice through charter schools and private school vouchers.

“Parents need to make choices where they want to send their kids,” said Carpenter. “Our kids are stuck in a system that’s been broken for decades. That’s all I’m saying. That’s my message, and they can take it or leave it.”

On Wednesday during a public event in Georgetown, South Carolina, Carpenter asked Biden why he was “lukewarm” on charter schools and choice. In response, the former vice president reiterated that he was “not a charter school fan,” before quickly pivoting to a broader discussion of improving education.

Afterward, Carpenter said she was disappointed by his response, saying, “Nobody’s addressing the system that got our kids into this mess."

But a short time later she and others had a private audience before Biden adviser Symone Sanders. In a video, she can be heard emphasizing Biden’s proposal to triple funding for Title I schools. (Symone Sanders even said that Biden was the only candidate to make such a promise; in fact, most other Democrats have made a version of this proposal. A Biden spokesperson said the advisor simply meant to emphasize that increasing Title I funds is a central part of Biden’s plan.)

Then they met with Biden himself. In a partial audio recording of the meeting, Biden can be heard saying that he opposes for-profit charter schools, but that some charter schools are succeeding.

“Most charter schools that are working are charter schools that are held to the same standards as public schools ... and are not able to turn people away because they can’t pass a test,” he said. (Charter schools in most states must admit students by random lottery. But in Delaware, Biden’s home state, charter schools can select students based partially on students’ test scores.)

Carpenter told Chalkbeat that Biden did not make specific promises. “He didn’t — we’re sending them over some literature,” she said. “We’ll wait to hear back from them.”

Biden has sounded a skeptical note on charter schools throughout the campaign, promising to ban for-profit charter schools, but his education plan does not mention them.

"Vice President Biden will do everything we can to help traditional public schools, which is what most students attend. He will ban for-profit charter schools from receiving federal funds and ensure that charter schools are held to the same levels of accountability and transparency as traditional public schools,” a Biden campaign spokesperson said in a statement.

Later Wednesday evening, the group met with Warren. For some of them it was the second time. Last November, Carpenter and others had a lengthy discussion with the Massachusetts senator after disrupting a campaign event in Atlanta. They took issue with Warren’s education plan, which called for new limits on charter schools, including eliminating a federal program to help start new charters. During the exchange Warren defended her plan, saying she was seeking more accountability for charter schools, but also promising that she would review the plan to “make sure I got it right.”

This time, Carpenter said, Warren mostly just heard them out. “We talked about parent choice,” said Carpenter. “All she did was listen — that was it.” Carpenter said Warren didn’t talk about any changes to her plan, and there’s no indication that any have been made. “It was a little bit disappointing,” said Carpenter, who said she was still pleased that Warren met with them again.

A spokesperson for the Warren campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Carpenter said the group offered the same message about the importance of school choice to Tom Steyer and his wife Thursday. Steyer has vowed to halt federal funding for new charter schools, a position the campaign reiterated to Chalkbeat.

“Tom and Kat believe it's important to meet with everyone out of respect for the opinions of those who disagree with them,” said Benjamin Gerdes, a spokesperson, “but the way to fix our public education system is not by working around it through charter schools or school vouchers, but by dealing directly with the challenges such as funding disparities and segregation."

On Thursday evening, the parent group attended a Buttigieg event, where Carpenter met with the former South Bend mayor. In response to a question from the group during the event, Buttigieg said that the school system had let down too many students of color, but emphasized the need to improve the public school system rather than focus on school choice.

“I understand why this has parents frustrated with their options and looking for any way possible to make sure there are more options for their children,” said Buttigieg. “I also think that if we solve this the right way — put the right resources into it and make sure whatever innovations develop in non-traditional schools ultimately are used to support and lift up traditional schools too — then your success will no longer depend on whether you win a lottery.”

Buttigieg has voiced skepticism about charter schools throughout the campaign, but his education platform does not seek to limit their growth like Warren’s or Bernie Sanders’ plans.

A spokesperson for Buttigieg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Powerful Parent Network has not spoken with Sanders, the leading candidate, but the group is seeking to meet with him Friday, according to social media posts.

Carpenter said the parents had raised money for the trip to South Carolina through small and large donations to a GoFundMe campaign, as well as a $10,000 matching contribution from a donor she declined to name. Carpenter leads an organization called the Memphis Lift, which is backed by groups, like the Walton Family Foundation, that are supportive of charter schools. (Walton is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

Under Carpenter’s leadership, the Memphis Lift has pushed to create a joint enrollment system for district and charter schools, protested the NAACP’s push to ban new charter schools, created a fellowship to help parents advocate at their schools, forged a strong relationship with the local school district, and helped similar parent groups form across the country.

Carpenter, who is a grandparent of 15, said she supports good charter schools, but doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as pro-charter. “If it's a failing district school I want it shut down; If it's a failing charter, I want it shut down,” she said. (Carpenter said she doesn’t have a position on private school vouchers.)

The Powerful Parent Network’s effort to reach candidates comes at a perilous political moment for charter schools. Most of the Democratic candidates have taken a sharply skeptical view of the schools, which were promoted by former President Barack Obama. Many attended a forum last year hosted by teachers unions, civil rights groups, and others critical of charter schools. The American Federation of Teachers recently urged its members to vote for either Biden, Sanders, or Warren.

Support for charter schools has fallen among white Democratic voters, though generally held steady among black and Hispanic Democrats.

Advocates of charter schools emphasize giving parents’ choices among schools, and the high academic performance of many charter schools in cities; critics argue the schools lack sufficient oversight and place financial strain on school districts.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration, often seen as a staunch ally of school choice proponents, recently proposed eliminating a $440 million federal fund earmarked for charter schools. Advocates at the national level pushed back aggressively, which led a Trump education official to refer to them as “desperate.”

Carpenter said that the parent network would eventually seek out Trump too. “I will talk to Trump at the right time,” she said. “He needs to know what low-income communities deal with also.”

This story has been updated with information on the group’s meeting with Pete Buttigieg Thursday night.

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We asked Chicago teachers to tell us about their most powerful lesson. Here are five answers. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/27/we-asked-chicago-teachers-to-tell-us-about-their-most-powerful-lesson-here-are-five-answers/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/27/we-asked-chicago-teachers-to-tell-us-about-their-most-powerful-lesson-here-are-five-answers/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 23:01:11 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246524 What are teachers' most powerful lessons? Five Chicago teachers explain theirs.

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Chicago is embarking on a $135 million curriculum redesign and leaning on committees of teachers to help. But which lessons resonate most with students? Chalkbeat asked five Chicago finalists for the 2020 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching — which recognizes educators for their teaching practice, curriculum selection, and impact on students — to tell us about their most powerful lesson in their classrooms right now and how their classes respond.

Here are five of the responses, edited for length and clarity.

Want to tell us about a powerful lesson of your own or weigh in on the district's curriculum redesign? Take our survey below. Your responses could inform a future story.


Kelsie Mizel
Teaches fifth grade English, science, social studies, math, and social and emotional skills at Wildwood IB World Magnet School

A lesson called “What About Us?” sheds light on racial and gender inequalities that existed around the American Revolution. I show a slideshow with Pink’s “What About Us?” song playing in the background. The first half consists of portraits of historical figures from the colonial era. I ask questions like, “What did you notice?” or “Was anyone missing from the slideshow?”

Students note the absence of women, African Americans or Native Americans in the slideshow. They often make connections and references to other historical periods and even the present day. Then I show the second half of the slideshow which includes pictures of influential women, African Americans and Native Americans, also from the colonial era.

I end by asking, “Was there liberty and justice for all Americans in the 1700s? Is there liberty and justice for all now?”

I like this lesson because it doesn't teach a story from one perspective. Growing up, I always felt that we learned about the same people who shaped America. It is important for students to learn from multiple perspectives and to be inclusive of all cultures.


Tolulope Solola
Teaches sixth through eighth grade science and social science at Frazier International Magnet School

My students love the genetics unit. They learn about what makes them unique. Middle school students’ worlds revolve around their egos, so students are interested in learning more about what their genes say about who they are. We discuss how genes are influenced by both environmental and genetic (nature vs. nurture) factors.

In one lesson, students use a diagram to explain fraternal twins who look different. In one example, two African American parents gave birth to a set of twins. One had lighter skin, blues eyes and blond hair and the other had darker skin, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Students find this a fascinating phenomenon.

I teach majority African American students. Students find out what truly makes them unique and love themselves more for it. This unit touches on having pride in their melanin — skin color — and also forces them to inquire more about their ancestry and inherited genes be they dominant or recessive.


Ruth Muhlberger
Teaches sixth through eighth grade math and eighth grade social and emotional learning at Belmont Cragin Elementary

Social and emotional learning is a part of the Belmont Cragin culture. The older students become, the more self-conscious they become. I have found myself having to be a bit more creative in sparking discussions in the classroom. I teach lessons using TED Talks and other videos and have found that even if I can’t get everyone to participate in the whole class sharing time, I can get them to participate in the smaller group setting.

When I asked my students to share what lessons resonated with them I was surprised to have unanimous feedback. Every group wrote about the Golden Rule, which are videos created by Brooks Gibbs, an award-winning resilience educator who teaches students, parents, and teachers how to become emotionally strong and resolve conflict. They teach students to treat others as you want others to treat you.

The lesson led to a great discussion. At the end of our conversation, the majority of students were able to see the value in being kind to everyone. They understood that kindness can help diffuse a situation.

Students learn the foundation of what it means to be a more engaged, thoughtful, empathetic, respectful, responsible and compassionate citizen. Students’ involvement in social-emotional learning is laying the foundation for them to be able to make good decisions on their own. In class we discuss how their choices impact their future. We focus on “self” so that students can be able to then make a difference in the lives of others — it has to start with self. This lesson definitely caused students to think about behavior and choice making.


Michael Stewart
Teaches seventh and eighth grade math and social studies at LEARN South Chicago

One lesson that resonated with my seventh grade students took place when we simulated buying and financing a car to understand and solve simple interest problems. The goal was to deepen the students’ understanding of problem solving using percentages. Students used the simple interest formula and a table to demonstrate the proportional relationship that exists between the number of years, principal and interest.

Students were given the price of a car ($30,000) and three loan scenarios involving down payments, monthly payments, and duration of loan. They had to choose the best loan and provide reasonable explanations for their choice.

Students recognized that while the monthly payments for the loans with longer terms were smaller, the overall interest paid on the longer loan was higher when compared with loans with shorter terms. The scenarios were set up to illustrate how different factors affect the total amount that is paid over time. For example, higher down payments or initial investments shortened the length of loans and resulted in lower interest rates and less interest accrued. Conversely, lower initial investments resulted in longer loan repayment periods, higher interest rates, and more interest accrued.

This required parents to share their ideas and experiences with loans with their children. We also discussed predatory loans and high interest rates that disproportionately affect lower-income groups.


Paloma Salcedo
Teaches fourth grade at Brighton Park Elementary School

One lesson that resonated with my students centered around the book, “Stef Soto, Taco Queen.” Many students enjoyed the text because it featured a very relatable character who learned the importance of family, friendship, and honesty.

I created lessons in English and Spanish on how to create a positive and welcoming community. The lesson that had the most impact taught students that good readers can make meaningful connections between the text and their lives.

I also used the lesson to explain the importance of friendship and the feeling of wanting to belong and to connect to others.

This lesson prompted students to think critically: What is a friend? What do they look like, sound like, etc.? This lesson also helped bolster the lessons taught in our social and emotional learning program, where students learn they have to listen to others with attention if they want to build friendships.

My goal was to have students reflect on whether they have been good friends and what they can do to build new friendships at the beginning of the school year. I also wanted to create a safe and warm environment where the students would feel more comfortable with sharing their thoughts with their partners and understand that they need to respect everyone’s perspectives and voices in our classroom.

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Amid pushback, Indiana lawmakers abandon restrictions on school referendums https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/amid-pushback-indiana-lawmakers-abandon-restrictions-on-school-referendums/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/amid-pushback-indiana-lawmakers-abandon-restrictions-on-school-referendums/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 22:35:33 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247518 After receiving pushback from teachers, lawmakers scrapped a proposal that would have limited when school districts could ask voters to approve a tax increase.

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After receiving pushback from teachers, lawmakers scrapped a proposal that would have limited when school districts could ask voters to approve a tax increase — a move that some feared would lower the chances of future measures passing.

The proposal, which the Senate elections committee quietly added to a bill earlier this month, would have restricted schools from running a referendum in May, forcing them instead to put the question on the November ballot. It was removed after reaching the full Senate on Thursday.

The bill now would only limits schools from holding special elections to run referendums.

This isn’t the first time referendum restrictions have come up at the Statehouse. Those who favor limiting these votes argue that timing the public question with the general election will ensure better turnout, since fewer voters show up for primaries.

“I think it’s important when there’s a public question that can end up resulting in a tax increase that the maximum number of voters possible weigh-in,” said Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, an elections committee member.

But school advocates say the restriction would have hampered traditional public school districts by chipping away at their only option for increasing revenue above the state’s property tax cap. The Indiana State Teachers Union said limiting districts to a November vote is “unnecessary,” saying on its website there is no evidence the current system is being abused.

Referendums have seen higher rates of success in May, according to Indiana University's Center for Evaluation & Education Policy, which tracks these votes. Since 2009, 73% of the referendums attempted in May have passed while 56% passed in November.

“Now that (schools) are winning, they want to put handcuffs on it,” said Paul Kaiser, Superintendent of Beech Grove Schools. “It shouldn’t be the General Assembly telling what’s best for Beech Grove… we have elected officials on the school board who should decide.”

With schools largely reliant on state money for operating expenses, a growing number of districts are appealing to voters. More than 115 of the state’s nearly 300 districts have put education referendums on the ballot in the past decade.

More than 100 referendums have been run in the spring over the last decade, while 66 have been on the ballot in November. This May, voters in 11 districts will consider 14 referendums.

Beech Grove will vote on two such referendums in May. If passed, they would bring in an additional $16 million for construction and $800,000 for operations each year for eight years.

The district has previously passed referendums in both the fall and spring, Kaiser said. They chose May this year to allow more time after school began to give voters information.

“When you do it in the fall you don’t have as much time to meet with people,” he said. “For us, it was really more of the timing and having more time to hold community meetings.”

The state already adjusted its referendum process to encourage districts to stay within the regular election cycle. Some districts held special elections at their own cost during off years in order to renew their seven-year operational referendums, which are generally used for teacher pay and programming. Those measures now last for eight years.

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'We trust each other': New literacy approach in Adams 14 schools showing slow but steady results https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/27/we-trust-each-other-new-literacy-approach-in-adams-14-schools-showing-slow-but-steady-results/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/27/we-trust-each-other-new-literacy-approach-in-adams-14-schools-showing-slow-but-steady-results/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 22:04:41 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247516 Local consulting partner, Schools Cubed, is helping Adams 14 schools improve reading with use of a new curriculum and other changes.

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In a darkened room one Monday afternoon, first-grade teacher Nicole Houghton sat in a rocking chair facing about a dozen of her students sitting on the floor.

“Choppers ready,” Houghton told her class at Rose Hill Elementary in Commerce City. They all clasped their hands together.

As she slowly pronounced a list of words, students used their hand choppers to “chop” down as they sounded out the word and broke it into different syllables. Then she asked them to identify, and yell out the final syllable in each word.

It’s a first-grade class, but it was an intervention period where students were catching up on a kindergarten-level skill.

At Rose Hill, the daily intervention time every student gets for at least 30 minutes is one new part of the daily routine. But lots more has changed in the school recently. Teachers are working with new curriculum and regularly meeting to talk about data and how their students are performing. And they’re being led by a new principal.

“My teachers have been put down and gone through so much. I think they’ve been traumatized,” said Luis Camas, the Rose Hill principal. “Until now. Now we’re focusing on our students and moving forward.”

Across the district, Adams 14 is working to improve literacy instruction with the help of a local consultant, Schools Cubed, which focuses on turnaround work through literacy. They started working in Adams 14 last school year. Now they’ve continued their work as partners of MGT Consulting, the company that the state ordered to take over daily operations of Adams 14 to try to improve academic outcomes.

Making sure kids learn to read is a huge part of the improvement work for the district.

Last year 21% of third-graders in Adams 14 met reading standards. It’s a low number, far behind the state average of 41.3%, but it represented a big jump from 2018 when 14.7% of third-graders were on grade level in reading. Of district schools with data, all made significant gains in getting more third-graders to test at grade level in reading, although the results are still far below the state average.

Overall, district officials told the Adams 14 board board this week that all data points suggest students are improving, although not at a fast-enough pace to meet this year’s goals.

Rose Hill is a small school of 379 students, where about 88% qualify for subsidized lunch, a measure of poverty, and half of all students are learning English as a second language. Rose Hill students have an even lower performance than the district average. In 2019, just 13% of all students met or exceeded expectations for reading, up from 12% the year before.

Camas, in his first year as principal of Rose Hill, said improving the culture of the school so that there can be a focus on improvement has been a big lift.

Just like the district’s external managers are finding as they try to improve the district, Camas found a lot of systems missing. Teachers weren’t in the habit of tracking their student data and talking about it. They didn’t have a lot of time to collaborate.

But making sure the changes his teachers are experiencing aren’t overwhelming has meant he needs to be vulnerable too, he said, and ask for help.

One day recently, Camas was discussing a strategy for literacy instruction with one of his teachers, when she asked him more about the “why.”

Not knowing the best answer himself, Camas immediately called Alan Dillon, the Schools Cubed consultant assigned to his school.

Dillon was able to give Camas more information, so he could walk through it with the teacher, and help her put it in practice in her classroom.

Whether the example shows the teacher questioning the new way she is learning to teach reading, or whether it just shows a deeper level of discussion about the practice, either way it’s a good thing, officials said.

“It’s huge,” said Pati Montgomery, the founder and CEO of Schools Cubed. “As long as they’re reflecting on their practice.”

That’s how Schools Cubed works with schools. Instead of working one-on-one with teachers, they work most with principals, instructional coaches, and district leaders to train them to observe for good teaching and to coach teachers to improve.

This approach builds capacity, so that Adams 14 leaders like Camas and other district leaders can take on the work themselves in the future.

“They've been key in building capacity,” Camas siad. “In helping us understand essential elements of literacy, phonics, fluency, and how does that look in a classroom.”

Schools Cubed also worked with the district in suggesting a new literacy curriculum, Superkids for kindergarten through second grades and Wonders, for third through fifth grades. That was rolled out just in the last year.

Then Schools Cubed gave Adams 14 elementary teachers some training at the beginning of the school year about the science behind learning to read. They’ve also helped train instructional coaches, paraprofessionals, and volunteers to help work on skills with young students during intervention time.

Schools Cubed consultants spend about three days per month at Adams 14 elementary schools.

When Schools Cubed visits Rose Hill, Camas and the consultants walk into classrooms to observe teaching together then they debrief and look for the most important things that need to be changed.

“If we did 100 things we would just overwhelm everyone,” Montgomery said. “What are those next steps that will make a big difference? What is that one thing that will move us far? And we sit down to talk about it together.”

At Rose Hill, Camas has advocated for the improvement strategies that revolve around his school’s theme of developing oral language. Some examples of suggestions from Schools Cubed have been to develop more explicit instruction for students during small group time, and a suggestion for more training on strategies teachers can use to help students develop their oral language.

Because so many students are English learners, and all students need to improve literacy, the school is focusing on giving students opportunities to talk as a way to develop their vocabulary and practice language.

In a fifth-grade classroom, toward the end of one unit, teacher Haley Stratton encouraged her students, who sat in groups of about four per table, to talk to each other about the story “They Don’t Mean It,” which they had just finished reading.

Stratton said that as she tests student progress, her fifth-graders have also taken ownership of how they’re learning, and are excited to improve.

“ ‘I read five more words than last week,’ a student will tell me,” Stratton said. “They’re really wanting to do their best.”

Across the school, in a kindergarten classroom, teacher Karen Ernst gives her students a suggested sentence with a blank word, such as, “I can see a blank out the window.” Then she asks her kindergarteners to repeat the sentence, filling in the blank with a word of their choice as a way to encourage them to develop their language and to recognize the proper structure of a sentence.

Ernst has been at Rose Hill for 23 years. She said this year, she is excited about the new curriculum, which she said is “very thoughtfully designed” and helping her students show more growth than in the past. But she also believes the school culture has already improved this year.

“The thing I appreciate the most is the autonomy we have. I have been given the freedom that if one day reading takes an hour, it’s OK,” Ernst said. “It's known you’re doing it for the greater good. Now it’s ‘please do what’s best for kids.’”

“How can I get them to do the things we need to do?” Camas said. “Because we trust each other.”

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Lawmakers reject plan to crack down on Indiana virtual schools. Here’s what they propose instead. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/247515/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/27/247515/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 21:48:59 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247515 A panel of lawmakers killed a bill that would have created new safeguards for virtual schools. They instead offered a less-direct response to an alleged fraud.

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A panel of lawmakers on Thursday killed a bill that would have created new safeguards for virtual schools. They instead offered a less-direct response to an alleged $86 million online education scam.

The new proposal calls for the Indiana Department of Education to report all of the students in the state who were enrolled but failed to complete a course this school year. If the department finds cases of wrongdoing, it could ask the State Board of Education to sign off on withholding funding from those schools or revoking their charters.

If approved, the proposal would, at least temporarily, shift some of the responsibility of making sure charter schools comply with student count rules from the authorizer to the education department. It would be a significant change for the education department, considering it currently relies heavily on schools verifying their student counts.

The statewide report for 2019-20 would mimic how the Daleville district found enrollment discrepancies at the two virtual charter schools it oversaw, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy. Those schools are accused of improperly collecting more than $68 million from the state by counting thousands of inactive students.

“The reporting requirements in there is, I think, the beginning of the ability to compare across the board,” said Jeff Raatz, the Republican Senate education committee chairman. “Whether students are in traditional public, virtual charter, or charter, or voucher school.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to add the new language on Thursday without a formal vote, tucking it into a bill that then passed 11-0. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Education department spokesman Adam Baker declined to comment Thursday, saying the department is reviewing the proposal.

No lawmaker attempted to revive the language from the scrapped bill, which sought to define online attendance and add consequences for students and schools when those enrolled don’t spend enough time on schoolwork or take standardized tests.

The committee also rejected multiple Democrat proposals that would have gone a step further in cracking down on virtual schools, including by capping enrollment at 1,200 students for each school and putting authorizers directly on the hook for virtual charter school operations. They were ideas also recommended by the education department.

“It’s clear that Republicans are more focused on placing blame on the Indiana Department of Education than holding virtual charter schools accountable for state funding and student participation," said Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis. "This should be about fixing the problem so that Hoosier students and taxpayers do not suffer."

One failed Democratic proposal aimed to prevent insider dealing by charter school operators by prohibiting them from entering contracts worth more than $1,000 with a relative, or in cases where they would benefit from the proceeds. Operators of the Indiana Virtual Schools funneled millions to a tangled web of related companies.

Lawmakers have been walking a tightrope on virtual charter schools: taking small steps to crack down on the publicly funded sector’s low academic results, while not wanting to impose too many regulations on what they see as an important school choice option for students struggling in brick-and-mortar settings.

As the education department and Democratic minority see it, the funding abuse points to a vulnerability in how Republican leaders set up the virtual school system. As Republican leaders and school choice advocates see it, the alleged scam stems in part from a serious failure of the department and could be exploited by any type of school.

“Somebody had the information and wasn’t paying attention,” said Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne.

The department currently runs some 70 checks on enrollment counts used for funding, including steps to verify that students aren’t being claimed by more than one district. But they don’t go as far as to cross-reference that data with which students are recorded as completing a course.

On Thursday Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, urged lawmakers to continue to be careful when putting restrictions on virtual schools to leave the door open for more.

“Ten years from now are we going to have more or less virtual education?” he asked. “I think we all know the answer to that. We’re going to have more virtual education, really, at all levels."

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‘It becomes a battle’: Newark school officials struggle with how to involve more parents https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/27/it-becomes-a-battle-newark-school-officials-struggle-with-how-to-involve-more-parents/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/27/it-becomes-a-battle-newark-school-officials-struggle-with-how-to-involve-more-parents/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 20:58:51 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247501 When Yolanda Johnson attended Camden Street Elementary, her grandmother, who raised her, helped lead the school’s parent organization.

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When Yolanda Johnson attended Camden Street Elementary, her grandmother, who raised her, helped lead the school’s parent organization. While keeping tabs on the school, her grandmother also kept an eye on Johnson's performance in the classroom.

“If she wasn’t involved, I don’t know what I would’ve done,” she said.

Today, as the mother of a University High School student, Johnson believes so strongly in the benefits of her grandmother's involvement that she champions for increased family engagement in education and is involved in University’s parent organization. 

Research backs up the importance of parent groups. Students’ grades and graduation rates can increase when their families are more involved in their education. 

But a Chalkbeat records request for all current, active parent organizations in the district shows that 14% of Newark schools don't have official parent organizations as of November 2019. January school board minutes show the district is still trying to get a current count. 

How to get parents more involved in educating their students and giving input into district policy has been a standing topic on the board’s agenda for months. A continuous thread in Superintendent Roger León’s strategic plan is to involve more parents and create parent organizations in every school. He also wants to establish a districtwide council of parents that pulls from those organizations

However, some parents still don’t think the district is doing enough to involve parents, and they don’t understand how much input León wants them to have in decision-making.

“I know the district has pushed for more parent involvement... but it’s just not enough,” Johnson said. “It needs to be more aggressive.”

Work responsibilities, no access to transportation, and poor lines of communication between schools and parents can create barriers to parental involvement in schools.

Peshine Avenue School has a parent organization that could set an example for other schools. The group meets three times a month — once as a whole, once as an executive board, and once with the school administration.

This past November, the organization fed more than 50 people during its Thanksgiving Drive and gave Christmas toys to the school’s younger students in December. 

“We stayed there from 7 a.m. in the morning until 7 p.m. that night wrapping gifts,” President Kimberly Charles said, noting that they have several more fundraisers and bake sales planned, as well as events during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. “We try to stay as involved as we can and make ourselves accessible.”

Charles thinks the district-wide parent council “would be great. The more parents we can get involved will not only make schools stronger, but the community stronger.” 

“If we could interact with other schools and other parents, that would be really great. It takes a village to raise a child,” she said.

In its ongoing effort to increase parental involvement, the school board launched its parent engagement tour in October. It provides a casual setting for parents who might be intimidated by a formal meeting to address members of the school board. The meetings also allow the board to gauge the community’s opinion of a district-wide parent advisory council. 

While board members are looking for more direct lines of communication with parents, parents are looking for the same thing at their children’s schools. Many parents find the structure and dues required in PTA and PTO organizations discourage them from being more involved.

Avon Avenue Elementary School doesn’t have a listed parent organization. Instead, former parent liaison Marcus Allen said the school has a parent ambassador program, which allows parents to work directly with schools to plan events, volunteer, or form committees to address student issues. 

“The challenge is that in the past, historically, parents have gotten caught up in the elected [body] of the PTAs or PTOs, and it never really allows parents to come here and get the work done,” he said. “The parent ambassador initiative allows parents the opportunity to still be leaders.” 

Some district parents say they are unaware of what’s going on at their child’s school and have complained of feeling unwelcome there, which discourages them from getting involved. Parents said cooperation with the school administration is integral to their involvement. 

“As a parent, we know what we want in schools,” said Haneefah Webster, PTO president at George Washington Carver Elementary School. “You’re supposed to be helping us, but instead, it becomes a battle. You get tired.”

Johnnie Lattner co-founded Parents Unified for Local School Education, or PULSE, to train parents as advocates to effect change in schools and teach them about how much power they have, especially when they come together — something he thinks parents are often unaware of. (Lattner is a member of Chalkbeat's reader advisory board.)

“Parents and students should drive the school. I think their voice is so important, particularly in Newark and diverse, urban areas,” he said. “The challenge is that we as a community have not taken the time to educate parents about just how powerful they are.”

He cited the recent debate over the board’s proposed change to the public comment policy at meetings. Some parents feel capping the number of speakers at regular board meetings at 30 people is another way the board is decreasing parental input. 

“That is a violation of their rights,” he said. “Parents feel like they don’t have a voice in Newark Public Schools.”

As the district works to lay out its plan for more parental involvement, four more stops on the district’s parent engagement tour are scheduled in the coming months. In addition, a school board committee has asked assistant superintendents to provide a list of parents to be recognized at each monthly board meeting.

“Without parents, a school can’t thrive, and that’s a fact,” Johnson said. “So trying to get Newark to understand that is important. We should be engaged and involved, because they’re our children.”

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Chicago district defends academic record as inspector general presents critical report on NWEA test https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/chicago-district-defends-academic-record-as-inspector-general-presents-critical-report-on-nwea-test/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/chicago-district-defends-academic-record-as-inspector-general-presents-critical-report-on-nwea-test/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 02:13:16 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247399 Board members and administrators maintained that test scores reflect higher achievement and disputed Inspector General Nicholas Schuler's analysis.

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Chicago school officials bristled and responded critically Wednesday to the city's outgoing inspector general, whose latest report documented irregularities in the high-stakes annual tests administered to students.

Board members and administrators maintained that test scores reflect higher achievement and disputed Inspector General Nicholas Schuler's analysis that the report indicated some cheating and gaming of the system

‘The district has exhibited real, sustained academic progress, as noted by numerous independent studies… all of which have come to conclusions using a variety of metrics and assessments other than NWEA, ” Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said, referring to the state test. 

In his last board meeting before leaving his post, Schuler formally presented a report on Wednesday showing irregularities in the administration and scores of a high-stakes test for third through eighth grades. Test results affect school ratings, teacher evaluations, and admissions to selective enrollment high schools. 

Two years in the making, the report found a dramatic difference between the amount of time Chicago students took to complete the untimed test known as NWEA/MAP during one testing cycle and the average time nationwide, and signs of unusual test pausing. Both discrepancies could “be an indicator of cheating or of attempts to game the test,” according to a report provided to the Chicago Board of Education. 

In response, district officials strongly disputed the idea that cheating took place, saying Schuler had not provided sufficient evidence. Leaders also insisted that the testing irregularities did not negate the academic gains that Chicago schools have made in the past decade

Even so, officials acknowledged a need for more clear and consistent oversight on the NWEA. Administrators said they would adopt the majority of the report’s recommendations including defining a time limit for the test, more closely reviewing how it is administered, hiring a testing security firm, prohibiting teachers from being the sole person overseeing a test on which they are graded, and reevaluating all the district’s standardized testing. 

A few new details from the report emerged at the meeting. The average time Chicago students spent on the test got progressively longer from 2016 to 2018. To help understand what took place at schools, the Office of the Inspector General interviewed 20 students and 10 teachers. 

One seventh grader told the investigators that her classmates would rather let a question time out than guess and be wrong. “We were so worried about high school,’’ the seventh grader said, since NWEA scores are part of a student’s admissions portfolio for the district’s selective enrollment high schools. “Guessing — we would never do that.”

In analyzing test results the report found long tests had a “strong relationship” with unusual growth in achievement. 

But district officials said the results didn’t show a correlation between duration and academic growth. 

Several board members appeared visibly frustrated by the term “ cheating,” even as Schuler protested that he had not meant to suggest widespread and deliberate wrongdoing, but was instead pointing to some discrepancies. 

It’s a serious accusation to our teachers, students and school communities, and I don’t see the evidence here, ”  board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said.

 “It feels irresponsible,” board member Amy Rome said. 

Board members were particularly concerned that the report could be used to downplay the work of students and teachers in communities of color. “You have taken away the hard-won credit of the school,” said Lucino Sotelo. 

In response, Schuler and his team said some cheating was possible. “It would be naive to think that is not in the mix of possible situations, ” he said.

But, at the end of the day, he said that his team didn’t have the capacity to seek out widespread wrongdoing. Instead, the report, his last as inspector general, was an effort to push change in a high-stakes test. “If you take the cheating out of it, we are still facing serious questions about the validity of the test,” he said. 

The NWEA test will next be administered this spring, and the district’s contract with NWEA expires in June.

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The Colorado education voter’s guide to the 2020 Democratic presidential primary https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-education-voters-guide-2020-democratic-presidential-primary/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-education-voters-guide-2020-democratic-presidential-primary/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 01:27:37 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247378 For voters who care about education issues, there’s plenty to distinguish the candidates. We've put it all in one place.

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Four years after they threw their support behind Bernie Sanders, Democratic voters are again weighing in on who should be the Democratic nominee for president. The 2020 Democratic presidential primary this time involves a new process — and unaffiliated voters will also have a say.

Voters have until Tuesday to return their ballots.

The Democratic presidential primary election comes amid a shift in how many Democratic voters view education policy, partly in reaction to President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Charter schools and tougher accountability laws once enjoyed broad support, but now are more controversial. Candidates have stood in solidarity with striking teachers and are more likely to call for raising teacher pay than for getting rid of low-performing educators.

For voters who care about education issues, there’s plenty to distinguish the candidates. Some are running on their record of supporting education reform, while others want to remove federal funding from charter schools. The candidates have pledged to improve teacher pay, expand preschool programs, and tackle school segregation — or at least encourage districts to do so.

We’ve gathered together the education plans and policy statements of all the Democratic candidates, to help you make your choice.

There are 17 Democrats on the Colorado primary ballot, but only eight major candidates remaining. None of them hail from Colorado, with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and former Gov. John Hickenlooper both having withdrawn after failing to gain traction.

Those still in the race are: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren.

This is the first time in several presidential cycles that Colorado is using a primary, rather than a caucus, to assign delegates to presidential candidates. This means you can vote in the privacy of your own home and return your ballot at your own convenience, just like you do in other elections, rather than gather in a high school gym with a few thousand of your friends and neighbors.

There’s another important change this year. Unaffiliated voters can vote in the presidential primary. They received Democratic and Republican ballots in the mail and can choose which one to participate in. But remember: Only vote one ballot!

You can find our 2020 Cheat Sheet on the candidates' education positions here.

If you need to register or get a ballot, the Secretary of State's Office can help.

 

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Colorado school districts to work with local health departments amid coronavirus threat https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-school-districts-to-work-with-local-health-departments-amid-coronavirus-threat/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-school-districts-to-work-with-local-health-departments-amid-coronavirus-threat/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 01:12:17 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247368 In general, Colorado school districts plan to keep schools open unless public health authorities tell them to close.

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Colorado school districts have pledged to work closely with local public health authorities to keep students safe as federal health officials expressed mounting concern about the spread of coronavirus cases.

In general, districts plan to keep schools open unless public health authorities tell them to close. Some districts said they’re working on ways to continue instruction if schools close, but it’s not clear yet what that would look like — or if it will ever be necessary.

Centers for Disease Control officials said in a news briefing Tuesday that spread of the virus in the United States is inevitable and urged agencies, including school districts, to prepare plans to help slow the spread. Those could include dividing classes into smaller groups or closing school altogether. Those steps are not necessary yet, but school districts should be prepared to put such measures in place, officials said.

Local district plans call for closely tracking attendance data to report daily to state health agencies and stepping up sanitation efforts. Districts are also looking at other roles that schools could play. For example, in a worst-case scenario in which health centers are overwhelmed, Jeffco has a plan to designate seven school sites as places where community members could receive medicine or vaccines.

As of Tuesday, the CDC reported 14 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. None of them in Colorado.

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, spreads much like the flu, through sneezing or coughing. The virus may also be transmitted when a person comes into contact with an infected surface and then touches their nose, mouth, or eyes.

Symptoms, which can be delayed after contact with the virus, include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Health officials say people should follow typical measures such as frequent hand washing, sneezing or coughing into the crook of the elbow, and staying home if sick.

School district officials said they are taking guidance from local and state health departments.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sent letters to schools and child care providers noting that schools and centers can “help control the spread of respiratory pathogens by regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.” The letter also said the department would be in regular communication with school nurses.

On Wednesday, Katy Anthes, the state’s commissioner of education, sent a note to district superintendents letting them know the department is working on plans to support schools.

“Please know that you have my commitment that CDE will be supportive of you and will provide any of you that experience a prolonged closure with the utmost flexibilities regarding instructional time, data reporting, and other state-level requirements,” she said in her note to superintendents.

Adams 14 officials said that on Tuesday they requested a meeting with Tri-County Health officials to receive more guidance.

In Westminster, spokesman Steve Saunders said the district discussed its preparations with school board members on Tuesday and plans to meet with principals on Thursday to talk about the possibility of multiday closures.

“We don’t have those capabilities for remote learning,” where a class would be streamed to students at home, Saunders said. But one possibility the district will consider is whether it may be able to let students check out Chromebooks to do some work at home in case of school closing.

Saunders said the district has tried to get a sense of how many of its students, many of whom come from low-income families, have internet access in their homes, but said it’s hard to get a good idea. Still, he said the district may consider sending out a survey to gather new data.

Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second-largest school district, shared a “Highly Infectious Disease Preparedness Plan” that has just been updated, and is available for review online.

That plan calls for close communication with other agencies, and notes the district response will be to “maintain school staying in session until notified by local authorities for the need to close.”

A spokeswoman for the Douglas County school districts said that should an outbreak in the county occur, “we will work with all agencies to clearly communicate a step-by-step plan to first and foremost, keep our students and staff safe, and then plan to continue to educate them during an outbreak.”

Most school districts did not offer detailed plans for what conditions would cause schools to close or how they might offer classes remotely. In some communities, especially with high numbers of low-income families, that could be a challenge.

Colorado did recently see another instance in which the rapid spread of a stomach virus shut down schools across the state at the end of 2019, including two in Adams 14, and the entire school district of Mesa County in western Colorado. In those cases, the districts did not offer remote learning while schools were closed.

Regardless of pre-existing plans, what ends up being put in place in each community will depend on the severity of the spread of the virus locally.

Ann Schimke contributed to this report.

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Graduation rate is down in the Detroit district but up statewide https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/graduation-rate-is-down-in-the-detroit-district-but-up-statewide-according-to-new-data/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/graduation-rate-is-down-in-the-detroit-district-but-up-statewide-according-to-new-data/#respond Thu, 27 Feb 2020 01:10:58 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247363 The statewide graduation rate inched up, according to data released Wednesday afternoon by the state.

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The graduation rate in the Detroit school district declined last year, according to new data, landing at 75.84% for the class of 2019. 

That’s down from 77.27% the previous year. Statewide, 81.41% of the students in the class of 2019 graduated on time, up from 80.64% the previous year. The graduation rate percentages reflect the number of students who began as freshmen in the fall of 2015 and graduated during the 2018-19 school year, and take into account students who transferred in or out during that time. 

(Scroll down to search the graduation rates for schools and districts in Michigan)

It’s unclear why the rate went down in the Detroit district, though some of it could be related to the impact of the district taking back control of a handful of high schools in 2017 that had previously been in the Education Achievement Authority, a state reform district for some of the worst performing schools in the city. Those high schools had been in the EAA for five years.

Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement that there may have been issues with the way the state identified some students — particularly those who had previously been with the reform district — when calculating the rates.

Regardless of those issues, Vitti said, "more work needs to be done."

"All district indicators are moving in the right direction but graduation rate," Vitti said, referring to improvement the district has seen in academic achievement and in areas such as chronic absenteeism. "Our elementary and K-8 schools reflect the best of our rebuilding efforts. Our high schools have been slow to implement the reform at scale. High school reform will certainly be a greater focus in the years to come."

The data were released late Wednesday afternoon by the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information.

Among the steps Vitti said the district has taken to improve high schools: Teachers are using a new literacy and math curriculum, career academies were expanded and there is a greater focus on data related to attendance, absenteeism, staffing, discipline, SAT performance, college and career participation, and graduation rates.

Meanwhile, Vitti said the district will begin issuing its own letter grades to schools. And an assistant superintendent has been assigned to oversee all high schools "to streamline support and accountability."

Vitti said reform at the schools that previously had been part of the EAA has been more difficult, "because of how unstructured learning was taking place through online learning and a lack of direct instruction.

"High school reform started, at scale, this year. We must improve, though, and will improve our high schools in the years to come," Vitti said.

The statewide dropout rate for the class of 2019 was 8.36%, down from 8.73%. The graduation rate and the dropout rate add up to less than 100%. That's because a portion of students didn't graduate on time but remained in school, or earned a high-school equivalency degree.

The improvement in the Michigan graduation rate is encouraging news in a state where top officials are trying to get more students through high school and into some kind of postsecondary education. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s goal is for 60% of state residents to have a university or college degree or completion of a training program by 2030. Right now, the percentage is around 43%.

“This is great news for our students and families, because every kid in Michigan deserves a great education that gets them on track to graduate and pursue a postsecondary education,” Whitmer said in a statement.

State Superintendent Michael Rice noted in a statement that the graduation rate for 2019 is an all-time high since 2008, the year states were required to adopt a uniform formula for calculating the rates. But he said more work needs to be done.

“While we continue to have significant room for improvement, particularly for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and special needs students, we are making yearly progress in increasing graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates.”

Staff writer Koby Levin contributed to this report.

 

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New law aims to shed light on sex and gender discrimination — and prevention — in NYC schools  https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/26/new-law-aims-to-shed-light-on-sex-and-gender-discrimination-and-prevention-in-nyc-schools/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/26/new-law-aims-to-shed-light-on-sex-and-gender-discrimination-and-prevention-in-nyc-schools/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:01:18 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247360 New York City Council members will vote Thursday on a bill that would require schools to share prominently information about sex and gender discrimination and assault.

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New York City Council members will vote Thursday on a bill that would require schools to share prominently information about sex and gender discrimination, harassment, and assaults on campus.

Additionally, the education department would have to report annually on what schools are doing to prevent and address harassment and issues relating to Title IX, the federal law protecting students from sex discrimination in schools and colleges.

“The hope is that this will hold them accountable,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who sponsored the bill. “Advocates will now have one place they can go to get information and hold [the education department’s] feet to the fire. And that’s good.”

The new law would direct the city’s Commission on Gender Equity to collect data from the education department and post it on a single, user-friendly website. In some cases, such information is already publicly available, but difficult to find. The commission would also be required to make recommendations based on the information collected. 

At a City Council hearing last spring, New York City students recounted their experiences of harassment and discrimination on campus. One student said she was admonished for wearing a sports bra during soccer practice. Another felt there was no one she could turn to after a school safety agent made unwanted advances. Another still was told she had violated the school’s dress code because of what she wore to school on a hot summer day.

Rosenthal said she often heard from girls whose stories of sexual harassment or assault were dismissed by school staff. 

“Shaming the victim starts early. These kids are in elementary and middle and high school, and they're being told, ‘Oh let it go. He likes you,’” she said. 

Ashley C. Sawyer, policy director for the advocacy group Girls for Gender Equity, said the organization is “grateful” that the education department will have to report on what officials are doing to try to stop harassment and discrimination in the first place. 

“Prevention is key here,”  she said. “We can’t have positive school climates without thinking about gender and sexuality.” 

The City Council recently pushed for funding to hire seven additional Title IX coordinators, up from just a single coordinator tasked with compliance in 1,600 schools serving about a million students. By comparison, Chicago employs 20 coordinators though the district’s enrollment is a fraction of New York City’s.

Last fall, the city updated its regulations around sexual harassment in response to a 2016 legal settlement. The regulations expand the kinds of behavior that are considered harassment, lay out requirements for school leaders to conduct investigations into allegations, and explain how to treat students who make reports.

The city's education department has voiced its support for the legislation. “Schools must be safe havens and we’ve implemented changes to better address and prevent sex- or gender-based discrimination and harassment, including hiring more Title IX liaisons," Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman with the department, said in an emailed statement.

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Tell us: How is your school handling information (and misinformation) about coronavirus? https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/26/tell-us-how-is-your-school-handling-information-and-misinformation-about-coronavirus/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/26/tell-us-how-is-your-school-handling-information-and-misinformation-about-coronavirus/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 22:38:02 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247332 We want to know how districts are preparing in case the outbreak spreads closer to home and how schools are handling racism and bullying related to coronavirus.

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School districts around the country are ramping up guidance for parents and students on the coronavirus outbreak, while educators are also combating misinformation and bullying targeted at Asian students.

At Chalkbeat, we want to know how districts are preparing in case the outbreak spreads closer to home and how schools are handling racism and bullying related to coronavirus.

As of late February, there were more than 72,000 cases of the virus worldwide, but only 14 confirmed cases in the U.S. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged schools on Wednesday to prepare for a possible spread.

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Illinois schools warned to be on lookout for coronavirus as national fears mount https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/illinois-schools-warned-to-be-on-lookout-for-coronavirus-as-national-fears-mount/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/illinois-schools-warned-to-be-on-lookout-for-coronavirus-as-national-fears-mount/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 22:28:23 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247338 Illinois health authorities advise students to stay home 14 days after post-Feb. 3 travel to China, and suggest schools automatically excuse those absences.

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The Illinois Department of Public Health is advising that any student who has recently traveled to China should not attend school for 14 days, and that schools should automatically excuse such absences so as not to deter families from keeping children home.

The state school board said it has been distributing the department’s school-specific guidance, last updated Feb. 19, to campuses. “The situation is rapidly changing, and we are monitoring it closely,” the health department’s materials advise.

Chicago Public Schools distributed its own guidelines to schools on Feb. 7. The district’s guidelines include a similar 14-day recommendation for both students and school staff members who returned from China on or after Feb. 3.

At Wednesday’s monthly board meeting, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey urged vigilance from the city’s board of education on the matter.

“Coronavirus isnt here yet, but if we are not tracking that, we need to be tracking it.”

Illinois public health department guidelines advise school personnel and students to wash hands frequently with soap and water or, if soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The department said it is not recommending that school personnel wear masks or cancel large gatherings.

On Tuesday, Education Week reported that an official from the Centers for Disease Control said in a press conference that schools should be asked about early dismissals, potential closures, and online schooling in the case that the virus spreads in the United States. 

Global health officials have now confirmed more coronavirus cases outside of China than within it. Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory virus first identified in China in December. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health has confirmed two people tested positive and 66 tested negative for the virus as of Wednesday. It reported that the status of two more people was pending.

 State health officials have said that Illinois is the first state to be able to test for the new virus in lieu of sending samples to the federal government for testing. A Chicago lab can test the results and make them available within 24 hours.

Yana Kunichoff contributed reporting. 

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No immediate plans to close NYC schools as coronavirus threat escalates, officials say https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/26/coronavirus-nyc-schools/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/26/coronavirus-nyc-schools/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 22:24:30 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247337 In the wake of warnings from federal officials that schools should be prepared for a spike of infections, officials issued new guidance to families.

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There are no immediate plans to cancel classes in the nation’s largest school system in the face of growing concern about the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday, urging calm while acknowledging the disease will likely hit the region eventually.

“We have the greatest public health capacity of anywhere in this country” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference, noting there have been no confirmed cases in the region. “There is not a single reason for panic.”

In the wake of warnings from federal officials that schools should be prepared for a spike of infections, the New York City’s education department issued new guidance to schools and families that largely reiterated the same precautions that people should take to combat illnesses like the flu. 

Officials urged frequent hand washing, covering your face when sneezing or coughing, and avoiding school if you suspect you might be sick — and seek treatment from a doctor. (De Blasio said those without access to medical care should call 311 and would receive help.)

They also tamped down fears of more dramatic action. 

“There are no plans to close schools at this time,” according to a letter sent home to families on Wednesday. “This is an extreme measure that can be disruptive to day-to-day life, and the decision to implement will be at the direction of public health experts.”

De Blasio said that outbreaks could be dealt with at individual schools, emphasizing that a systemwide shutdown would be unlikely even in the event of a rise in infections. Such decisions would present a tricky balancing act for officials, who may want to contain an outbreak while recognizing that the majority of city students come from low-income families who may struggle to find childcare arrangements or depend on school meals.

De Blasio’s remarks came a day after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials urged schools to prepare for a possible spread of the virus, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 people worldwide. Nancy Messonnier, a director at the Centers for Disease Control, said she had contacted her children’s school district, asking about plans for computer-based learning if the schools needed to close.  CDC officials also suggested schools could divide classes into smaller groups.

“You should ask your children’s schools about their plans for school dismissals or school closures,” Messonnier said Tuesday. “Ask about plans for teleschool.”

City officials did not immediately answer emailed questions about whether they are developing contingency plans in the event that health experts recommend closing schools, or how instruction would continue if students were told to stay at home.

On Wednesday, the CDC’s website listed the immediate health risk to Americans as “low” — though officials also cautioned that a global “pandemic” is likely, which would alter their assessment of the risk.

The more immediate concern for some school communities may be quelling student fears, or responding to incidents of bullying related to the virus, particularly in relation to Asian students or staff members. (Student bullying incidents can be reported to the education department here.)

“There are a lot of things on social media and in the news that are not rooted in science and are offensive, demeaning and racist,” according to a letter sent to parents. School officials should “encourage everyone to keep their attention on the facts.”

Officials also put out recommendations for how schools should respond to students who may be returning from trips to China. Schools may request that students stay home for up to 14 days after returning, though it also says healthy students can not be legally barred from school. If students have been given guidance to stay home from the Health Department, schools are expected to excuse their absence.

An education department spokesperson, Miranda Barbot, said students would be permitted to wear face masks, though city health officials said they did not recommend them for the general public.

At a separate news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed that there have been zero confirmed cases across the state, but said that it’s “highly probable” that will change. He added that he plans to send an “emergency appropriations” bill to the legislature that would earmark $40 million for response efforts.

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This Memphis educator struggled to connect with a student, but a smile changed everything https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/26/this-memphis-educator-struggled-to-connect-with-a-student-but-a-smile-changed-everything/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/26/this-memphis-educator-struggled-to-connect-with-a-student-but-a-smile-changed-everything/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 21:03:36 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247320 Deidra Hawkins was one of six Memphians to share their education story with a crowd of more than 100 people last month.

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When Deidra Hawkins was running a summer camp for young girls in Memphis, she remembers one particular student that she just didn’t know what to do with.

The student acted like she was miserable at camp. Hawkins recalls asking herself, “Oh Lord, what am I going to do?”

Hawkins was shocked when the girl’s mentors later told her that the student loved camp and “she talks about you all the time.”

She had felt like the girl didn’t want anything to do with her. “But the minute I would look away, I would see her smile,” Hawkins said recently at Chalkbeat Tennessee’s storytelling night in partnership with Spillit Memphis. Hawkins was one of six Memphians to share their education story with a crowd of more than 100 people last month.

When Hawkins was a first-year educator four years later, the smile from another hard-to-reach student was just as powerful.

Hawkins eventually left the classroom and founded Made2Glam, a nonprofit that works with girls who have experienced homelessness.

Watch Hawkins' story in the video produced in partnership with The Daily Memphian, and read the excerpt below. And a special thanks to New Memphis for sponsoring our evening of storytelling.

It’s 2016, my first year of teaching. I am very naive thinking I’m about to save the world, thinking all the students are just amazing. My principal walked me up to meet this one young man, I’ll call him X-Man.

 I said, “Hi, how are you?” He looked at me and said, “Hm.”

 You always have that one student out of the school that is just going to terrorize the entire school. That was X-man. It was my job to provide intervention for X-Man, 45 minutes every day. What a way to kick off my morning, huh?

 I wanted to quit every day after the first 15 minutes of being with X-Man. Then came the second year. I had X-Man twice a day for 90 minutes. I wanted to quit every day. You know you have that one student where you say, “If I end up in jail, it will be well worth it.” He was that one student.

 One day, X-Man came to my classroom and wanted to give me this Oscar-worthy performance. Chairs going everywhere. Papers on the floor. He decided that he was just going to stomp off and just slam the door.

 And me, I’m going to show him who is boss. I’m running, looking quite foolish. I’m just fussing at him, going off. And then I decided, wait a minute, Deidra. You’re the one out of breath. You’re the one with the headache, and he’s just looking at you unbothered.

So, something is quite not right with this situation. It hit me: Instead of fussing at him, let’s take a different approach.  And I said to him, “X-Man, I came in this morning, I dropped my things off, I came to pick you up: What did I do to you today?”

He looked at me, I looked at him, and he smiled.

The next day, I went to pick up X-Man, he looked at me, I looked at him, and he smiled.

Normally, he would never like to do his work because he was in the fourth grade but reading on a kindergarten level. So, anytime it was time to do work, that’s when he would go into this performance.

 But once I looked at him, he looked at me, and he smiled – everything changed…

I let him pick the passage he wanted to read. At first, it was a struggle but he was smiling. I said, as long as I’ve got this smile, I’ve got him.

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Student safety, more summer recreation options, and universal preschool: How Detroit’s mayor plans to help children https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/student-safety-more-summer-recreation-options-and-universal-preschool-how-detroits-mayor-plans-to-help-children/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/student-safety-more-summer-recreation-options-and-universal-preschool-how-detroits-mayor-plans-to-help-children/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:29:38 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247289 Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City address last night only briefly mentioned education issues.

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Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City address last night focused on  Detroiters’ lack of equity in car insurance rates, job opportunities, homeownership, and the emerging marijuana industry, but only briefly mentioned education issues. 

For instance, though the mayor, who has no control over Detroit schools, has repeatedly pushed for universal preschool for all Detroit children, the topic was relegated to a one-liner: “I’m going to stay with this like I stayed with insurance until every 4-year-old in the city has full day pre-K to start out their educational careers,” he said.  

Here’s a recap of what he said about students, safety, and education: 

Student summer camps 

Duggan announced a collaboration with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans to create high-quality summer camps and strengthen the city’s partnership with the University of Michigan. He hopes to court philanthropic donations to help fund the camps.

As the university's new $100 million innovation center is built in the city, Duggan said he wants children in Detroit to have access to the same types of summer camps as children do at the university’s flagship campus in Ann Arbor. The center will offer science and technology classes to college seniors and graduate students, plus house a co-working space and other career trainings open to city residents. Construction on the project is expected to begin next year. 

“Detroit children deserve the same kind of advantages,” he said during the speech.

Addressing child safety concerns 

Duggan said he will tackle the safety concerns relating to stray dogs by doubling down on animal enforcement by increasing patrols and the number of animal control officers. The city council recently passed a strict dog ordinance after news of two Detroit children mauled to death by dogs sparked widespread outrage.  

Addressing another safety issue, Duggan said the city also plans on installing 800 more speed humps around all Detroit schools and parks over the next two years to slow traffic as students walk to and from school.

Expanding GED classes to grow the city’s workforce 

The Detroit district will be working with the mayor’s office to offer GED classes at eight career centers throughout the city. The goal is to prepare Detroit residents for the kind of skilled trades, hospitality, and nursing jobs that require some postsecondary education.

More recreation centers opening up this summer

Duggan announced that 37 recreation centers will be open this summer, with many housed at churches’ underused gym and recreation spaces. These centers will also provide youth meals. The city has previously worked with the Detroit school district to use school buildings as recreation center sites.

 

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Report says charter school authorizers in Michigan lack oversight https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/247312/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/26/247312/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 20:21:54 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247312 The Citizens Research Council report offers recommendations for addressing what they say is a lack of oversight of charter school authorizers.

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A report out Wednesday shines a spotlight on an ongoing issue in Michigan, concluding that the agencies that authorize charter schools lack state oversight.

The authors of the report, published by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan,  suggest a series of solutions, including a recommendation that the state superintendent, a role now held by Michael Rice, works to strengthen the power he has to hold authorizers accountable.

Michigan charter schools educate 150,000 students, about 10% of the state’s total student population. The schools can be authorized by universities, community colleges, and school districts.

“While authorizers of charter schools are currently providing some degree of oversight, the degree and quality of oversight is unknown and not available to the public, because oversight of the authorizers is lacking,” the report states. “This is a problem since charter schools are providing public education services with tax dollars.”

The report was commissioned by the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School.

The research council recommends:

  • The state superintendent could adopt administrative rules that set requirements for the authorizers and provide better oversight.
  • The Legislature could enact statutes that define oversight expectations and responsibilities.
  • The Legislature could make charter school authorizing a privilege that must be earned and maintained.

Rob Kimball, who chairs the board for the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, said authorizers in the state are “fully accountable.”

“Our state’s children deserve all of us working together to help them succeed and learn, and this report from the Levin Center does nothing to advance those important conversations about student achievement. It divides, rather than unites, by rehashing decades-old arguments that distract us from the real job at hand — educating kids.”

An increasing number of authorizers have sought to address the oversight question by undergoing the process of becoming accredited through a national organization. 

You can read the full report below:

 

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How the state missed thousands of ‘ghost’ students at two Indiana virtual schools https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/26/how-thousands-of-ghost-students-at-two-indiana-virtual-schools-went-undetected-for-years/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/26/how-thousands-of-ghost-students-at-two-indiana-virtual-schools-went-undetected-for-years/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:17:27 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247288 Republican leaders are criticizing the Indiana Department of Education for giving two troubled virtual charter schools millions in state funding for 'ghost' students.

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An alleged $86 million education scam has exposed a troubling weak spot in Indiana: For years, two virtual charter schools appear to have duped the state’s school funding system.

How did the thousands of “ghost” students go undetected by the Indiana Department of Education — the gatekeeper of student counts and school funding — leading Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy to draw millions more in state dollars than they should have?

In a memo sent to state lawmakers this week, the IDOE said it “takes all measures available from a data validation standpoint to ensure schools are not being improperly funded.” The department runs some 70 rounds of checks on enrollment counts used for funding, including steps to clean up data and verify that students aren’t being claimed by more than one district.

But the department largely relies on schools signing off on the accuracy of their student counts  — and officials say it’s up to charter school authorizers, not the education department, to make sure charter schools are complying with all the rules. (It was the Daleville district that oversaw the two virtual charter schools that eventually noticed the enrollment discrepancies.)

“The more we continue to open up education and almost make it a free-for-all... the more we also have to make sure we have the capacity to shore up any regulation that’s necessary,” IDOE spokesman Adam Baker told Chalkbeat.

The virtual school scandal — a case of charter schools breaking the rules — has led to a spirited blame game. As the department and Democratic minority see it, the funding abuse points to a vulnerability in how Republican leaders set up the education system. As Republican leaders and school choice advocates see it, the alleged scam stems in part from a serious failure of the department.

“It’s just not acceptable,” said Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of the Institute for Quality Education, an organization that supports school choice. “The primary role of the department, if they do nothing else and get nothing else right, is to make sure they’re properly administering tuition support dollars.”

As state lawmakers examine how to prevent problems at virtual schools in the wake of the alleged enrollment fraud and misspending, the debate is falling along ideological lines — and stirring an ongoing education power struggle.

The legislature is set to continue discussing virtual school regulations Thursday. With critical eyes on its role in school funding, the state education department suggests capping virtual charter school enrollment, putting authorizers directly on the hook for virtual charter school operations, and throwing open virtual charter schools’ books to publicly report data such as course completion rates.

“We’re pointing the finger back to say, here’s how we fix this,” Baker said.

Some of the ideas from the IDOE, led by beleaguered Republican Jennifer McCormick, fall in line with Democrats’ slew of suggestions for significantly reining in virtual charter school operations, some of which would reverberate among the charter sector at large.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, described the virtual school scandal as a symptom of Indiana’s education reforms, creating layers of government and making it difficult to pinpoint who exactly is responsible for what.

“A lot of these ‘innovative’ or aggressive policies are starting to catch up, in terms of maybe some inefficiencies or ineffectiveness when it comes to administering, tracking, and providing overall quality of education,” said Melton, who has unsuccessfully advocated for capping virtual enrollment.

He also defended the Department of Education, saying the state has taken power away from the agency through both school choice and the recent battle to give the governor more control over education decisions.

But Republican House education leader Bob Behning maintained that the Department of Education should have been more diligent and should have questioned suspicious patterns, such as the high number of older students enrolled at the troubled virtual schools.

He also criticized the department for doling out funding even though a recent State Board of Accounts report shows that in some years, virtual school officials failed to sign off on enrollment counts.

“By state law, this should never have happened,” Behning said. “It’s like walking into a bank and saying, here’s my check. I have no signature on it. The bank gives you the money.”

Baker pointed out that the missing signatures happened before McCormick took office.

Even though Democrats insist that the state must take action, Republicans have largely dug in, decrying the Indiana Virtual School scandal without proposing changes. Some seem hesitant to pass new laws on virtual schools, saying the right regulations are already in place but were skirted by an apparent bad actor.

Other Indiana virtual charter schools unconnected to the scandal have said the new proposed regulations seem like unnecessary reactions.

Behning also pushed back on focusing only on the charter sector as the root of virtual problems, pointing out that traditional districts also run online programs.

“It kind of shows unfortunate bias,” he said.

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Colorado teachers plan to rally at the Capitol again this year — and at least one district will cancel classes https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-teachers-plan-to-rally-at-the-capitol-again-this-year-and-at-least-one-district-will-cancel-classes/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/26/colorado-teachers-plan-to-rally-at-the-capitol-again-this-year-and-at-least-one-district-will-cancel-classes/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 19:08:09 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247287 Colorado’s second largest school district will cancel school on March 19 because so many teachers will be absent that day for a statewide teachers rally.

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Colorado’s second largest school district will cancel school on March 19 because so many teachers will be absent for a statewide teachers rally at the state Capitol building in Denver.

The 84,000-student Jeffco district made the announcement Wednesday, saying the number of expected teacher absences had exceeded the number that could be covered by substitutes.

In a letter to Jeffco families, district officials apologized for the inconvenience and said, “Please know we exhausted all resources before deciding to cancel school for students.”

District officials in Denver, the state’s largest district, said Wednesday they don’t have any “solid plans” in place to handle potentially large numbers of teacher absences on March 19, but hope to make a decision in the next few days. Leaders from the Adams 12 district, the state's sixth largest, said they are monitoring teacher absences planned for the day of the rally and will give families advance notice if they have to cancel classes.

Three other large metro area districts — Aurora, Cherry Creek and Douglas County — will not be affected by the rally because they are off for spring break that week.

In 2018, several districts canceled classes or dismissed students early on three different days in April when Colorado teachers rallied at the Capitol.

The state teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, is organizing the “March on the Capitol” on March 19 to push for increased school funding. Specifically, the union is promoting legislation that would create a special pot of money to raise pay for teachers and other school district staff based on the cost of living in a particular district. The Senate Education Committee approved that bill in January.

The union also seeks a statewide ballot initiative for education and wants lawmakers to replace $570 million they held back from education to meet other obligations. This underfunding, known as the budget stabilization factor, is permitted because even though the state constitution requires education funding increases every year based on inflation and population, revenue declined during the Great Recession and lawmakers began diverting education dollars.

Colorado funds K-12 education at roughly $2,900 per student below the national average when regional cost differences are taken into account, and ranks 31st for teacher pay, according to figures collected by the National Education Association.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the legislation promoted by the union would also provide pay raises for some hourly workers in schools.

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Chicago charters at risk of closure say goodbye to the state charter commission; hello to the state board https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/chicago-charters-at-risk-of-closure-say-goodbye-to-the-state-charter-commission-hello-to-the-state-board/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/26/chicago-charters-at-risk-of-closure-say-goodbye-to-the-state-charter-commission-hello-to-the-state-board/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 15:00:28 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247267 The board will face its first round of decisions on March 17. At stake is the fate of two Chicago charters.

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For the first time in nearly a decade, the Illinois Board of Education will have to take on the controversial decision of deciding whether or not to save charter schools that districts want to close. 

The board will face its first round of decisions on March 17. At stake is the fate of two Chicago charters.

Until recently, charter schools that were at risk of closure could appeal to the state Charter Commission, which for eight years had the last word on the fate of charter schools.

But now that’s not the case. Last summer, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to abolish the commission and to transfer to the state board the responsibility for hearing appeals of charters facing closure by their local school districts. 

Next month board members will weigh whether to save two Chicago schools, Chicago Virtual Charter School and Frazier Preparatory Academy, and make the state Board of Education the schools’ new authorizer. 

The state board’s new power reshapes the education landscape to a less friendly environment for charters rejected by their home district. Unlike the charter commission, whose members were mostly appointed by previous governor Bruce Rauner, the state board is appointed by the current governor, a critic of charter schools. 

Charter advocates said it’s not clear how the state board will rule. 

They believe that the work of considering whether to keep a school open by becoming an authorizer — a job involving school oversight — is complicated, and is best performed by an agency that focuses primarily on charter appeals and authorizations. 

“A single-purpose authorizer tends to develop expertise in the area of charter authorizing, but a state board like ISBE [the Illinois State Board of Education] has so many other things they do,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “They have to figure out how to develop expertise to do it well.” 

For now, the state board will only hear appeals of schools facing closure or having their charter revoked. But on July 1, it will also take over as the charter holder for 11 schools currently overseen by the state charter commission. 

The state board has hired Jennifer Saba, previously of the Chicago Public Schools charter office, to head a new department that will oversee the schools. The agency is also meeting monthly with staff from the charter commission to develop tools for monitoring the schools it will oversee. 

The state is still working out details of the transition and is offering public comment on some proposed changes to the state charter school code. That means the rules for appeals could still shift. 

The two Chicago schools facing closure are making the case for their schools to board hearing officers, who will make recommendations to the board. 

Views differ on Chicago Virtual Charter School, which offers mostly online schooling for grades K-12.  

Parent Jessica Torres said the school offered a quality online education. When she had hip surgery and couldn’t walk her son to school, the school enabled her son to continue his education without placing a physical strain on her. “It gave us flexibility,” Torres said. Her son is now in eighth grade. “I love the program.”

But Taniyah Wilson, a senior at the school, argued for closure, even though she spent four years at the school. 

“This is not the best place for you to send your kid, especially if you want them to succeed,” she said. “You ask for help; you don’t always get the help. You can email them, but it takes them three weeks to respond to an email.” 

At a state board hearing for Frazier Preparatory earlier this month, teachers and families argued that Chicago Public Schools wants to close their North Lawndale school based on ratings that unfairly penalize schools in black and Latino communities. 

“Let me tell you what can’t be measured: the mouths that we feed out of our own pockets,” teacher Tanisha Weeks told Block Club Chicago, “the brokenness that we heal out of our hearts.”

The district argued the school has been on academic probation since 2018 and failed to implement its remediation plan. The state’s school ranking system tagged the school as commendable, the middle ranking. 

If the state board decides to authorize either of the two schools, the Chicago district would lose the state funds it gets for overseeing the campuses. Instead, that money would go directly to the school and the state board would take over oversight. If the board closes the schools, hundreds of families would have to find new schools. That topic came up at the February board meeting, where board members previewed their new responsibilities handling appeals and authorizing schools. 

The charter commission, meanwhile, is continuing business as usual in its final months. The body is visiting campuses to monitor them and is completing annual reviews of the schools it oversees. It also is working on a report looking back over the years of the commission, which will be published in the spring. 

"We are still supporting schools, and doing the work we do," said Shenita Johnson, director of the commission. 

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At a conference on autism, NJ parents plan for their children’s transition to adulthood https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/25/autism-conference-coverage/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/25/autism-conference-coverage/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 01:33:47 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247235 Jenise Reedus, a mother of a Newark high school junior with autism, says her daughter’s transition from high school to adulthood is full of uncertainties.

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Jenise Reedus, a mother of a Newark high school junior with autism, says her daughter’s forthcoming transition to adulthood is full of uncertainties. Planning for the future can be daunting. 

Reedus was among nearly 500 people who attended Autism New Jersey’s transition conference Monday, about life after high school for people with autism. Newark Public Schools was among the sponsors of the event, held at the DoubleTree Newark Airport hotel. 

“I’m hoping to process what might be the right fit for her,” Reedus said, noting her daughter hasn’t yet decided if she wants to go to college or apply for jobs. “Then, how will we go about accessing it? I’m getting a lot of information here.”

The gathering focused on so-called “transition planning,” which begins for people with autism at age 14 and continues until they reach 21 and are no longer eligible for school support services that many have come to rely on. 

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates transition plans for all students who have IEPs, or individualized education plans. They’re created by the student, together with those involved with the student’s care and education, such as parents and school employees. Research has shown that student involvement in their own transition planning encourages self-advocacy skills and makes the process more student-centered. The plans typically identify the student’s post-graduation plans, their academic and non-academic abilities, needed accommodations, and achievable goals on the way to adulthood.

Newark Public Schools currently serves 854 students with autism, according to a Chalkbeat public records request, and several of its schools have programs geared toward students with autism. Newark Superintendent Roger León’s district plan calls for improvements to the special education program, though it doesn’t specifically mention transition plans. Several district officials were at the conference, including the directors of the Office of Special Education, Carolyn Granato and Marilyn Mitchell.

A challenge of transition planning is its time- and resource-intensive nature. When parents don’t understand the ins and outs of the complex process, their children may not get the supports they need. 

The goal of the conference is to help families craft “a roadmap to get [their children] into adulthood successfully,” said Autism New Jersey’s Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan. 

“Raising a son or daughter with autism is one of the most joyous and challenging experiences of a parent’s life, and chances are, we have information or connections or resources that can make your life better in some way,” she said.

In nearby New York City, students with pronounced disabilities learn real-life skills ahead of their transition out of school. By identifying early on what they enjoy doing in the classroom, they are better prepared for future jobs.

After remarks from Buchanan, León, and Newark’s North Ward Center CEO Michele Adubato, and a keynote address from Nkechi Okoli, the senior director of transition for the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, conference attendees could attend various workshops on topics ranging from how technology can benefit adults with autism to the financial and legal needs of families of children with special needs.

When it comes to transition planning, information is power, said Reedus — and the onus to gather and synthesize that information often falls to parents.  

“For our children, it’s more difficult. It’s our job to help them find those opportunities, and it’s not an easy task,” Reedus said. “All parents want their kids to be independent and confident. Parents of children with autism want the same.”

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Murphy’s latest budget calls for more school aid, as Newark seeks funding boost https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/25/murphys-latest-budget-calls-for-more-school-aid-as-newark-seeks-funding-boost/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/25/murphys-latest-budget-calls-for-more-school-aid-as-newark-seeks-funding-boost/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 00:46:46 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247228 Gov. Phil Murphy proposed a roughly 4% hike in state aid to schools as part of a multi-year plan to close a wide gap in school funding.

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Gov. Phil Murphy called for another annual hike in school spending on Tuesday, part of a multi-year plan to boost state aid to Newark and other underfunded school districts.

Murphy’s proposed budget would ramp up state aid to K-12 school districts by more than $336 million next school year, totaling over $9 billion. If lawmakers agree, the plan would mark the third annual increase in education spending, amid Murphy and the legislature’s efforts to fund the state’s school-funding formula fully. 

The increase includes money that would be shifted away from districts that have exceeded their mandated funding level to districts such as Newark, which has been underfunded according to the formula for a decade. Later this week, each district will learn how much aid it stands to gain or lose under Murphy’s proposal for the next fiscal year.

“School funding is an investment in our future," Murphy, a Democrat, said Tuesday during his third annual budget address. "Our budget proposes keeping us on our upward trajectory with an additional $336 million investment in our K-through-12 classrooms for the upcoming school year."

The funding formula, which is based on each district’s needs and includes state and local revenue, has not been fully funded since 2009. This school year, about a third of districts received less money than the formula says they are due — a gap that will require an extra $1.6 billion in state aid to plug, according to the nonprofit Education Law Center.

In 2018, Murphy and state lawmakers agreed to a seven-year plan to boost state aid incrementally to underfunded districts, including Newark, until they receive the amount mandated by the formula. Districts that already spend more than required by the formula will see cuts, though Murphy’s proposal includes $50 million in emergency funds to help offset those reductions.

In last year’s budget, Newark got a 3.15% bump in state aid. Yet the district remains short nearly $233 million — or $4,410 per student — based on the formula. The gap was mainly driven by a shortfall in state funding, which makes up the largest chunk of the district’s budget, though local tax revenues were also $64 million lower than required by the formula.

“Newark is currently owed $166 million in state aid under the funding formula, so we’ll wait to see how much of the gap is closed” in the final budget for next fiscal year, said Danielle Farrie, the Education Law Center’s research director, in an email.

Newark voters approved a 2% property tax increase last year to help fund the schools, but the city must continue to boost its contribution to the district’s budget, Farrie added.

“We’re hoping these increases are sufficient to begin restoring the teachers, support staff, and other essential resources cut from Newark district schools in recent years,” she said.

Last year, even with the bump in state aid, Newark was forced to cut some teaching positions and postpone building repairs in order to balance the budget. It requested nearly $37 million in emergency state aid but received only $4 million.

Murphy’s spending plan also calls for an $83 million increase for preschool and $50 million to expand the state’s tuition-free college program. The expansion would allow four-year public universities to join community colleges in covering two years of tuition for students whose annual household income is less than $65,000, according to the governor’s office.

Murphy would pay for the new expenditures in his proposed $40.9 billion budget by hiking taxes, including on people with income over $1 million. The Democrat-controlled legislature has previously balked at Murphy’s so-called millionaire’s tax, but state Senate President Stephen Sweeney recently signaled that he is open to considering it in exchange for increased investment in the state’s public-employee pension fund.

Lawmakers and the governor will now wrangle over the spending plan before settling on a final budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In the meantime, districts must submit preliminary budgets next month based on Murphy’s proposal.

In Newark, district officials have reviewed schools’ spending plans, which principals are now expected to present to their school communities. In late March, officials will host a public hearing to present the district budget. The following month, Newark residents will vote on whether to approve the budget.

At a school board meeting this month, district officials said they assumed flat funding from the state when preparing the budget out of an abundance of caution. But they also explained that they were eagerly awaiting Murphy’s spending plan.

“That's key to what is it we have," said Valerie Wilson, the district’s school business administrator, "and how much can we therefore spend."

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How well are students reading in your Tennessee school district? Check this list. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/25/how-well-are-students-reading-in-your-tennessee-school-district-check-this-list/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/25/how-well-are-students-reading-in-your-tennessee-school-district-check-this-list/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 23:38:58 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247215 Just over 36% of third-graders passed the state’s proficiency bar statewide in 2018-19.

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Tennessee officials are far from reaching a consensus about the best way to improve students’ reading scores, but they agree on one point.

“We do not have an option to do nothing,” said Rep. Mark White, a Memphis lawmaker who chairs a key legislative committee on education.

While reading is considered the foundation for learning and success in all subject areas, just over 36% of Tennessee third-graders passed the state’s proficiency bar last year, based on achievement test results. That threshold is important because fourth grade is when schools ramp up expectations for how students should apply their reading skills to other subjects such as math and science.

The poor showing is the impetus for Gov. Bill Lee’s comprehensive literacy plan, including $68 million in proposed new investments. The goal is to provide Tennessee’s 147 school districts with access to resources and supports and to train teachers in phonics-based reading instruction, which Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn refers to as the “science of reading.”

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Below, a district-by-district list shows the percentage of students who scored proficient as readers on state achievement tests in 2018-19, based on data provided by the education department. The list includes each school system’s proficiency rates in both third grade and overall, plus its statewide ranking for third-grade performance.

The third-grade rates ranged from 73.9% in Arlington, a suburban district in Shelby County, to 5.6% for the state’s lowest-performing schools in Tennessee’s Achievement School District. The top 5 included four municipal school systems in suburban Shelby County, while Memphis-based Shelby County Schools (22.8%) landed in the bottom 10.

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Michael Bloomberg is running for president on his education record. Here’s what research found about those policies. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/25/michael-bloomberg-new-york-city-education-research/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/25/michael-bloomberg-new-york-city-education-research/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 23:34:20 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247220 Some specific policies, like high school closures, were vindicated by subsequent research. But others, like grade retention and merit pay for teachers, didn’t work.

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As mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg was one of the most powerful people in American education.

For more than a decade, he effectively controlled the country’s largest school system — a  power he had pushed the state legislature to grant him in 2002 — and he took full advantage of it, closing schools, expanding charters, and agreeing to large teachers raises (before alienating many teachers and their union). Now, Bloomberg is running for president on his education record, painting a rosy picture of his tenure.

"Through the collective efforts of New York's city leaders, teachers, principals, parents and of course students, Mike took a dysfunctional, underperforming system and turned it into an extraordinary success story using innovations based on data — expanding those that worked and ending those that didn’t," said Marshall Cohen, a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson. (Bloomberg Philanthropies is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

Bloomberg’s policies have been extensively studied by researchers, and Chalkbeat reviewed dozens of these studies to understand more fully his administration’s impact. Some specific policies, like high school closures,  were vindicated by subsequent research. But others, like grade retention and merit pay for teachers, didn’t work.

And today, New York City schools are wrestling with how to unwind deeply entrenched patterns of segregation that persisted through the Bloomberg era.

James Kemple, the executive director of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, said Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure was defined by steady improvements across most metrics.

“Every ship was rising,” he said, but noted that disparities across critical demographic and economic groups remained.

Jennifer Jennings, a Princeton University professor, who has studied and critiqued many Bloomberg-era policies, said some of them were successful, but that others came with serious downsides.

"The school report cards and the incessant focus on increasing state test scores by any means necessary,” she said, “it created a focus on a small set of outcomes.”

Here’s a deeper look at the research.

Student performance trends: local metrics improved, sometimes substantially, but gains on federal tests were unremarkable.

On certain key indicators, New York City students appeared to make significant gains. Test scores rose on state exams. High school graduation rates jumped from 54% in 2004 to nearly 75% in 2013. College enrollment and persistence rates steadily increased, though more modestly. Chronic absenteeism ebbed slightly downward. (A number of these positive trends have continued since Bloomberg left office.)

An analysis by Kemple found that between 2003 and 2013 the city made more progress than the rest of the state across both state test and graduation rates.

But these trends don’t explain whether Bloomberg’s policies or other factors propelled the improvements. For instance, New York City schools became better funded over this time period.

Additionally, graduation rates may have been boosted by the rise of credit recovery programs or failure to fully count students who dropped out.

Progress on the federal test, NAEP, was more limited. The city did make gains between 2003 and 2013, but they were generally similar to the nation as a whole and smaller than in a number of other cities; test score disparities by race didn’t change much. Unlike state exams, the NAEP is low stakes — meaning schools were not under pressure to increase scores — and thus the results may be more reliable.

Again, though, researchers warn against judging specific policies (or even a set of policies) based on these trends, meaning firm conclusions can’t be drawn.

New York City charter schools did better on state tests.

Bloomberg was a big proponent of school choice and fostered the expansion of charter schools, which now educate about 10% of the city’s public school students.

These schools, particularly their performance on state exams, have been widely studied. A number of papers show that students who attend charter schools in New York City outscore those in district schools, even accounting for demographic differences. This is also true of several specific networks that have been studied.

Other research has examined common critiques of New York City’s charters — supporting some, while debunking others. Charters tend to have higher suspension rates, serve fewer English-language learners and students with disabilities, and sometimes get substantial outside money. But they don’t appear to systematically push out low performing students or harm the performance of nearby district schools.

Letter grades led to higher state test scores in low-rated schools.

Issuing A-F letter grades for schools was one of the first things that Bloomberg’s successor Bill de Blasio scrapped.

But there is evidence that struggling schools improved test scores as a result of a low grade.

Two studies found that students scored higher on state tests in subsequent years if their school got a low grade (compared to similar schools that got a higher grade).

Research also found that earning an F led to increases in teacher retention rates at those schools. “This is an important counterpoint to the people who worry about the stigmatization effects of letter grades,” said Jonah Rockoff, an education researcher at Columbia University, previously told Chalkbeat.

Jennings, though, said that using test scores as the way to judge these policies is “deeply problematic” because schools were under such pressure to raise scores, potentially to the detriment of other domains.

More broadly, it’s possible that increased teaching to the test or low standards on the state exam might explain some of the city’s testing gains . And research can’t answer questions like whether there was too much focus on testing during Bloomberg’s tenure.

Grade retention did more harm than good in the long run.

A 2004 policy to hold back third grade students if they didn’t score high enough on math or reading tests was among Bloomberg’s most controversial. (He even fired two of his appointees to the city school board who planned to vote against his position.) The policy was extended to other grades over time.

A recent study examined the effects of grade retention, and the results were dramatic — but not in a good way. Middle schoolers, who were held back, were 10 percentage points more likely to drop out of high school as a result compared to similar students who were allowed to advance to the next grade. The same study found that elementary school retention didn’t affect drop-out rates. The policy was also quite costly since for many students it entailed an extra year of school.

“There was already a great deal of evidence that this was not going to be an effective policy,” said Jennings. “They implemented it anyway."

On the other hand, there is some evidence that students benefited from the summer classes that came with the possibility of retention.

Closing high schools helped future students, but middle school closures didn’t do much...

A study of Bloomberg’s highly controversial high school closure policy found that the move did not help or harm students who were already attending those schools as they were phased out. But the closures did benefit future students who would have otherwise attended those high school. Students’ odds of graduating high school  jumped substantially as a result, going from 40% to 55%.

“The kids who no longer had those schools on their list of options, they benefited pretty substantially,” said Kemple, who co-authored the study.

Research on closures of city middle schools, on the other hand, found little clear effects on the average student one way or the other.

… Meanwhile, small schools helped students in the long run.

What explains the benefits of high school closures? Almost certainly, one factor was the creation of new small schools that many students from closed schools ended up attending. Several studies have found that those schools did well. One recent paper showed that students who won a lottery to attend one of those schools were nearly 10 percentage points more likely to graduate high school and 4 points more likely to persist in college through four years.

Other research found that as small schools expanded, other New York City high schools also seemed to improve.

“Kids are more likely to graduate now and [from] these small schools in particular,” said Jennings. “I think that that was a very successful reform." But she also pointed to her own research showing that certain small schools attempted to screen out or push out students who would hurt their ratings.

There’s more school choice, but persistent segregation.

Bloomberg also put in a place an extensive and complex high school choice system, using a Nobel Prize winning algorithm to determine which students get their top choices. He created new selective high schools which students must test into. There’s much more choice generally in New York City schools as a result of Bloomberg-era changes.

But it’s not entirely clear the overall effect of this proliferation of choice. What is clear is that New York City schools are currently highly segregated across many dimensions — including students’ race and academic performance. One study found that families tend to prioritize the skills of other students as opposed to the quality of the school when choosing among schools.

Currently, New York City officials are making efforts — in fits and starts — to better integrate schools. This was generally not a priority of the Bloomberg administration.

Merit pay experiment fell flat.

It was a pioneering agreement with a teachers union that had long resisted performance pay: The United Federation of Teachers gave the green light to cash bonuses for teachers in schools that made large test score gains.

But two studies found that this experiment failed to improve results for students. If anything, this group-based merit pay led to somewhat lower test scores (though it’s not clear why). Schools generally awarded the bonuses equally to all teachers, which some suggested explained the failure of the program.

A number of other policies have been studied, with mixed results:

  • A touted computer-based math program known as School of One did not lead to clear test score improvements.
  • School suspensions rapidly increased under Bloomberg, and research found that suspended students suffered as a result. Late in his tenure, suspensions began to decline as a result of policy changes, and this seemed to benefit students, according to a recent study.
  • Stop-and-frisk — a signature and controversial policing practice that Bloomberg expanded — spilled over into public schools. Black middle school students were more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to enroll in college, research has found.
  • Tightening of teacher tenure rules led to an increase in novice teachers deemed less effective to leave New York City schools.
  • A teacher mentoring program that the city adopted as a result of state law increased the odds that new teachers would complete their first year.
  • Providing principals with teachers’ value-added scores resulted in higher turnover rates among teachers with lower scores.
  • Between 2000 and 2005, high-poverty New York City schools were staffed by more qualified teachers as measured by their years of experience and SAT scores. This may have been due to pay raises, limiting uncertified teachers, and expanding alternative certification like the Teaching Fellows.
  • The principal training program known as the Leadership Academy produced principals who performed similarly as other new principals.

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What does a win in California’s ‘right to read’ case mean for Detroit students? https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/25/california-detroit-right-to-read/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/25/california-detroit-right-to-read/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 22:13:17 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247202 “Those are principles that transcend whether a constitution is federal or state.”

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The advocates who insist that poor conditions in Detroit schools amounted to a violation of students’ civil rights are finding hope in a similar lawsuit in California.

The Golden State agreed to pay $50 million to some of its most troubled schools, recognizing that a lack of funding had effectively robbed thousands of children there of an education.

Mark Rosenbaum, director of the pro bono firm that filed the California suits, said the settlement there bodes well for a payout in Detroit.

“It was essentially the same argument, which is that literacy is the cornerstone of education, and education is the cornerstone of democracy,” he said.

Far too many students in Detroit — and across Michigan — struggle to read. Statewide, just 44% of students passed the state English exam last year.

 The Detroit lawsuit alleges that a lack of resources in Detroit schools — and the horrifying conditions that resulted —  deprived students of an education and violated their civil rights. The case is being appealed after that argument was rejected by a federal judge in Michigan’s eastern district court. If the lawsuit is successful, it could result in sweeping changes to Michigan’s education system.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Helen Moore, an activist who boarded a bus at 3 a.m. in October along with other Detroiters to hear arguments in the Detroit case in a Cincinnati courthouse. “I think we have a real shot at winning this thing. It’s going to affect the whole United States.”

The office of Michigan’s Attorney General, the defendant in the case, didn’t return a request for comment.

With a decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati expected in coming weeks, Detroiters are keeping a close eye on the case, which has the potential to upend Michigan’s education system. Any comparison between the California and Detroit cases, however, comes with a major caveat. The California case was based on that state’s constitution, while the Detroit case is playing out in federal court, where the U.S. Constitution rules.

Rosenbaum says his firm’s arguments apply in either case.

“Those are principles that transcend whether a constitution is federal or state.”

That may be wishful thinking: The U.S. Supreme Court, which sets precedents that apply to lower federal courts, has been notoriously careful to avoid saying that the Constitution includes a right to education.

“Thus far I don’t think the plaintiffs have a favorable precedent on their side,” said Mike Addonizio, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Wayne State University. He added that the California settlement, while symbolically significant, “is a remarkably small sum for a vast state K-12 system.”

Still, advocates found glimmers of hope in the oral arguments that played out in Cincinnati last year. Some members of the three-judge panel in Cincinnati seemed skeptical of Michigan’s argument that the state wasn’t responsible for the condition of Detroit schools.

Schools in Michigan are still funded inequitably, and there don’t appear to be any major changes coming soon from state lawmakers.

Rosenbaum said there was little choice but to turn to the courts.

“The political powers in California and Detroit were well aware of the fact that there were children who couldn’t read and were not getting a basic education. And it wasn’t until litigation was filed that [anything] changed. The courts are the only realistic hope for these children.”

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They worked for companies accused in the Indiana Virtual School fraud. Now they run a new online program. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/25/they-worked-for-companies-accused-in-the-indiana-virtual-school-fraud-now-they-run-a-new-online-program/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/25/they-worked-for-companies-accused-in-the-indiana-virtual-school-fraud-now-they-run-a-new-online-program/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 15:36:34 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247167 The manager of Indian Creek Online Academy was named in a recent state auditors' report on the $86 million scandal at Indiana Virtual School.

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Last summer, as two large Indiana virtual charter schools collapsed under the weight of fraud allegations, a small new online program made its debut.

Indian Creek Online Academy was launched by a 2,000-student district south of Indianapolis experimenting with new ways of reaching students.

Officials with the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson district said they wanted to avoid the mistakes of the troubled virtual schools. But they also picked an outside management company whose leader had a history with those very institutions, Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

Businessman Gar Hoover, the head of Indian Creek Online Academy’s management company, had previously served as chief operating officer for AlphaCom, a company accused in the $86 million alleged enrollment fraud and self-dealing scheme at the two virtual charter schools.

A state auditors’ investigation released earlier this month alleges that Hoover, who also served as a board member for Indiana Virtual School, signed off on a request for more than $96,000 in state funds based on inflated enrollment numbers. He’s listed as one of the parties personally responsible for repaying that amount, plus the cost of the auditors’ investigation.

A federal investigation has been launched into the fraud allegations. It is unclear whether Hoover’s role is included in the investigation.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson Superintendent Tim Edsell said he asked about Hoover’s history at Indiana Virtual School before the district contracted with his new company, American Online Education Services.

But Edsell wasn’t aware that Hoover was named in the state auditors’ investigation until contacted by Chalkbeat. After Chalkbeat sent him the state’s report, Edsell said he opened an internal investigation with the district’s legal counsel into Hoover’s connections to the virtual charter schools.

“I do have concerns,” Edsell said. “I want to be very thorough and comprehensive and accurate in our review.”
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Edsell also didn’t know that Hoover had brought in a subcontractor with several other former employees from the web of companies paid millions in public dollars to operate virtual schools that served far fewer students than they received money for.

Some critics and experts say the arrangements raise serious questions about how these new companies were vetted to run another publicly funded online venture — and whether taxpayers can trust that Indian Creek Online Academy won’t repeat the mistakes of the now-shuttered virtual charter schools.

“Why go with people who came out of that network just so easily, especially if there’s an ongoing investigation?” said Diane Swanson, chair of the Business Ethics Education Initiative at Kansas State University. “That’s a huge red flag.”

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Hoover said he was not involved in the troubled virtual schools’ enrollment or finances, and he said he eventually left AlphaCom because he disagreed with the way the now-shuttered virtual schools were being managed.

“There’s nothing I need to hide or want to hide,” Hoover told Chalkbeat. “There’s nothing illicit going on.”

Indian Creek Online Academy, which enrolled about 60 students this fall in grades 6-12 and grew to more than 120 students this month, is specifically intended to remain small, officials said. They hope this will avoid the problems experienced by the other virtual schools, since the program won’t be drawing big pots of state dollars or be large enough to lose track of how many students are legitimately enrolled.

“Our vision and desire is to make sure that we are providing an alternative way for students to learn,” Edsell said. “We’re not doing it to make money.”

***

It was Hoover who had approached Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson officials about starting a virtual school. When the district was poised to approve a contract with Hoover’s company in July, the veil had already been pulled back on the problems at Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy.

The two schools were on the verge of closure after their authorizer and state auditors had revealed initial findings that officials had inflated enrollment for several years by counting on their rolls students who no longer or never attended — including, in one case, a student who died.

State education officials ordered the virtual schools to repay millions in funding they never should have received. But according to this month’s audit, it appeared the funds had already been funneled to a web of connected companies tied to school officials, purportedly to provide services.

The state investigation traced the network of private companies and found, in addition to conflicts of interest due to the businesses’ ties to school officials, that the schools weren’t properly documenting payments to those businesses and sometimes paid for duplicative services.

Hoover served on the Indiana Virtual School board from 2015-16, then went on to work for one of those companies running it: AlphaCom, which had been started by Indiana Virtual School’s founder and is responsible for $14 million in misspending, according to the state investigation.

As COO, Hoover was tasked with strategy but said he butted heads with top officials over their plans for the two troubled schools. He wanted to improve quality and hire more teachers, and offered to help run the business and finance sides.

Those ideas eventually got him demoted, Hoover said. Chalkbeat could not reach other Indiana Virtual School officials for comment.

“If my vision had been implemented, you wouldn’t have seen some of these things,” Hoover said.

Hoover said he was kept out of the inner circle and decision-making. He heard rumors, he said, of questionable practices, and was skeptical when the schools’ enrollment rocketed to more than 6,000 students.

He helped launch Michigan Online School, a sister school to Indiana Virtual School that for a time used the same superintendent and contractors. He eventually left AlphaCom in 2018, he said, and continues to run the Michigan school.

At Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, Edsell said he asked about Hoover’s connections to the beleaguered schools and was satisfied when Hoover said he wasn’t involved.

“What I can tell you is that the work with us has been very transparent, very up front,” Edsell said.

What Edsell didn’t know, however, was that Hoover is also working with several other former employees with ties to the troubled virtual schools.

A subcontractor, KJH Innovations, provides mentors and technical services to Indian Creek Online Academy. It is led by Josh Headlee, a former executive of Bitloft, a company that the state auditors’ investigation lists as being responsible for $18 million in misspent funds.

Headlee said he was in charge of information technology services at Bitloft and wasn’t involved in the enrollment inflation or inappropriate spending.

“I started KJH because I wanted to operate my own business in a compliant, ethical and proper manner,” Headlee wrote in an email to Chalkbeat. His new company also employs others who used to provide services to the troubled virtual schools.

When asking the district about those ties, a Chalkbeat reporter pointed Edsell to the bottom of Indian Creek Online Academy’s website, where a line reads: “School services provided by KJH Innovations, LLC.”

“I’ll have to check into it,” Edsell said.

The ties to Indiana Virtual School raise red flags, experts say, when taxpayer dollars are on the line. It isn’t flatly inappropriate for Hoover and Headlee to stay in the online education business, but their backgrounds should draw more scrutiny.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson officials may have considered holding off on the online partnership until the investigations played out, said Swanson, who teaches corporate social responsibility and public policy at Kansas State — or pumped the brakes when it became clear, a month after the contract was signed, that the FBI was investigating the virtual charter schools.

The release of the state auditors’ investigation report identifying Hoover as a responsible party also raised another opportunity for the district to further review the ties. Because Hoover and Headlee's roles involve taxpayer money, they deserve heightened scrutiny, Swanson said.

“There should be no unearned trust given. … These spin-offs came out of a network that the state has already said misused $86 million of taxpayer money,” Swanson said. “Doubling down on them now in anticipation of warding off any problems would be rational.”

One Indiana lawmaker raised questions over how the companies were vetted and called for more transparency, accountability, and oversight of educational vendors.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said people with ties to Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy should “absolutely not” be allowed to run another publicly funded online school.

“I think what the State Board of Accounts report is showing us should be enough, in terms of determining anyone affiliated or associated with those programs and administering it shouldn’t be eligible for any additional contracts,” he said.

***

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson is keeping a close watch on Indian Creek Online Academy, Edsell said.

Unlike the Daleville district that sponsored Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson officials say they have a more hands-on approach — and more access, because the online program is part of the district instead of being an independently run charter school.

“We have a whole lot stronger level of oversight,” Edsell said.

Hoover’s company, American Online Education Services, handles the programming at Indian Creek Online Academy, but the district still has to provide oversight, Edsell said. The district’s business manager reviews financial reports, its testing coordinator looks over exam plans, its data reporting official looks over numbers, and its assistant superintendent acts as principal since Hoover doesn’t hold a school administrator’s license.

“In the Indian Creek district, those folks over there, they want a serious operation,” Hoover said. “They don’t want to be in a situation where they could be at harm or put themselves in any way, shape, or fashion.”

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson also oversees a part-time virtual charter school. Indiana Agriculture and Technology School had originally intended to be an all-online school, with a farm for in-person lessons. But the charter school switched to a hybrid model when state officials raised questions about Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson’s ability to oversee an all-online program.

So far, Indian Creek Online Academy has received about $180,000 in state funding, according to information provided by Edsell. The school doesn’t receive per-pupil funding directly — it flows through Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson. The district retains 5% for administrative costs, though Edsell said it hasn’t yet spent those funds.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson assistant superintendent Andy Cline, who observes the district’s other classrooms, added the online school to his rounds. Before the end of December, 77% of students were on track to finish and pass their classes, he said — about on par with how students perform in the district’s alternative program.

In the first semester, five students graduated and six students were withdrawn for being inactive.

“Look, you gotta be active in our classes,” Hoover said. “You can’t be a ‘ghost’ student. You can’t not do anything. We can’t have students like that.”

Online school, Hoover said, isn’t for everyone. He wants serious students who have the self-discipline to work through the coursework, which is provided through the national online education company Edmentum. Edmentum supplies the teachers, too.

Success at Indian Creek Online Academy might mean students don’t stay for long. The goal is to help them where they are right now, Hoover said, even if that means simply building up their confidence to return to brick-and-mortar schools.

Hoover’s management company is a for-profit business, and he said he expects to make some money from running the online school: “It’s not large, but we’ll make some.”

“We want to run a good, quality operation,” Hoover added. “If you run services, you’re not going to get rich.”

Chalkbeat reporter Koby Levin contributed to this report.

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Don’t rush Tennessee’s literacy plan, educator groups urge governor https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/24/dont-rush-tennessees-literacy-plan-educator-groups-urge-governor/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/24/dont-rush-tennessees-literacy-plan-educator-groups-urge-governor/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 03:30:51 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247135 Several key groups urge Gov. Bill Lee to consult more with educators about his proposal to revamp reading instruction.

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Several key groups are urging Gov. Bill Lee’s administration to slow down deliberations and consult more with educators about his comprehensive proposal for revamping reading instruction in Tennessee schools.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Monday that the Department of Education is in the process of issuing requests for proposals to contract with outside vendors who would help with everything from teacher training to developing a new diagnostic reading test for students in early grades.

The $68 million literacy plan is scheduled to debut before a House legislative panel on Tuesday, one day after Republican sponsors introduced a nine-page amendment with numerous changes to a bill filed earlier this month by majority leaders William Lamberth in the House and Jack Johnson in the Senate.

The timing sparked frustration by groups that already had been analyzing the potential impact of the initial proposal.

“Any legislation with this large of a fiscal commitment by the state should have as many eyes looking at it as possible,” said J.C. Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee. 

Dale Lynch, who leads the state superintendents association, also was poring over the amendment before Tuesday’s hearing.

“We’re not opposed to this bill, but it’s just too important to rush through,” Lynch said. “We need to do this right, and that takes time.”

With just over a third of its third-graders reading on or above grade level, Tennessee has become more attentive to its persistent reading problems but has not reached any kind of consensus about whether the governor’s proposal is on target.

Lee thrilled literacy advocates earlier this month when he set aside millions in his spending plan for a new initiative to ground teachers in phonics-based reading instruction. The Republican governor proposed an extra $48.6 million for 2020-21 and another $11.1 million for each year thereafter to instruct teachers in the so-called “science of reading,” which emphasizes phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, fluency, and oral reading.

Another $20 million would help local districts buy high-quality instructional materials and train teachers on how to use them — the first time that the state has offered to help with that expense.

District leaders are on board with equipping teachers with evidence-based foundational skills in reading instruction. Many school systems have already done so. But they worry that the state could overreach when it comes to other elements of the proposal — for instance, introducing a first-ever state diagnostic test for students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. Currently, state testing is limited to grades 3-11 and, in recent years, Tennessee has worked hard to reduce the number of state-required assessments in response to concerns about overtesting.

Timing is an issue, too. Teachers could begin training on new reading instruction practices as soon as July, but districts and teachers already are drawing up their plans for professional development for that time.

“It’s a very heavy lift in a very short period of time,” said Lynch, who suggests allowing districts to opt in the first year.

Seeking to allay concerns, Schwinn emailed Tennessee superintendents on Monday with information to answer some of their questions and to ask them to complete a survey that includes their preferences for the timing of literacy training for teachers.

“The department has not solidified plans related to the specifics of district-level implementation, as we do not have funds or completed procurement processes,” she wrote. “The department wants to ensure that as we craft these initial plans, it is with your individual district needs in mind.”

Speaking with Chalkbeat, Schwinn promised that more conversations are coming about literacy-related accountability as the state seeks to get accurate data about how students are progressing. But for now, the focus is on providing educators with supports, districts with financial resources, and classrooms with high-quality instructional materials.

“We’re not just saying, 'Go do it.' We are now saying that we have to resource it,” she said of Lee’s proposed $68 million literacy investment. “This is not an unfunded mandate.”

The amendment filed on Monday adds one provision about third-grade retention policies that were adopted but not enforced under a 2011 state law. Officials with both the department and the governor said the change is to consolidate language that’s already in state code. The legislature’s fiscal officer also did not adjust estimated costs in the bill to reflect the $14 million-plus price tag of retaining students who can’t demonstrate reading proficiency.

You can read the full amendment below:

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Mexican Americans in southern Colorado fought one of the nation's early school desegregation battles https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/24/maestas-case-mexican-americans-fight-early-school-desegregation-battle/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/24/maestas-case-mexican-americans-fight-early-school-desegregation-battle/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 02:36:12 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247085 The Maestas case represents the earliest known school desegregation case in the United States involving Latinos.

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In 1913, a railroad foreman in Alamosa tried to enroll his 11-year-old son in the school closest to the family home. The school district denied him, and instead forced Miguel Maestas to walk seven blocks across dangerous railroad tracks to what was known as the Mexican School.

Maestas and other Mexican American families sued the southern Colorado district in what is the earliest known school desegregation case in the United States involving Latino students. They ultimately won the right to attend the same schools as the community’s white children. The case predates the Mendez decision, in which a U.S. District Court found that California could not send Mexican American students to separate schools, by more than three decades and other local court cases in Texas and California by more than a decade.

The Denver Catholic Register hailed the Maestas decision as “historic,” but because it was a local court case, it did not set precedent and was largely lost to time and memory until just a few years ago.

On Monday, a Colorado resolution recognized the importance of the Maestas case.

“We, the members of the General Assembly, acknowledge the tireless efforts of the Latino community in advocating for the integration of our public schools and improving outcomes for all students in Colorado,” the resolution concludes.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat with family roots in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, and a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the Maestas case is an important reminder of Latino contributions to Colorado and to educational justice. Honoring it lifts up history and brings it into the present, she said.

“We hear celebrations of the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954,” she said. “That is important history, but we were breaking that ground in Colorado a generation beforehand.”

Miguel Maestas
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Ronald W. Maestas and Tony Sandoval

Nationally, scholars say there is a shortage of monuments and memorials recognizing Latino history. In Alamosa, where the local newspaper drew attention to the Maestas case, community members raised money to build a monument, which will be unveiled later this spring.

Latinos have continued to fight, sometimes in the courts, for their educational rights, including access to bilingual education, sufficient funding for English language learners, and protections for immigrant students. The recognition of the Maestas case comes amid a broader national conversation about the value of integrated schools. Many schools in Colorado and around the country have become more segregated, particularly for Latino students, with school choice, charter schools, and gentrification adding complex new layers to the problem.

“It’s incredibly relevant to the sociopolitical environment we live in,” said Gonzalo Guzmán, a lecturer at the University of Washington who co-authored a paper on the Maestas case. “Particularly to show that the Latino community has been in a longstanding fight for educational justice and access. This did not just develop recently. It’s been going on for a long time. It also shows history as a sign of hope in action. It’s worth the struggle.”

The case appears to have been previously unknown even in academic literature. Guzmán encountered a passing reference in a Wyoming newspaper to Mexican Americans in Alamosa suing their school district while doing research on a different topic. In collaboration with other researchers, he started looking for information about the case in Colorado newspapers and other records and found a well-documented story, particularly in the Catholic press.

The account that follows is based on the paper that Guzmán published in the Journal of Latinos and Education with Ruben Donato of the University of Colorado Boulder and Jarrod Hanson of the University of Colorado Denver.

Guzmán said the Maestas case is distinct in that it played out far from the Mexican border, in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, and involved long-established Mexican American families, rather than a mix of older settlers and immigrants. Yet it shares features with other early desegregation cases involving Mexican Americans, including the ambiguous racial position of those communities and the use of language to justify segregation.

Sometimes known as the Hispano Homeland, the San Luis Valley is home to many families that can trace their ancestry to Spanish colonial settlements. Because they gained U.S. citizenship through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed at the end of the Mexican War, the courts often considered them to be legally white.

But that didn’t mean Anglo newcomers treated them as white. Mexican Americans were excluded from many public establishments, struggled to defend their historic property rights in court, and saw their children sent to separate schools.

Alamosa in 1907.
PHOTO CREDIT: Denver Public Library, Western History Photographic Collections

The Alamosa district built its Mexican School in 1909 to provide instruction in both English and Spanish as larger numbers of Mexican Americans had moved to the city from northern New Mexico to work on the railroads.

But in 1912, a new school superintendent forced all Mexican American children to attend the Mexican School. Even then, Colorado’s constitution banned discrimination on the basis of race. When challenged, school officials said they were not discriminating on the basis of race — because Hispanic children were white. Rather, officials pointed to language differences to justify the separate school.

But many of the Mexican American children of Alamosa already spoke English, something Miguel Maestas and his classmates would later demonstrate in court.

The State Board of Education declined to intervene, citing local control. Mexican American families pulled their children out of school in protest and raised money to hire a lawyer.

In court, the district tried to argue it was acting in the best interest of students by giving them specialized instruction and that “race prejudice” had nothing to do with the separate school. But on the stand, one white school board member admitted he would not send his own children to school with Mexican American classmates. Throughout the trial, the two groups of students were consistently referred to as “Mexican” and “American.”

Miguel Maestas though “timid and abashed by reason of the crowded courtroom,” according to a newspaper account of the trial, easily answered questions in English. While the district had downplayed the distance involved, Miguel told the court that he was often late for school because he had to wait for passing trains.

The principal at one of the “American” schools in the district testified that students who were fully capable of doing coursework in English were removed and required to enroll in the Mexican School. Teachers at the Mexican School testified that most of their students spoke English but that the school board required them to use Spanish.

One Mexican American father testified that when he joined others in petitioning for their “constitutional rights,” a school board member responded that they “had no rights.”

Ultimately, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. “The only way to destroy this feeling of discontent and bitterness which has recently grown up,” he wrote, “is to allow all children so prepared to attend the school nearest them.”

This was not a complete victory. The Mexican School continued to operate under a new name, and records exist of the judge later issuing orders regarding individual children, allowing some to attend the community schools and keeping others in the separate school until their English improved.

The plaintiffs’ attorney was not satisfied. “It is still our contention that even though totally deficient in a knowledge of the English language, children cannot be placed in a separate race school in Colorado on that ground,” he told the Denver Catholic Register. Doing so was “getting perilously close to separation on account of race.”

The complicated intersection of race, ethnicity, and language is a recurring feature of school desegregation cases involving Latino students.

Guzmán said he hopes attention on the Maestas case inspires other scholars to keep digging.

“This was a needle in a haystack in a haystack in a haystack,” he said. “This shows how much there is to know and find out about our nation’s history. This case is over 100 years old. It could have easily been lost to the annals of time.”

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He teaches about black manhood. Here’s how this Oakland teacher approaches lessons on race and power. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/24/bryan-bassette-manhood-development-oakland/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/24/bryan-bassette-manhood-development-oakland/#respond Tue, 25 Feb 2020 01:04:37 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247104 Bryan Bassette teaches in Oakland's Manhood Development Program. We talked with him about how he teaches complex lessons about racism to fourth- and fifth-graders.

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Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.

When Bryan Bassette looks at his students, he thinks: “I used to be you.”

Like his students, Bassette grew up in Oakland, California. His father moved the family to the city’s westside in the late 1970s to be part of the Black Panther movement. But when Bassette attended a predominantly white, affluent elementary school, he says he didn’t receive the kind of support his students do now.

“Someone who looks like them, who has a similar experience,” he said. “I don’t think I could do what I do in the classroom without those relationships.”

Bassette teaches in the Manhood Development Program in Oakland Unified School District. It’s a signature part of the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement, which launched in 2010. Since then, other districts, including Minneapolis, have started similar initiatives

A crucial component of the program is an elective class aimed at black boys and taught by black male educators. It includes a mixture of African and African American history and culture, as well as mentoring. Now offered in some two dozen Oakland schools, it’s been found to reduce the high school dropout rate among black male students. Six years ago, Bassette was the first to pilot the class with younger students at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, where he still teaches.

He has 53 students, or “kings,” as they’re known in the program, on his roster, including some Latino, white and Asian boys. Bassette says he fell in love with teaching the class — “I liked the fact that I was learning with the kids” — and has been recognized for his work in the program. He’s now working toward his master’s in education so he can become a principal. 

He’s known to many as “Brother Bryan,” a familial designation given to teachers in the program to signify that they’re all in the work together.

“We have this thing we call ‘collective genius,’” he said. “We can lean on one another to build our practice, to build our pedagogy, so we can become better teachers.”

We talked with Bassette about his parents’ deep roots in education, how he earns his students’ trust, and teaching complex lessons about racism to fourth- and fifth-graders.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Was there a specific moment you decided to become a teacher?

Both of my parents are teachers. My dad was a high school AP economics and government teacher, my mom was an elementary school teacher. I played baseball in college and so when I was in school, my mom said I should get my teaching credential. I told her: ‘Mom, I’m never teaching nothing.’ I was like a lot of boys and young men, I was chasing the dream of going pro in baseball. I ended up not getting drafted and I was just a student for the first time in my life. I ended up getting academically disqualified from college because I didn’t see a reason for me to be in school, so I stopped really applying myself.  

I started coaching baseball at the high school level and I fell in love with it, and I really enjoyed the relationship with the kids and what I was doing. I went back to school and got my BA. It’s funny, as much as I fought my mom, I should have listened to her about 10 years ago.

How do you get to know your students?

A big part of it is sharing my experience and being transparent, and also trying to set my class up in a way that’s going to be fun and engaging for them. We go out and we play basketball, we play a lot of team-building games within the day. And as much as I can, I try to find individual time with them. My goal is to let them know: Yes, I’m your teacher, but on a very basic level, first, I love you and I want you to be successful.  

Do you have a favorite lesson that you look forward to teaching?

The Black Panther one is my favorite lesson. We don’t start in Oakland in 1966 — that lesson actually begins with the Haitian Revolution in 1791, and then we chronicle all the way up to 1966 with the different armed resistance movements of the black community, so the students get some depth about this fight for equality and the fight against racism.

In school we don’t really learn about the full history of colonialism and what happened during slavery. And they don’t understand that this fight has been going on for centuries, and that African Americans and the African diaspora — we have a lot of wins in this fight. The Haitian Revolution chronicles the brothers and sisters in Haiti liberating themselves from slavery, from France, from Spain, and then starting their own country, and their own democracy.

By the end of it, what changes have you seen in your students when they are exposed to this lesson?

Just the pride, and a lot of ‘Wow, I didn’t know that happened.’ A lot of the stories about slavery are that we were dominated and subservient and complacent in it, and that’s just not the case. It’s kind of eye-opening to them. I really like the video that I use. It kind of takes them on an emotional roller coaster, where it talks about the history of Haiti and the colony that was there, what they were experiencing during slavery and how they got out of it. I’ve had students crying about what they see. But by the end of it, they give it a standing ovation. 

What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to teaching?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that I didn’t give them enough credit for their levels of intelligence and what they could comprehend. You’re talking about systemic racism and historically what has happened with race in this country. It’s really complex and it’s a lot of small details that they have to understand to see the big picture. The curriculum that I’m using was designed for middle and high school, so I have to take it and scaffold it and make it age-appropriate. I was not sure if elementary kids would be able to grasp a lot of these concepts — but they understand a whole lot more than I ever gave them credit for.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?

What isn’t affecting what’s going in my classroom? The trauma and some of the violence they see in the neighborhood. But the political climate and what is being said by politicians about immigration and the whole business of the impeachment. It’s funny to hear fourth- and fifth- graders talk about impeaching Trump. That comes up a lot in class, because they hear a lot of the rhetoric in the media and from their parents’ conversations. So they come to school with questions. And all those questions are really heartening and provide information and talking points to the topics that we have in class.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Especially our kings from these rough neighborhoods, they’ve seen a lot in their lives and building trust is huge for them. My kids are not going to just listen and engage and respect me as a teacher, just because I have the title of teacher. I have to earn their trust.

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A Bloomberg-era policy to reduce suspensions boosted test scores in NYC, study finds https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/24/bloomberg-suspensions-nyc/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/24/bloomberg-suspensions-nyc/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 23:50:46 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247071 Reducing suspensions for nonviolent misconduct led to across-the-board improvement in test scores and school climate.

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It’s a question that has roiled educators across the country: Does limiting suspensions promote student learning, or lead to more chaotic classrooms?

A new study focused on New York City middle schools adds new evidence to that contentious debate, finding that reducing suspensions for nonviolent misconduct led to across-the-board improvement in test scores and school climate.

The study, conducted by University of Michigan professor Ashley Craig and Harvard doctoral student David Martin, focused on the three years after a 2012 policy change under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that banned suspensions for minor misbehavior such as cursing.

“The worry for a lot of people about reducing suspension rates is you potentially see students who are disruptive or dangerous stay in the classroom,” Martin said, possibly distracting from student learning. “Our paper suggests that’s not a tradeoff you face when you look at these non-violent disruptive behaviors.”

That finding offers new support for easing up on harsh responses to student misbehavior, a goal of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has overhauled the city’s discipline code even further by limiting suspensions for other low-level infractions such as insubordination and shortening the length of suspensions for more serious infractions. Districts across the country have moved in a similar direction. 

Discipline reform advocates have pushed for those changes, arguing that reducing suspensions is a civil rights issue. Students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately removed from their classrooms, which is linked to worse academic outcomes

Some educators have pushed back against those reforms, arguing they have made it harder to maintain order, and there has not been sufficient training in alternative approaches. 

“In many schools, misconduct is on the rise, leading some students to believe there are little or no consequences for disruptive, openly defiant, and even violent behavior,” wrote Mark Cannizzaro, the head of the city’s administrators’ union, in a January letter.

The new research cuts against those concerns, but doesn’t necessarily prove that they’re misplaced, either. 

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The study focused on reducing low-level suspensions at a time when tough suspension policies were at their peak, and the city issued roughly 70,000 suspensions a year. It's possible that recent policy shifts, which have since halved the number of suspensions, have swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that school climate has taken a hit.

“Subsequent reforms that are targeting more serious infractions — it’s not obvious that you’d expect the same effects,” Martin said. “You might see more of a tradeoff.” 

The study focused on the elimination of “level two” infractions, non-violent behavior that included cursing and “persistent non-compliance.” Suspensions for this type of behavior were already fairly rare, but some schools used them more than others.

The researchers took advantage of the considerable variation in suspension rates between schools. Those that issued more level two suspensions — and were suddenly banned from issuing them — were compared to schools that barely issued any, creating a de facto control group that allowed the researchers to isolate the effect of reducing suspensions.

The study, which has not been formally peer-reviewed, found that reducing suspensions caused the average student at a high-suspension school to improve their math scores by about one percentile and boost reading scores by half a percentile in the three years after the policy change — a positive albeit modest shift. A broad range of students seemed to benefit, not just those most likely to be suspended.

At the same time, reports of disruptive incidents fell, and students and educators reported improvements in school culture, according to teacher and student surveys.

“These correlations are consistent with school culture being an important driver of the test score gains from the reform,” the authors wrote.

It’s hard to disentangle the effect of reducing suspensions by itself with the effect of encouraging schools to move toward alternative approaches to student misbehavior. Advocates of discipline reform have long argued that schools should do both.

The 2012 policy shift pushed schools to remove students from class for a single class or use alternative “restorative” practices, such as peer mediation. But the study did not offer a detailed account of what strategies, if any, schools were using in lieu of suspensions.

Matthew Steinberg, a George Mason University professor who has studied school discipline, said the study was rigorous and added to the small but growing literature on the effect of suspensions. He was skeptical of the idea that eliminating suspensions alone explained the improvements.

“What was happening as an alternative to suspension?” Steinberg asked. “That is a critically important question.”

Although other school systems have scaled back suspensions and adopted alternatives to exclusionary discipline such as restorative justice, there is little conclusive research about its effect on student outcomes. 

One study, based on a restorative justice initiative in Pittsburgh, found that the approach reduced suspension rates and improved teachers’ perceptions of school climate, but also led to lower test scores, particularly among black students.

Another recent study, which looked at an unnamed California school district, found that suspensions were linked to slightly higher math scores among students who were not suspended. That suggests that reducing suspensions without putting in place effective alternatives could backfire.

Meanwhile, big questions remain in New York City about how the dramatic reductions in suspensions from more exclusionary policies are affecting students — and Martin said more research is needed to answer that question.

“The rate at which we’re reversing those policies is in some ways outpacing the rigorous evidence that we do have,” Martin said.

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Former NYC education official charged with sex crimes lied about prior job trouble, probe finds https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/24/former-nyc-education-official-charged-with-sex-crimes-lied-about-prior-job-trouble-probe-finds/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/24/former-nyc-education-official-charged-with-sex-crimes-lied-about-prior-job-trouble-probe-finds/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 23:40:07 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247074 As a result of the city probe into Hay’s hiring, Special Commissioner of Investigation Anastasia Coleman is recommending five policy changes to vetting job candidates.

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David Hay, the former deputy chief of staff to Chancellor Richard Carranza who is now facing child enticement and child pornography charges, lied on official city questionnaires about being pushed out of a previous job, a city investigation revealed Monday.

As a result of the city probe into Hay’s hiring, Special Commissioner of Investigation Anastasia Coleman is recommending five policy changes to how the education department vets job candidates. Those recommendations include requiring the department’s Office of Personnel Investigations to contact every candidate’s previous employer from at least the five years before their application, regardless of how they answer questionnaires about their past work. 

The investigation found that Hay never acknowledged on official city paperwork that he was asked to resign from a previous job in Wisconsin over concerns about his principal’s license and improper spending — an omission that can lead to criminal charges, the report said. SCI has sent their findings to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.

Coleman’s investigation did not expose any evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct in his previous jobs, her report said. In a news release, Coleman said her office’s investigation revealed “areas in need of improvement” when it comes to the education department’s vetting process for “high-level titles and sensitive positions.” 

Hay held central office positions in New York City and did not teach.

Hay, 39, was charged last month in Wisconsin with attempting to lure a teenage boy — who was actually an undercover police officer — to a hotel and with possessing child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty. Hay was fired Dec. 30, the day after his arrest in Wisconsin, according to the SCI investigation. 

Questions soon arose over how Hay was screened before he was hired. He joined New York City’s education department as a “confidential strategy planner” in 2016 and was later promoted. He was required to go through two background checks — one with the education department, and one with the city’s Department of Investigation, or the DOI. The education department review, which includes a fingerprint check, was completed. But the vetting process with the DOI remains incomplete because the agency says it is facing a massive backlog of cases to review.

Coleman’s office launched an investigation into how Hay was vetted, interviewing two Wisconsin superintendents for whom Hay had worked. Both said they had not heard of Hay demonstrating any “sexually inappropriate conduct.” However, investigators discovered Hay was forced to resign from one Wisconsin school district in 2011 because he had failed to update his principal’s license and was found to have improperly used a school credit card, in part for personal expenses such as lunch and gas, Coleman’s report said. 

Investigators found that Hay was facing a hearing in 2011 over being fired as principal of a school in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine district following the allegations about his license and improper spending, confirming a January report in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper. According to documents and SCI interviews, Hay submitted his resignation before the hearing and reached an agreement with district leaders that says the school system asked for his resignation. The agreement also bars the district from sharing any information with future employers except for his salary and dates of employment.

Years later, as part of his 2016 background check in New York City, Hay was required to answer questions about his past employment, including an online questionnaire with the education department. When he was promoted a year later, he filled out another questionnaire with the Department of Investigation and a second online questionnaire for education officials. Investigators found that he had made “more than a dozen false statements” by answering “no” to questions designed to catch red flags about work history, such as, “Have you ever been asked to resign from employment?” Hay also answered “no” to similar questions on surveys tied to teaching licenses in Wisconsin, the report said.

Katherine Rodi, the education department’s executive director of employee relations, told investigators that Hay should have answered “yes” to at least one of the questions about his past employment. 

Coleman’s report noted that the city’s education department never contacted the Kettle Moraine district, but because of his agreement with district leaders, they wouldn't have been permitted to reveal that information anyway. And since Hay’s employment with Kettle Moraine was more than five years before he applied for a job in New York City, city officials would not have contacted the district unless he answered the questionnaires truthfully or if they got a tip from “another source,” Coleman wrote. 

Hay went on to work at Tomah Area School District, another Wisconsin district, where an official did contact Kettle Moraine but said she received “limited” information and was told Hay did nothing “illegal or immoral” in his time there. 

"Mr. Hay passed a criminal background check, was immediately fired when he was arrested, and SCI found no wrongdoing on behalf of the City," Miranda Barbot, a New York City education department spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. "We followed all protocols and procedures and will adopt SCI’s recommendations to ensure our hiring processes are as thorough as possible.”

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The hard choice of what to cut: Illinois school districts weigh competing needs after governor suggests freeze https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/24/illinois-school-district-weigh-competing-needs-after-governor-suggests-freeze/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/24/illinois-school-district-weigh-competing-needs-after-governor-suggests-freeze/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 23:19:18 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247070 Some school districts will cut back on student programs. Others will put off hiring staff. How Illinois school districts are rethinking next school year’s budget.

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Some school districts will cut back on student programs. Some may delay purchasing supplies. Others will put off hiring staff their schools desperately need.

Illinois school districts are rethinking next school year’s budget, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker surprised them in announcing last week that the state will increase education spending but hold back some of the funds they expected pending the outcome of a November tax vote. 

If the legislature approves Pritzker’s $350 million school spending increase, the governor would place in reserve $150 million for schools, and deliver it only if voters pass his progressive income tax plan in November. Pritzker has argued that would bring in additional revenues in future years to shore up schools and other critical areas.  

In the interim, districts are paring back their expectations and budgets for next year.

“You can’t do a mid-course correction and hire more staff, that’s just not possible,” said Tony Sanders, superintendent of school district U-46 in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the second largest district in the state.

He said the freeze, as Pritzker calls it, will affect district hiring. 

The district will have to put off adding staff. “If we know what we’re going to get” — later on —  “we can invest in lowering class sizes, provide additional support to at-risk students. That requires people.”

How much each school district would receive would vary, since the funding formula sends money first to districts that have the largest gaps between local revenue and state spending targets. 

While the $200 million increase that Pritzker has so far guaranteed is still a boost over the current year, the freeze matters because three years ago a bipartisan coalition of state leaders pledged to gradually increase K-12 funding to correct years of underfunding. They set spending targets for each year, and education leaders throughout the state have counted on annual increases. Pritzker’s proposal to the legislature would mark the first time since 2017 that state funding would fall short of a $300-million-extra-per-year pledge.

“We started to move forward with planning for our future after filling our budget hole” after years of insufficient state revenue, said Jennifer Garrison, superintendent of the Vandalia School District 203, in southern Illinois. “Just as we are getting started implementing our plan, we once again take a step back and face uncertainty.”

Vandalia is among the 42% of school districts still considered well below “adequate” in terms of spending on education.. The 2017 budget revamp set a target for the state to provide schools an additional $300 million annually, but education advocacy groups and the state school board think even that falls short.

For next school year, for example, the Illinois State Board of Education recommended an increase of $510 million. 

What’s needed, Garrison said, is closer to $650 million. “It is important for the public to understand that the $350 million is a compromise of what is really needed to begin with.”

The Illinois Board of Education estimates the state is $7 billion short of adequately funding its schools.

Garrison’s district had planned to hire a curriculum coach with the state funds it expected for next year. In reality, he said, the district needs three coaches.  

“While this example might seem minor to some, it is major to us,” Garrison said. Without a cut in state funding, “I am now in a position once again to do more with less.”

Jeff Craig, superintendent of West Aurora School District 129, said his district is around 53% adequately funded. He faces scaling back programs, putting projects and purchases on hold, and reducing hires to essential staff only.  

His district already went through budget cuts a few years ago that resulted in a salary freeze for administrators and delay of building maintenance, he said.

Craig said his district will likely take a more conservative approach to the budget for the next school year, but any cuts will be made “as far away from the classroom as possible.” 

“Our kids should never know that we have fiscal challenges,” Craig said. “If there’s going to be reductions or a more conservative approach it’s going to be felt by adults and not the students.”

Although times are better than before 2017, Craig said that dwindling funding exacerbates the teacher shortage. Schools struggle to find staff.

“We know as a state we’re pretty financially fragile and everyone needs to find revenue but there’s only so much to go around,” Craig said.

The Elgin U-46 district, which last year received only 56% of what the state calculates as adequate funding, can look to past experience for handling fiscal uncertainty.  

Funds that appear midyear often goes toward “buying stuff,” rather than hiring more staff, Superintendent Sanders said.

When the state put its new school funding model in place, it gave the district $22 million mid-school year, he said. The district purchased Chromebook laptops for high schoolers, to prepare for the following school year.

As for now, he said, “when we know our budget and we can staff appropriately, we can do better things for kids.”

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Pop-up centers will help Detroit district parents determine if their children are exempt from new reading law https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/24/pop-up-centers-will-help-detroit-district-parents-determine-if-their-children-are-exempt-from-new-reading-law/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/24/pop-up-centers-will-help-detroit-district-parents-determine-if-their-children-are-exempt-from-new-reading-law/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 21:49:06 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247055 Many studies demonstrate that grade retention can have harmful effects on a student’s development, and retention doesn’t help improve a student’s academic performance.

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The Detroit Public Schools Community District is opening multiple pop-up centers in its schools to make it easier for parents of struggling third-grade readers to keep their children from being held back under Michigan’s tough new reading law.

The district recently sent letters home about the upcoming opening of the pop-up centers and other ways parents can apply to exempt their children from being held back. The locations of the centers are still to be determined.

The pop-up centers are part of an overall strategy in the district to educate parents about the law, which requires school officials this year to hold back third-graders whose test scores indicate they’re reading below grade level. 

Many studies demonstrate that grade retention can have harmful effects on a student’s social and behavioral development, and retention doesn’t help improve a student’s academic performance in the long term. One study also found that boys were twice as likely to be held back than girls, and students of color were disproportionately impacted by retention.

Previously, the district has held information sessions so parents can understand how the law can impact their children. The district also has provided parents with materials they can use at home to help their children with literacy. And a program that seeks volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring was launched more than a year ago.

The letters about the pop-up centers come less than two months before state testing begins, and as officials as high as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sound the alarm about the law’s impact. During her State of the State speech last month, Whitmer announced she is working with philanthropic organizations to educate parents, targeting school districts in low-income and urban areas who may be hit hardest by retention.

“This punitive law could be a nightmare for families, and this initiative will give parents and students the resources and support they need to get through it,” Whitmer said in her speech. 

It’s estimated that about 20%, or nearly 800 district students, would have been held back last year if the rules had been in place then. That’s well above the 4% of third-graders typically held back in a given year. 

Statewide, between 4% and 5% of students are expected to be identified for retention.

At the pop-up centers, staff will help parents fill out surveys to see if their child qualifies for an exemption and can request an exemption on site, the district said. Students who have a learning disability, English language learners with less than three years of language instruction, and students who’ve already repeated the third grade can qualify for an exemption. 

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has repeatedly spoken out against the law, citing research that shows forcing students to repeat a grade damages their confidence in learning. 

“We firmly believe that student retention is a decision that should be made between the school leader, teacher, and family,” Vitti wrote in the letter. 

Jametta Lilly, who heads up the Detroit Parent Network, a parent advocacy group, said many parents aren’t aware of the law and how it works — which is why her organization has worked hard over the last year to help educate them. She said a parent's role in shaping a child’s learning is often underestimated, but is critically important. 

“A parent is a child’s first teacher,” she said. 

The group has hosted parent-led workshops on early literacy and the third-grade reading law.  They’ve also partnered with Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization focused on improving education, to create a web portal with resources to help promote reading. The two groups also made toolkits that educate parents on the law, a guidebook on how to work with teachers to support their child’s learning, and a list of local summer reading programs.

“Holding our kids back never helps them,” Lilly said. “We need to have a whole community focus on improving literacy, not just schools.”  

 

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Indiana lawmakers scrap plan to let schools count high school equivalency as a diploma https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/24/indiana-lawmakers-scrap-plan-to-let-schools-count-high-school-equivalency-as-a-diploma/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/24/indiana-lawmakers-scrap-plan-to-let-schools-count-high-school-equivalency-as-a-diploma/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:57:14 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247045 A panel of Indiana lawmakers walked back a potential pilot program for high schools Monday after concerns were raised about graduating students who don’t earn a diploma.

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A panel of Indiana lawmakers walked back a potential pilot program for high schools Monday after concerns were raised about allowing students who don’t receive a diploma to graduate.

The pilot would have allowed seniors behind on credits to be counted as graduates if they pass a high school equivalency exam and take steps toward career training.

It would have been a big change since students who earn their equivalency, Indiana’s version of the GED, are currently considered dropouts. The idea passed through the Senate earlier this month, but the House education committee changed the proposal Monday to no longer affect schools’ graduation rates.

“I thought it would be more productive for us to see the results before we immediately allow flexibility for that,” said Republican committee chair Bob Behning.

Lawmakers also limited the pilot to only two districts — Washington and Warren townships — and narrowed down the career training that would be required of students in the program.

The committee approved the amended bill 11-0, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Last week, supporters of the pilot argued that it’s better for students to leave with a high school equivalency and a workforce credential than to walk away empty-handed. They wanted schools to have an incentive to provide those services by no longer having those students count against the graduation rate.

"The concept of having students demonstrate academic competency on the (high school equivalency) exam is truly the goal of this program," Lara Pastore, assistant supervisor of Washington Township Adult Education, told lawmakers last week. "I think the workforce needs it."

Pastore and other supporters pointed to a recent Chalkbeat investigation that raised concerns over the number of students marked as “home-schoolers,” which experts say could be disguising students who are dropping out.

Those who opposed the high school equivalency proposal raised concerns that adding another pathway for students to graduate would lower the bar for Indiana’s students, arguing that the equivalency exam does not carry the same value as a diploma. The Indiana Department of Education said schools can already help students earn their equivalency without changing the law.

However, supporters say the proposed legislation would allow qualifying seniors to stay in school to work toward their high school equivalency, meaning schools could continue providing the wrap-around services some students rely on, Pastore said, such as transportation and lunch.

The proposal would also let schools build the student’s schedule to accommodate holding an apprenticeship or working toward a recognized certification.

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Chicago releases 2020-21 school calendar, says first day of school will be Sept. 8 https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/24/chicago-releases-2020-21-school-calendar-says-first-day-of-school-will-be/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/24/chicago-releases-2020-21-school-calendar-says-first-day-of-school-will-be/#respond Mon, 24 Feb 2020 16:16:14 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=247032 Chicago Public School students will return to school this fall on Sept. 8.

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Chicago Public School students will return to school next fall on Sept. 8, and the last day for students will be June 22, 2021, according to a proposed calendar for the next school year.

Chicago’s Board of Education will consider the calendar Wednesday.

Winter break would be Dec. 21 to Jan. 1,  and spring break would be from March 29 to April 2.

The start of school lines up with the Chicago tradition of starting after Labor Day. Labor Day falls late in the calendar this year on Sept. 7.

This year, students will start their summer break two days later than originally scheduled, to make up days lost during an 11-day teachers strike last fall. The district agreed to five makeup days; two of those are in June. The last day of school for students this school year is June 18.

The Chicago Park District recently released summer camp dates. Six-week day camps will go through July 31, with summer extension camps running through Aug. 14. But working parents still will have to search for options for activities and child care to fill in other days and times until school starts in September, a perennial issue for many families.

Find the full calendar below.

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Colorado’s high school social studies exam, rarely administered, might just go away https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/colorado-high-school-social-studies-exam/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/colorado-high-school-social-studies-exam/#respond Sat, 22 Feb 2020 01:59:01 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246991 Closing a chapter in the state’s testing wars, Colorado lawmakers are quietly preparing to do away with the statewide high school social studies exam.

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Closing a chapter in the state’s testing wars, Colorado lawmakers are quietly preparing to do away with the statewide high school social studies exam.

It won’t be missed much by students or teachers — because it hasn’t been given since 2014.

A bill to do away with the high school social studies exam, which covers topics like history, geography, and civics, unanimously passed the state House on Friday with hardly any discussion. The bill was originally written to replace the exam with the U.S. citizenship test, but that provision was stripped out, leaving no test at all. The bill goes now to the Senate.

The lack of debate stands in sharp contrast to two years ago, when a similar effort failed amid significant pushback from lawmakers and social studies teachers. They argued that not testing social studies would send a message that the subject didn’t matter. Now legislators say classroom teachers are far better equipped to test their students’ knowledge. No one rose to defend the exam, which exists in theory, but not in practice.

Even if administered as designed, “teachers couldn’t use the data to help their teaching,” said state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, a Durango Democrat and chair of the House Education Committee. “Nobody is crazy about the test.”

McLachlan joined state Rep. Perry Buck, a Windsor Republican who has been trying to do away with the test for years, in sponsoring the legislation.

The beginning of the end for the social studies exam came five years ago. Colorado had become the epicenter of a national “opt out” movement that united the left and the right to oppose what they saw as excessive testing. Many students boycotted the exams. Tossing years of work, the State Board of Education refused to set criteria to determine how well students did on science and social studies tests.

In 2015 legislators greatly reduced the number of tests that Colorado students take and guaranteed the right of students to opt out of standardized tests. Lawmakers also agreed to give the social studies test just once every three years. The federal government requires a standardized science exam, but it doesn’t require a standardized social studies test.

Fourth- and seventh-graders have dutifully taken this test, but high school students never have. The test kept being put off, as Colorado moved all high school students to taking the PSAT and the SAT, then revised its social studies standards, then developed a companion test for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Even if the law doesn’t change, it would be 2022 before any high school students took the social studies test.

The State Board of Education has not taken a position on eliminating the test.

If the results from state science tests are any indication, participation in the high school social studies would be poor. Just 61% of eligible students took the science test last year, compared with almost 93% who took the SAT. And if the results from the middle school test are any indication, students would not do particularly well on a high school exam. In 2019, just 18% of seventh-graders met or exceeded expectations on social studies.

Mark Sass, a high school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 district and Colorado state director of the Teach Plus Fellows program, testified two years ago in support of keeping the exam. This time, he didn’t bother, though he would prefer to keep it.

“If we want to monitor how kids are doing in social studies, the way to do this is through a test,” he said. “This represents the ad hoc approach to accountability in Colorado. There is no coherence.”

Even as he agreed to do away with the test, state Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, described an “overwhelming cloud” over the decision.

“What are we doing to make sure our students understand what makes America, America?” he asked.

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County mayor expresses support for new school buildings, but cost is about half what Memphis district estimated https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/21/county-mayor-expresses-support-for-new-school-buildings-but-cost-is-about-half-what-memphis-district-estimated/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/21/county-mayor-expresses-support-for-new-school-buildings-but-cost-is-about-half-what-memphis-district-estimated/#respond Sat, 22 Feb 2020 00:43:03 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246982 Most of Shelby County Schools’ buildings are more than 40 years old. Altogether, the district has about $500 million in building repair needs.

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County Mayor Lee Harris expressed support for a new high school in one of the county’s poorest areas as he stood in a new $95 million high school in one of the county’s richest suburbs.

The front of Collierville High School when it opened in 2018.
PHOTO CREDIT: Renier Otto/The Commercial Appeal

Harris held his annual county address at Collierville High School on Friday as an example of “what’s possible.”

“The problem is that our schools are crumbling,” Harris said, promising to work with county commissioners, who fund local schools, to come up with $50 million over the next few years to construct a new building.

“If we build a high school in Frayser or another community in need, we have a chance to expand educational services to students,” he said.

But his estimate is far less than what Shelby County Schools officials want. Preliminary numbers for the district’s “Reimagining 901” plan call for $89 million for new high schools to accommodate newer technology in classrooms.

Most of Shelby County Schools’ buildings are more than 40 years old and a few are over 100 years old. Altogether, the district has about $500 million in building repair needs.

The Frayser neighborhood is also home to MLK College Preparatory High School, where Harris’ after-school welding and carpentry program is held in the library because there’s no proper space for learning those trades at the school.

After the address, Superintendent Joris Ray said, “It’s not just about the brick and mortar. It’s about all the 21st century technology inside of the building, which drives the cost.

Martin Luther King College Prep students (right) and onlookers laugh as Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris (middle) attempts to use a virtual welding machine during a demonstration Nov. 19.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Weber/Daily Memphian

“But we’re very appreciative of the start that Mayor Harris discussed this afternoon,” he said. “We want our students to enjoy a building — like the one here in Collierville — in Frayser, North Memphis, Northaven. We have so many needs in so many different areas.”

The district has built two new elementary schools since the county and city school systems merged in 2013 and split a year later. A third is slated to open this fall. Beyond that, district officials are putting the finishing touches on its facilities plan and will likely present it this spring to county commissioners.

County policy limits spending to $75 million each year on building projects across its seven school systems and any county-owned building, so $50 million in one year is unlikely, said LaSonya Hall, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer.

“I think what that means is we’re going to take a serious look at our capital improvements budget and see how much we can assist in making that a reality,” she said.

Harris said his vision for a new high school is likely the start of a “long conversation,” but that it’s worth having.

“I know we have talked about this issue for years and years and years,” he said during his speech. “I know that the only way things change is if someone dares to try.”

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A test with no time limit: Chicago’s high-stakes NWEA test under microscope after critical report https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/21/a-test-with-no-time-limit-chicagos-high-stakes-nwea-test-under-microscope-after-critical-report/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/21/a-test-with-no-time-limit-chicagos-high-stakes-nwea-test-under-microscope-after-critical-report/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 23:51:54 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246963 Chicago Public Schools said Friday it will re-evaluate all the standardized tests it administers in the wake of the Inspector General report.

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Chicago Public Schools said Friday it will re-evaluate all the standardized tests it administers after its top investigator found irregularities in the administration of one high-stakes test that powers the city’s elementary school ratings.

Inspector General Nicholas Schuler said he found a dramatic difference between the amount of time Chicago students took to complete the untimed test known as NWEA/MAP during one testing cycle and the average time nationwide, discrepancies which could “be an indicator of cheating or of attempts to game the test,” according to a report provided to the Chicago Board of Education.

The district sent parents an e-mail Friday notifying them of the investigation and findings. It wrote that it would hire a national test security company to improve administration and security procedures and that the district would provide more thorough guidelines to schools, and oversee targeted audits in testing.  

Nearly all district students take the NWEA at least twice a year starting in third grade, and often in earlier grades on some campuses. The results come back quickly and help paint a picture of a child’s academic growth. The collective scores contribute to nearly half of a school’s annual rating. 

The test is also used for seventh graders’ applications for selective enrollment schools and in principal and teacher evaluations. 

Speaking late Friday, Chicago Board of Education member Elizabeth Todd-Breland, an education researcher, said Schuler’s report was spurring top-level thinking about whether the district should continue to use the NWEA as a high-stakes test. 

I am very critical, frankly, about the way the NWEA is used, and I think we need to have that discussion.”

Schuler’s office reviewed nearly 321,000 tests taken by third through eighth graders in spring 2018. It found that 36% of tests took at least twice as long, and up to five times as long, as the national average.  The report noted that Chicago was not timing the test the same way among schools, and that some students took three or four times as long to complete their tests, and paused them more often, as the average national rate. 

“As a result, in some CPS schools and grades, a maximum 53-question test that the average student nationally completed in roughly an hour turned into a multi-day and even a weeklong event,” the inspector general wrote in a September memo to the Chicago Board of Education. 

Schuler was looking into standardized testing following “numerous complaints to the OIG over the years about alleged NWEA cheating,” many based on anonymous complaints. The report offers little evidence of cheating, according to the school district.  

He said he was surprised the report was released in advance of next week’s Board of Education meeting, the last one he will attend before stepping down from his post.  

While acknowledging that the report provided 18 useful recommendations about proctoring and test administration that the district plans to adopt, Todd-Breland took issue Friday with the report’s methodology and use of the word “cheating.” She said it provided no evidence that educators were gaming the test and it did not offer correlating statistics that would back such a claim. 

When you actually run the data around both durations and pauses, there is no correlation between longer duration and more pauses and higher growth and achievement on the test,” she said. “There’s a mismatch between the evidence being provided and the assertions made in the report.”  

It’s not clear what responsibility the testing company NWEA plays in the lapses. The testing company did not explicitly guide districts on imposing time constraints until December 2019, according to the district. Nor did it guide districts on when to allow use of the pause feature. 

NWEA did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. 

Even as Chicago puts the NWEA under the microscope, New York City is moving toward expanding its use. 

The pauses in testing could help students perform better. But they could also be abused, the inspector general said. “Students and teachers described a variety of improper practices, including gaming and cheating techniques, that could have added to test durations.

Chicago Public Schools has pointed with pride to its multiyear upward trend line on the NWEA, although scores flattened last year. Last spring, nearly 63% of elementary school students met national norms in reading and 57% did so in math.

District spokeswoman Emily Bolton said Friday that neither the inspector general’s report nor the subsequent district review should call into question the performance of Chicago students or individual schools. 

“Our students — with the support of dedicated educators and principals — have made real and sustained academic progress over the past decade on a variety of assessments and metrics,” Bolton said in an emailed statement. “The review did not find any correlation between test duration and high academic growth and it does not call into question the accomplishments of our students and school communities.”

School administrators, teachers, and parents closely watch test scores. The NWEA/MAP is a key factor in how Chicago rates schools and in grade promotion. Students also take a separate, state-mandated standardized test. The new Illinois school superintendent, Carmen Ayala, is also reexamining assessments the state gives to its 2 million public school children. 

Brentano Math and Science Academy teacher Aaron Bingea said schools take a long time on the NWEA test because they know the scores carry big consequences. For his seventh grade students, the NWEA is a significant portion of the grade that decides which high school they will be accepted to. 

Getting a good score on the test involves extra work from both teachers and students, he said. Teachers have to teach material that is above the grade level of students because the computerized test adjusts the difficulty based on correct answers. Students will go slowly on the test, Bingea said, and will research content above their grade level. 

Bingea, who presented his concerns about the NWEA to board members over the summer, suggested that the district remove the high-stakes nature of the test. “We are going to continue to put a lot of stress on kids, it will take a lot of time, and you are going to get a lot of bogus data” if the district continues to use the NWEA, he said.

Read the full reports here:



OIG Executive Summary (Text)



Performance Review Recommendations (Text)

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Denver to explore reopening a traditional high school in Montbello, 10 years after decision to close it https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/denver-to-explore-reopening-a-traditional-high-school-in-montbello-10-years-after-decision-to-close-it/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/denver-to-explore-reopening-a-traditional-high-school-in-montbello-10-years-after-decision-to-close-it/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 23:32:41 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246955 The district plans to solicit community feedback on what that would look like, and whether to build a new school or renovate the existing one.

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The idea of reopening a comprehensive high school in the Montbello neighborhood in far northeast Denver is back on the table.

The announcement comes nearly 10 years after the Denver school board voted to close the former Montbello High School, a neighborhood hub that was struggling academically. Many students, teachers, and community members objected to closure, pleading with the board to give the school another chance.

The announcement also comes six months after the district began soliciting community feedback on redesigning the building that once housed Montbello High, which is now home to five small schools. At the time, district officials made clear they wanted feedback on how to best serve those small schools, not on whether to reopen a comprehensive high school.

But the idea of reopening Montbello High, which was a source of pride for many in the neighborhood, has refused to go away.

“What is clear from these conversations is that the Montbello community wants to talk about the learning facility here,” Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova wrote in a letter to the community this month. “Additionally, many expressed a desire to talk about academic programming, including the interest in creating a comprehensive high school.”

Given that, Cordova announced a new community process to answer three questions:

  • What would it look like to reopen a comprehensive high school?
  • Should the district design a new building or renovate the existing one?
  • What types of athletic programming and school clubs does the community want?

More information, including on how to participate, is set to be released next week.

The goal is to have answers by June, said school board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, who represents far northeast Denver. That way, any new construction projects could be included in a bond the district is planning to ask Denver voters to approve in November.

Currently, the former Montbello High building is home to DCIS Montbello, a district-run middle and high school; Noel Community Arts School, also a district-run middle and high school; and STRIVE Prep - Montbello, a charter middle school.

Ensuring STRIVE Prep - Montbello students have a space is a priority for the district, Cordova wrote in her letter. So is including students affected by the decision in the conversation. And the district wants to make sure middle schools aren’t forgotten; Montbello students will need middle school options, too.

“I’m really excited about the potential partnership in creating a Montbello campus that better fits the community’s vision,” Cordova wrote, “and we come to the conversation openly and enthusiastically.”

Far northeast Denver is the only part of the city without a comprehensive high school. Instead, there are 11 small high schools, many with fewer than 500 students. Two years ago, after the desire to reopen a comprehensive high school surfaced in a different district-led community committee, the leaders of some of those small schools pushed back.

Principals and students flooded a school board meeting in March 2018. “Everything we do is threatened,” one principal said. A student said that opening a new comprehensive high school would break up the family at his current school. “And breaking up a family never ends well,” he said.

By contrast, no one voiced any opposition at a school board meeting Thursday when Bacon announced the new process. Whether that means the opposition has dissipated remains to be seen. School leaders from far northeast Denver could not be reached Friday afternoon.

“It’s been hard, but we are looking forward to working together to address what we truly need as a community in the Montbello ZIP code,” Bacon said.

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‘It takes all of us’: At community asthma workshop, doctors say parent efforts are key https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/21/it-takes-all-of-us-at-community-asthma-workshop-doctors-say-parent-collaboration-is-key/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/21/it-takes-all-of-us-at-community-asthma-workshop-doctors-say-parent-collaboration-is-key/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 22:24:16 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246940 As their children colored nearby, parents went table to table, asking doctors and nurses about the different kinds of medication their children are taking.

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As their children colored nearby, parents went table to table, asking doctors and nurses about the different kinds of asthma medication their children are taking and what they could do to prevent the upcoming allergy season from triggering asthmatic reactions.

Families, educators, and health care professionals had come together Tuesday for a community asthma training and safety workshop in a city where a disproportionately high number of children live with the chronic breathing condition. The goal of the training, held at the Chancellor Avenue Annex school auditorium: to help Newark parents learn how better to care for their children with asthma. 

“What we’re doing here today is empowering parents to be advocates,” said Atiya Jaha-Rashidi, a nurse and parent of children with asthma. 

Hosted by the Newark Teachers Association, NJEA PRIDE/FAST, and Beth Israel Children’s Hospital, the event brought together major stakeholders in Newark’s asthma crisis and encouraged collaboration between families, healthcare providers, and schools to ensure thorough asthma care. At the gathering, parents could ask questions of health care professionals and pick up brochures about asthma and its treatments; a free dinner followed. 

One in every four children in Newark has asthma — three times higher than the national average. Locally, children are hospitalized for asthma at 30 times the national rate, studies show. And while asthma-related deaths are rare nationwide, Newark has experienced an average of a death a year among minors from 2010 to 2017, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

After a Chalkbeat article about childhood asthma, its sometimes-tragic outcomes, and its impact on local schools, Newark Teachers Union vowed to ensure all district school staff receive asthma training. But as of January 31, just 350 of the district’s roughly 6,000 employees had completed the free program, the teachers union said. 

Children across the city regularly miss school because of their asthma, and Superintendent Roger León has named asthma as one of four health issues that impede student achievement. Experts say improving building conditions, staff training, and parental awareness can help curb asthma rates and hospitalizations. 

“Nothing happens without the engagement of parents,” said Khalil Savary, a pediatric pulmonologist at Newark Beth Israel Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. “Parents are key.”

More than 30 medical health professionals came together to give parents resources and information about asthma care.
PHOTO CREDIT: Devna Bose/Chalkbeat

Doctors and school nurses at the event said they see patients and students with asthma on a daily basis in Newark, and the severity of the cases is alarming.

“In my years of training in New York City, we did not have nearly as many asthma deaths as we have here,” Savary said. “Your child should not be living with all these symptoms, like coughing all the time, and you’re worried about sending your kid to sleep because you don’t know what’ll happen. Parents live like that daily, and that shouldn’t be.”

Jaha-Rashidi said while her experience with her children’s Newark schools has been positive, that's due in part to her involvement with their medical treatment and education.

“You need that partnership with the school and [to] give them all the information they need,” she said. “A lot of ownership is on the parent, and the school is also protecting your kids once they have your asthma action plan and medication.”

Datavia Croom, a family advocate at Chancellor Avenue and parent of a child with asthma, said navigating the condition has been a learning process for the family. Many parents “are going by what one doctor says,” so that events like Tuesday’s are important for those who might want a second opinion. She said parents asked good questions at the event, and that they need to keep asking questions. 

Preventing and treating asthma will take doctors, specialists, school nurses, and families all working together,  Savary, the pediatric pulmonologist, said. “It’s hard work, taking care of kids with asthma,” he said. "You have to do a lot, and you have to know a lot, but that’s what we’re here to help with.”

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After violence targeting youth spikes, Chicago to expand program offering therapy and mentorship https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/21/after-violence-targeting-youth-spikes-chicago-to-expand-program-offering-therapy-and-mentorship/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/21/after-violence-targeting-youth-spikes-chicago-to-expand-program-offering-therapy-and-mentorship/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 20:08:49 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246925 Based on a pilot run last summer, the program promises a three-year investment.

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With 11 children shot just last weekend in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced the expansion of a program to offer therapy, field trips, and mentorship to young people deemed at high risk of experiencing gun violence and trauma. 

Based on a pilot run last summer, the program promises a three-year investment, starting with  $1.1 million this summer, to offer more than 2,000 young people emotional and social support. 

Besides helping teens cope with the fallout of violence, the program also aims to convince them not to pick up a gun, or engage in conflict that could end in violence.  

“If you’ve picked up a gun, you’ve picked up a ticking time bomb,” Lightfoot said at a press conference at Phillips High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood. 

Chicago has a responsibility to help young people make good choices, the mayor said. “As a city, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure young people who are involved in gun violence have the resources and supports they need to get back on the right path.”  

Young people in Chicago are disproportionately likely to be involved in gun violence — they are 11% of the city’s population, but make up 19% of homicide victims and 25% of homicide suspects

Many of the victims, and those actively involved in violence, are likely to have attended an alternative school. In the four years through 2016-17, one-quarter of the 425 Chicago Public Schools students who died by violence had been attending those schools. While only 2% of district enrollment, alternative school students are disproportionately affected by violence in the city, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation.

The city’s new initiative will focus on alternative school students, schools chief Janice Jackson said at Friday’s press conference. The program also will serve students involved in the justice system, previously victimized by violence, or not on track to graduate on time. 

A review by the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs found that students involved in the pilot program had 32% fewer misconduct incidents in schools than the control group. 

Even as the mayor pushed to involve young people in the program, known as Choose to Change, she acknowledged that they don’t control all the violence. Of last weekend’s shootings involving children, at least three were accidental.

“Adults, we have to be better,” Lightfoot said. 

Speaking at the press conference, Acting Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said two adults were prosecuted over the weekend for endangering young people by allowing access to guns.

The mayor also acknowledged that efforts to end gun violence run up against intractable social problems.

“It’s an unfortunate fact that it is easier for them to get access to a handgun than to get a job, easier to handle things on the street than it is to get access to social emotional support,” Lightfoot said. 

If the summer program is any indication, the new program will provide some support for young people, but might not change the harsh reality they face each day. 

Kayla, one of the students who participated in a six-week pilot program over the summer, said the program was a welcome respite but, like the rest of the students, she would return to communities that struggle with a lack of jobs and housing and an excess of violence. 

“Y’all took kids that ain’t had nothing and gave them something,” she told Chalkbeat last summer. “It’s a positive thing, but it’s just for the moment.”

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This year, a different test will help decide who gets into Newark’s magnet high schools https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/21/this-year-a-different-test-will-help-decide-who-gets-into-newarks-magnet-high-schools/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/21/this-year-a-different-test-will-help-decide-who-gets-into-newarks-magnet-high-schools/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 19:42:33 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246920 After creating its own high school admissions test last year, the district paid $70,000 this year to have students take the PreACT.

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Last year, the Newark school district scrambled to create a new entrance exam for its coveted magnet schools, raising questions about whether the high-stakes test had been properly vetted.

This year, the district has opted to pay $70,000 for a nationally administered standardized test — the PreACT — which all eighth-graders in Newark Public Schools took on Friday. Students in private and charter schools who hope to attend one of the district’s seven magnet high schools will sit for the roughly two-hour test on Saturday.

Like last year, the district appears to have adopted the test on a tight timeline. The school board approved a contract for the test maker, ACT, Inc., in late January, less than a month before students were slated to take the exam.

The exam, meant to predict how a student will score on a college-readiness test years down the line, could play a major role in determining who gets into the selective magnet schools. Newark’s magnet high schools are geared toward high-achieving students and boast better graduation rates and college outcomes than most of the district’s non-selective “comprehensive” high schools. 

Last year, the exam counted for 40% of prospective students’ rankings at super-selective Science Park High School — more weight than was given to any of the other metrics the school considered, including applicants’ state test scores (30%), grades (25%), and attendance records (5%).

Yet the district has not shared that information publicly in its enrollment guidebook or on the district website. Instead, a Newark parent filed a public records request for Science Park’s admission criteria weights, which the parent shared with Chalkbeat.

“The outreach has to be better,” said Wilhelmina Holder, president of a group that represents Newark high school families, adding that the district should explain to families the specific purpose of the admissions test and how each magnet school plans to use the results. “We really do need to get clarity.”

A district spokeswoman did not respond to multiple emails asking how magnet schools will use the exam results in their admissions decisions or where families can get more information about the exam.

Chalkbeat contacted the test maker to get more details about the PreACT, which the district is now using as its high school entrance exam.

The district purchased a version of the test designed to measure what eighth- and ninth-graders have learned in math, science, reading, and writing. It is a modified version of the ACT, the standardized test meant to gauge students’ college readiness that many colleges use for admissions. The PreACT also includes an interest survey, which can help students with college and career planning, and it predicts what score on a 1-36 scale students are likely to earn when they take the ACT in 11th grade.

ACT spokesman Ed Colby said the PreACT results can help schools identify areas where students might need extra support, such as geometry or finding the key idea of a text. While the test was not designed with the “express purpose” of informing high school admissions decisions, it can be useful when deciding whether students are prepared for more advanced courses, he said.

“The test is meant to measure student learning — where the students are academically, what they've learned already, and what they're ready to learn next,” Colby said. “So if schools are using it to determine if a student is ready for a certain level of coursework, that seems like it would be very appropriate.”

The district’s magnet schools enroll about a quarter of Newark high schoolers and are highly regarded, with the most popular ones attracting far more applicants than they have space to admit. The schools, which feature specific themes, such as technology and history, and demanding coursework, regularly outperform most of the district’s comprehensive high schools, which are not allowed to screen applicants. The magnet schools also serve far fewer students who have disabilities or are still learning English.

Some of the schools previously administered their own entrance exams, which the district eliminated several years ago.

“We were the ones who made the test and we were the ones who graded the test,” said a teacher at Science Park. “We tried to match the test to what students needed to be able to do when they came in the door.”

In December 2018, Superintendent Roger León — who attended and taught at a magnet school — said he was bringing back the magnet school entrance exams, though it would now be one test for all the schools. The new exam would ensure that magnet schools only admit students who are committed to the schools’ themes and ready for their challenging coursework, León explained.

“The idea is to make sure that students who choose to go to these schools are going to meet whatever are the demands of that school,” he said in 2018.

The district created the test itself with help from magnet school principals and staffers, but had to postpone the test date due to “logistical” issues. Meanwhile, some experts questioned why the new test was necessary, noting that a study in New York City found that students’ grades and state test scores were more predictive of their ninth-grade performance in the city’s most selective high schools than their scores on an entrance exam.

León has suggested that the results of the entrance exam — which all eighth-graders must take whether or not they applied to any magnet schools — will also be used to select students for advanced or specialized classes at the comprehensive high schools.

Despite the exam’s high stakes, few details have been shared at public board meetings. At this month’s meeting, León simply noted that the test would take place Friday for district students and Saturday for non-district students.

“Reminding everyone that you're going to need a number two pencil and a calculator for the test,” he said.

ACT said it can return the test results three to four weeks after it receives the answer sheets. On April 12, the district plans to release school matches for the fall, letting students know whether they made it into a magnet school or not.

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A major new player in education giving, The City Fund uses over $100 million in grants to grow charter and charter-like schools https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/21/city-fund-giving-100-million/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/us/2020/02/21/city-fund-giving-100-million/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 19:06:46 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246915 The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers.

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The newest major player in school reform has already issued more than $110 million in grants to support the growth of charter and charter-like schools across the U.S.

The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers. The money has gone to organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Memphis, and Oakland.

The spending is evidence that The City Fund’s brand of school reform continues to attract major financial support — and may foretell more battles over education politics in those cities.

The City Fund “is being led by an incredibly well-connected group of people,” said Sarah Reckhow, a Michigan State University professor who follows education philanthropy and politics. “If a district's name is on this list, then yes, you would expect some things to happen.”

The City Fund’s strategy is to grow the number of schools, including charters, run by nonprofits rather than traditional school boards. Advocates say that shift will help low-income students of color, pointing to academic improvements in virtually all-charter New Orleans as one example. Critics argue that strategy undermines teachers unions, democratically elected school boards, and existing public schools.

Overall, The City Fund says it has raised $225 million, largely from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Texas philanthropist John Arnold. (Chalkbeat is funded by Arnold Ventures.) The organization has also created a political arm, Public School Allies, which has raised $15 million from Hastings and Arnold to support officials vying for state and local office.

In a speech in December, Hastings, who is also on The City Fund’s board, spelled out his vision.

“Let’s year by year expand the nonprofit school sector,” he said. “We know the school district is probably not going to like it, but we’re not against them. We’re for good schools, period. If there’s a very high-performing school district school, let’s keep it. But the low-performing school district public school — let’s have a nonprofit public school take it over.”

The City Fund is supporting city-based organizations and charter networks

The City Fund is spending its money to promote the growth of charter schools as well as hybrids where charter operators or other nonprofits lead schools under the auspices of school districts. Examples include Indianapolis’ “innovation network” schools, “renaissance” schools in Camden, New Jersey, and turnaround schools in Atlanta.

That is connected to an approach to running schools referred to as the “portfolio model.” Under this approach, schools that succeed are encouraged to grow; those that fall short are closed or turned over to new management. Schools are often run by nonprofit boards who hire staff, who are rarely unionized, while districts oversee centralized functions like enrollment.

New Orleans, Denver, and Indianapolis’ central school district have adopted many elements of that structure, and The City Fund has given to groups in each.

The Denver nonprofit RootEd netted a $21 million grant. The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, previously run by City Fund partner David Harris, got $18 million. New Schools for New Orleans, previously run by City Fund partner Neerav Kingsland, won $7 million. (These and many other grants are for multiple years.)

In turn, these organizations have doled out their own grants to local parent groups, teacher training organizations, political action committees, and charter networks, among others.

The City Fund has supported groups in cities that haven’t already embraced the portfolio model, too. In Oakland, The City Fund has given to a local parent group (Oakland Reach), a charter network (Education for Change), and an education-focused nonprofit (Educate78).

In Nashville, it’s backed charter schools and networks, including KIPP Nashville, Nashville Classical Charter, RePublic Schools, and Valor Collegiate.

The City Fund has also made large grants to nonprofits in Atlanta ($2.75 million to redefinED); Baton Rouge ($13.49 million to New Schools for Baton Rouge); Memphis ($5 million to the Memphis Education Fund); Newark ($5.33 million to the New Jersey Children’s Foundation); St. Louis ($5.5 million to The Opportunity Trust); and San Antonio ($4.98 to City Education Partners).

A handful of grants have gone to national groups, like $2 million to the pro-charter 50CAN and $875,000 to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a University of Washington think tank that has studied and promoted the portfolio model. Smaller grants have gone to nonprofits in other cities, including Boston and Minneapolis.

All told, The City Fund’s grants are of similar magnitude to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s annual education giving, and about half the size of the Walton Family Foundation’s annual K-12 education giving. (Walton also backs The City Fund, and CZI and Walton are both supporters of Chalkbeat.)

Janelle Scott, a Berkeley education professor, noted that many of The City Fund’s large grants are for general operating expenses, crucial for nonprofits. “This is an attempt at institution building,” she said.

Kingsland, who declined an interview request but answered questions by email, said the group’s emphasis is supporting local organizations. “Our goal is to work with local leaders in the cities so that every child has access to a high-quality school, regardless of governance,” he said. “The goal is 100% great public schools.”

Why the approach is controversial, and in some cities facing backlash

In some of The City Fund’s target cities, the political winds are shifting in ways that could complicate its efforts.

Denver, for example, has pursued portfolio-style reforms for well over a decade. But union-backed candidates recently took control of the school board. Since then, the board has effectively halted closures of low-performing schools and a working group has recommended scrapping the district’s system of measuring school performance.

“The new local school board has expressed skepticism on certain aspects of the reforms, such as intervening in lower performing schools,” said Kingsland. “To the extent this skepticism is widespread within Denver and across other cities, that will be an important sign on which types of policies are sustainable and which are not. Ultimately, we only want to support policies that are backed by local leaders.”

In Indianapolis’ central school district, two critics of the innovation schools model were recently elected to the school board. And nationally, charter schools face challenges as more states and cities limit their growth and support among Democrats wanes.

“Charter schools are more polarized both in local politics and national politics,” said Reckhow.

Critics note that the growth of alternative schools can place financial strain on existing schools and can lead them to close. Both Oakland and St. Louis are facing district school closures now.

For districts, it comes down to “how much they can absorb new schools without having to close existing schools,” said Reckhow. “Closing existing schools is unpopular.” (Kingsland acknowledged those financial pressures, and said The City Fund will help local leaders with financial planning and to push for more overall school funding.)

In elections where The City Fund’s political arm has gotten involved, the local teachers union has often been on the other side. Charter schools are rarely unionized.

The City Fund makes its case

The key argument made by The City Fund is a straightforward one: its approach works.

The organization’s new website cites evidence that nonprofit charter schools in urban areas outperform district schools, that district students aren’t hurt academically by charter expansion, and that in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., where charter schools have rapidly grown, overall student performance has improved. These claims are generally supported by research.

But it’s hard to say whether overall changes in performance in certain cities are due to portfolio-style policies or other reasons, like the infusion of more money into schools in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina.

And The City Fund omits other research that is less favorable to its approach, including a study of the Achievement School District in Tennessee, in which charter operators attempted to turn around struggling schools, predominantly in Memphis. This initiative, led by Chris Barbic, now a City Fund partner, did not produce gains in student achievement.

Another study in Atlanta, again looking at charter takeovers of low-performing district schools, showed mixed results after two years.

Kingsland said the Memphis results were disappointing and reflect “the challenges of whole school turnarounds,” while the study in Atlanta was early and based on a small number of schools.

Meanwhile, Hastings argued in a recent speech to a Louisiana business group that having nonprofits run schools promotes stable leadership. He repeatedly pointed to the widely cited statistic that big-city schools superintendents leave every three years as evidence. But this figure is not accurate. Superintendents of large districts turn over about every six years or so, according to a recent analysis.

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Most school books don't reflect diverse characters. This Denver librarian is trying to change that. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/most-school-books-dont-reflect-diverse-characters-this-denver-librarian-is-trying-to-change-that/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/21/most-school-books-dont-reflect-diverse-characters-this-denver-librarian-is-trying-to-change-that/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 15:30:56 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246824 Julia Torres co-founded a grassroots effort called Disrupt Texts, which aims to make traditional school reading lists and curriculum more inclusive and equitable. 

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Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Julia Torres spends a lot of time thinking about whether students see themselves in the books they read for English class or check out from the school library. 

She missed that sense of familiarity during her own teen years.  

“Most of what I was assigned to read did not reflect anything close to my lived reality,” said Torres, a school librarian in northeast Denver 

It’s part of the reason Torres, with three other educators of color, founded a grassroots effort called Disrupt Texts, which aims to make traditional school reading lists and curriculum more inclusive and equitable. 

Torres, who works on a campus with five small middle and high schools, talked to Chalkbeat about the problem with books that focus on the suffering of people of color, her worries about gentrification, and the decision to double her library’s manga collection. 

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Was there a moment when you decided to become an educator?  
I was a paraprofessional in Park City, Utah, and a friend of mine who taught eighth grade English gave me the chance to teach her class. It’s going to sound dramatic, but right after it was over I stepped outside the classroom and burst into tears because I just knew it was what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life.

How and why did you co-found the Disrupt Texts movement? 
I am lucky enough to travel in the same circles as Dr. Kimberly Parker, Tricia Ebarvia and Lorena Germán. We spoke to each other regularly about meeting our students’ needs while engaging in the work of developing anti-racist curriculum and implementing culturally responsive pedagogy in English language arts classes. As female educators of color who had very similar experiences in the school system, it was only natural when we decided to support our communities by joining forces as leaders in the work.

Where can educators learn more about how to make their collections or reading lists more inclusive and reflective of their students?
We Need Diverse Books has a great resources section on their website. I also highly recommend exploring Lee and Low Books and the Teaching Tolerance anti-bias framework.

Can you give an example of a time when you substituted a book from the traditional literary canon for one you felt was more inclusive of your students? How did students respond? 
I taught “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo in AP English and it was the only time I heard a male student come to my class and say, “Are we going to read today, Miss? That’s really all I want to do.” There was booing when I said we were going to do other things.

I can’t say that I “substituted” one text for another, but I can say that I made room in my syllabus and our classroom for Xiomara (the protagonist of “The Poet X”) and her story and I have no regrets about it.

Thinking back to your own high school experience, how did the literature you read in class make you feel included or excluded? 
The only books I read about in school with people of color as protagonists were books about pain, suffering, slavery, or the civil rights movement. The book I loved most was Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which led me to her poem “Phenomenal Woman.” I felt very included in those moments, but they were fleeting and didn’t really happen until high school. Most of what I was assigned to read did not reflect anything close to my lived reality. 

Society seems to have a fascination with pain experienced by people of color, both telling and experiencing it. Our educational system is one in which students of color all too often are compelled to relive trauma (our own or someone else’s) through the books they are assigned — for a grade. This is not only unjust, but can also be a cause of secondary trauma.

As a school librarian, how do you help students access books that resonate with them? 
I work to make sure the collection has books that represent a range of lived experiences but also that they can see books with their lived realities reflected in a variety of ways. We have fantasy, sci-fi, graphic novels, and romance featuring intersectional stories and characters. It is important to me that our students read about their own lives and worlds but also better ones, and feel free to imagine themselves as anyone, anything.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes at the schools where you work? 
There is currently a lot of gentrification in Montbello. You can drive past the new(ish) DSST-Conservatory Green High School and you’ll see a banner right on the front with a blue ribbon proclaiming it the No. 1 school in Denver. That is a bold statement. Though I’m sure the staff and faculty there work just as hard as anyone, I’ve been in the neighborhood long enough to know that there are a lot of conditions we face in my building just down the street that they do not. 

I wonder about the criteria for making such statements or giving those kinds of awards. I also wonder how having an “award-winning” school might change property values and make folks more likely to move into an area and what “pushout” looks like for families in communities that have historically been underserved, underfunded, underresourced, and underrated.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student's family changed your perspective or approach. 
At Back to School Night this year I learned from a student’s mother how much her daughter loves manga — Japanese or Japanese influenced comics or graphic novels. I knew that she liked it, but I didn’t know exactly how much. This conversation, together with encouragement from several other students, led me to double our manga collection and write a grant that allowed me to purchase even more titles.

What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to your work as a librarian?
I don’t know that I had any real misconceptions because my mother was a librarian so I grew up going to libraries. I love the work that I get to do in this community, which is something I didn’t get to experience as much when I was restricted to the classroom. 

Last year, Angie Thomas — the author of “The Hate U Give” — Skyped in and we had students (and teachers) from three other schools join us on campus. Last fall, I gave away free books during a Halloween event and at Back to School Night. We’ll have three authors visit this spring, including Gene Yang, Minh Le, and Elizabeth Acevedo. 

What are you reading for enjoyment? 
I’m currently reading “Ways to Make Sunshine” by Renée Watson and “A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope.” I’m also very fortunate in that I get to read and work on special projects to support books before they are released. My newest is a teaching guide for “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi that will be published by School Library Connection.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?
The students should always be your North Star. No matter what anyone says or does, do what’s right by and for them, listen to them and respond to their concerns. Help them realize their dreams, not fulfill your agenda, and you’ll be all right.

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Too hot: Denver exploring a later start for schools without air conditioning https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/too-hot-denver-exploring-a-later-start-for-schools-without-air-conditioning/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/too-hot-denver-exploring-a-later-start-for-schools-without-air-conditioning/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 04:01:20 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246886 The district’s next step is to survey staff at schools without air conditioning to see if they’re interested in an alternative calendar.

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Six months after school started on a 98-degree day, the Denver school district is exploring having an alternative school calendar for its 55 schools without air conditioning.

Schools in Denver are set to begin for the 2020-21 year on Aug. 17 and end May 28. Superintendent Susana Cordova said the alternative calendar would start later and end later. The specific dates are still being worked out, she said.

“We know there are times when very high temperatures in the first weeks of school have resulted in hot classrooms,” Cordova said. “In an effort to mitigate the heat, we are exploring the possibility of offering an alternative calendar.”

The district’s next step, she said, is to survey staff at the 55 schools without air conditioning to see if they’re interested in using an alternative calendar.

Heat concerns lit up social media this past August, and teachers called on the district to act.

“I joke that I don’t teach reptiles, I teach mammals,” Lisa Yemma, a teacher at Slavens K-8 School, said in August. “Thirty middle schoolers in a room, it’s hot.”

In the last decade, Denver voters have approved nearly $90 million in tax increases to pay for heat mitigation in schools, including air conditioning. It would cost another $200 million to install air conditioning in the remaining Denver schools without it, district officials said in August.

Many Denver schools already set earlier start dates and make other calendar modifications. However, most summer child care providers don’t run their programs past the main district start date.

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First 8 hires new leader to oversee early childhood education efforts in Memphis https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/20/first-8-hires-new-leader-to-oversee-early-childhood-education-efforts-in-memphis/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2020/02/20/first-8-hires-new-leader-to-oversee-early-childhood-education-efforts-in-memphis/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 03:44:47 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246783 The nonprofit overseeing early childhood education efforts in Memphis has a new executive director.

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The nonprofit overseeing early childhood education efforts in Memphis has a new executive director.

Kandace Thomas was approved Thursday by the board of First 8 Memphis, and will start work April 1.

Thomas had previously been with the Irving Harris Foundation in Chicago for the last 13 years, most recently as a senior program officer, according to her online LinkedIn profile. Irving Harris is a grant-making body that supports the development of young children, arts and culture, and social change.  

Thomas said she is excited to join First 8 to work on behalf of young children in Memphis. “There has been so much amazing work that has happened in early childhood and early education in Memphis over the last few months,” she said. “I’m committed to the work that’s happened here and want to elevate youths 0 to 8.”

She said her first steps will include introducing herself to people and “getting grounded in the community.” 

First 8 was launched last year as the fiscal agent to oversee public and private funding for early education initiatives in an effort to save thousands of prekindergarten seats that were in jeopardy when federal funding ended. Its goal is to build a strong foundation for children in Memphis and Shelby County focusing on early childhood programs, including home visits, quality childcare and pre-k programs, and grades K-3. 

“For us it was very important that we had somebody that we felt could really understand our community and could operate effectively in our community,” board Chairwoman Kathy Buckman Gibson said. She added that Thomas will bring credibility with community partners.

“With her experience coming out of Chicago and the work that she has done across multiple communities, we felt that she demonstrated that she will understand the issues that we deal with here in Shelby County and the city of Memphis.”  

First 8 initially was poised to hire its first leader last summer, but the candidate declined after taking another position. The board then hired another search firm that members said understood the needs of the Memphis job.

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Denver black educators call for hiring more teachers of color, protecting union contract rights https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/denver-black-educators-call-for-hiring-more-teachers-of-color-protection-of-union-contract-rights/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/denver-black-educators-call-for-hiring-more-teachers-of-color-protection-of-union-contract-rights/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 02:26:35 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246846 “Teachers shouldn't have to vote against their own needs to support the needs of our students."

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A new black educators caucus within the Denver teachers union called on the district Thursday to address systemic racism, including by creating a team to focus on hiring more teachers of color. Despite previous district efforts, Denver’s teaching force remains overwhelmingly white.

“I can vividly remember the four black teachers I’ve had in the 13 years I’ve been a [Denver Public Schools] student,” said Jhoni Palmer, a senior at East High School.

Palmer said each of them nurtured and challenged her.

“Never did I have to wonder if this teacher hates me for the color of my skin, and never did I have to wonder whether I was good enough to be in this class,” said Palmer, who spoke at an event with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Coloradans for the Common Good, a group of churches and unions.

Six of the seven Denver school board members either attended the event or signaled their support for the caucus.

The black educators caucus is also taking aim at a process that strips some Denver teachers of union contract rights. Known as “innovation status,” it’s meant to help schools improve by giving them flexibility from state and district rules, as well as portions of the union contract.

About a quarter of Denver’s more than 200 schools have innovation status. That includes schools in northeast Denver that serve many black students and employ black teachers, caucus members said.

Teachers at would-be innovation schools vote on whether to waive those rules and rights, including job protections. State law requires 60% of teachers vote yes. But some union members see several flaws in the process.

Teachers are only given two weeks to review their school’s proposed innovation plan, including the waivers, before voting. Often, teachers said, the decision is framed as a choice between what’s best for students and teachers' rights.

Standing with the black educators caucus, school board member Brad Laurvick said he plans to propose a change to district policy next month.

“Teachers shouldn't have to vote against their own needs to support the needs of our students,” said Laurvick, who was elected in November with backing from the teachers union.

Union President Tiffany Choi said the proposal would have teachers vote on the waivers one by one in a separate vote two weeks before they vote on the innovation plan as a whole. The goal is to make the process more transparent, and allow teachers to protect their contract rights.

In all, the black educators caucus asked the district to take four actions: change the innovation approval process, create a team to focus on hiring more teachers of color, boost counseling and mental health services for students, and follow through with the steps laid out in a year-old school board resolution meant to improve education for black students.

“Little to no progress has been made in the district to solve these concerns,” said Monica Hunter, a caucus member who teaches second grade.

Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, who sponsored the resolution last February, said Thursday that while some steps in the resolution have been followed, many are still in progress.

For example, the resolution called for all district staff to be trained in implicit bias. That has started with staff who work in the central office, Bacon said, and will be rolled out to all district staff “over the next couple of years.”

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This Colorado proposal could send charter-district disputes to the courts https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/this-colorado-proposal-could-send-charter-district-disputes-to-the-courts/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/this-colorado-proposal-could-send-charter-district-disputes-to-the-courts/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 02:08:02 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246851 Some school districts are applauding the potential change, while charter leaders fear they would be at a disadvantage.

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For more than two decades, the Colorado State Board of Education has had the final word on disputes between charter schools and the school districts that authorize them.

A bill expected to be introduced soon in the Colorado General Assembly would change that by allowing appeals to district court. State Rep. Shannon Bird, the bill’s sponsor, said she wants to provide an independent review in a process that has often been perceived as political.

“If there is a dispute, the parties in the dispute should have an opportunity for review if they believe the laws have not been applied fairly,” she said. “To me, it is fundamental.”

Bird, a Westminster Democrat, said her bill is not “anti-charter.” Nonetheless, it represents the first test this session for how the current Democratic-controlled legislature views the balance of power between districts and charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

Some school districts are applauding the potential change, while charter leaders fear they would be at a disadvantage if disputes over whether a school should be approved or receive a renewal of its contract were to go to the courts.

“As a small charter we don't have the resources that a district does to put into a legal battle,” said Miguel In Suk Lovato, vice chair of the board of Vega Academy, a charter school that was recently involved in a dispute with the Aurora school district. “I think it would have stretched us to the limit and maybe the breaking point.”

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn, meanwhile, believes the opportunity for appeal would make the process fairer.

“It’s an option for many decisions of administrative agencies,” said Munn. A former member of the State Board of Education, Munn said he doesn’t understand why its decisions should be different.

State laws limit the grounds that school districts can use to turn down a charter proposal. If a local school board rejects an application or renewal request, the charter school can appeal to the State Board of Education, which can either uphold the district decision or send it back. Charters schools can appeal again, with a second State Board decision being final.

The State Board of Education consists of seven elected, partisan members, but in charter school appeals it often doesn’t split along party lines. In the past decade, the State Board has upheld local board decisions 13 times and sent them back for reconsideration 18 times. In five cases, it’s ordered the establishment of a school against a local board’s wishes, and in three, it’s overturned a decision to revoke a charter.

The bill would also make existing non-discrimination requirements clearer and change other aspects of the appeals procedure, including:

  • Making it explicit that charter schools must enroll students through random selection, with no consideration for disability, English learner, or gifted status
  • Requiring charter schools to lay out exactly how they’ll meet the needs of special student populations
  • Banning parties in a dispute from having contact with board members outside formal channels
  • Requiring the State Board of Education to create a written record that lays out how and why it arrived at its decision.

The State Board of Education won’t take a position on the bill until after it’s introduced.

Many of the bill’s provisions don’t represent a dramatic change from current practice for most charter schools. For Bird, these issues of equity are important enough to make explicit in statute, but they leave some charter operators wondering whether they’re being held to a different standard than district-run magnet programs and options schools.

“What problem are we trying to solve here?” asked Dan Schaller of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

As a whole, Colorado charter schools serve higher percentages of English language learners and students in poverty than the statewide average, but lower percentages of students with disabilities. Some parents of students with disabilities report being discouraged from enrolling their child, often because he’s not a “good fit” for the school’s educational model, while in other cases, districts tell charters they cannot enroll a student because the school doesn’t offer the right services.

The education of students with disabilities was at the heart of Aurora’s dispute with Vega. After the State Board overruled Aurora’s decision to shut down the school, the district allowed the school to keep operating provided it met certain conditions. An independent review found that Vega was not complying with all the requirements to serve special education students but also found fault with aspects of Aurora’s investigation.

Lovato said he believes the district and the school have a stronger relationship now, and Vega has improved its record-keeping for special education students. He’s not sure that would have happened if the two sides had ended up in court.

For her part, Bird said her bills aims to ensure charters fulfill their potential.

“We decided a long time ago in Colorado that charter schools are part of our family of public schools, and I believe in that,” she said. “They’ve done innovative things and opened doors of opportunity, and I want to make sure those doors of opportunity are open to all kids.”

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I teach global religions to teenagers. Here’s how NYC schools should approach its new curriculum on hate crimes. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/20/i-teach-global-religions-to-teenagers-heres-how-nyc-schools-should-approach-its-new-curriculum-on-hate-crimes/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/20/i-teach-global-religions-to-teenagers-heres-how-nyc-schools-should-approach-its-new-curriculum-on-hate-crimes/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 00:30:23 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246537 Any curriculum New York City adopts to curb intolerance should build on young people’s natural interest in understanding other people and cultures.

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I teach ninth-grade history at a public school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I am very happy that New York City’s education department is creating a school curriculum aimed at combatting religious intolerance and anti-Semitism. This plan follows a wave of verbal and physical attacks targeting Orthodox Jews in and beyond Brooklyn. 

Growing up in segregated neighborhoods and attending segregated schools, many of my students have limited exposure to New York City’s diverse communities. For example, they have been in close proximity to Orthodox Jews for their whole lives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand what observant Jews believe or how they practice. 

To be sure, any curriculum that the city adopts to curb intolerance should teach about bigotries — ancient to contemporary — and it should teach about the Holocaust and other genocides. But it should also build upon young people’s natural interest in understanding other people and cultures. In my more than 20 years of ninth-grade teaching, my students have proved eager to confront their own misperceptions as they learn that there are many different ways to inhabit the world.

To that end, I have developed a semester-long course on world religions as part of my school’s ninth-grade Global Studies. Students explore the origins and seminal texts from major religions, and they learn about how each religion is practiced in New York City. Throughout the semester students participate in a series of panel discussions, featuring, for example, a range of perspectives on a single faith. And they go on-site visits, where they see other faiths in practice and speak to community leaders.  

The semester culminates with each student developing a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a family member. They find a topic that interests them — it could be power or fear or death, or something else — then guide a relative through an exploration of this topic by examining objects from the Met’s collection. The guest ideally comes away with an understanding of how three different religions interpret their chosen topic. Many parents who take these student-led tours have shared with me that they know very little about religions other than their own. 

In creating the world religions course, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about building authentic religious tolerance and understanding. Here is some of what I’d urge New York City’s education department to include in its new curriculum: 

Study the core beliefs of several religions, identify what they have in common and also where they diverge. Students are fascinated to learn how each religion responds to the questions that they themselves grapple with as teenagers: What does it mean to be a good person? Why is there suffering in the world? How can I overcome fear? What does my community expect of me? What happens when we die? When students understand that everyone struggles with these same big questions, they connect to — and learn from — those who hold those beliefs.

Make site visits a priority. Students benefit enormously from meeting people who practice other faiths and asking them questions directly. These interactions break down the barriers that can lead to religious intolerance. In my world religions class, my students, at various times, have met with a Buddhist monk (asking him about everything from his upbringing in Korea to his meditation practices to his assessment of New York pizza) and with Orthodox Jews of Greek ancestry, and they have observed a mid-day Muslim prayer service at a local mosque. Asking questions in person, as one of my students — a 15-year-old named Emeli — explained: These interactions give people a chance to ask questions “that articles might not include or answer.”

Provide opportunities for interfaith dialogue at school. Although most of the students where I teach identify as Christian or say they are not religious, lifting up our community’s minority voices helps us foster religious tolerance. During a recent student panel, Muslim representatives from four different countries discussed their experiences. Female students were able to share their different perspectives on wearing the hijab, an Islamic head covering that some women wear and how they negotiate these feelings personally and with their parents. I heard a lot of comments along the lines of: “Now I see their point of view and how they experience their religion,” and “Just listening to these students really changed my perspective a lot.”

Learn about the cultural achievements of different religions. New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza recently said, “If you teach kids about other cultures, they're going to learn about other peoples and the wonderful contributions those people bring to this society called America." This should be done not only through reading key texts and visiting places of worship, but also through exposure to their art. Museum visits provide interactions with some of the greatest works of art from cultures around the world. Students often like to include Hindu deities in their projects for their parents because the objects often reflect a battle of good versus evil. One favorite work at the Met shows Krishna playfully fighting a horse demon. Another work of art that my students always find compelling is this fragment of a 14th century Qur’an — exemplifying for the students the importance of the Arabic language to Muslim people.

Give students an opportunity to take ownership of what they learn. When students teach others, their connection to their knowledge deepens. When my students lead their families on a personalized tour of objects at the Met, they build a personal connection to the material and, by extension, to the faiths that they represent in their project. Students who have spent hours considering how a sculpture of the dying Buddha reflects Buddhist ideas — and how those ideas are similar or different from Jewish beliefs reflected in Old Testament stories — gain a different kind of respect for people who practice those faiths. When they share this respect with their tour guests, the opportunities for interfaith understanding are multiplied.

I expect that when my students graduate from high school, they will be on a path to take on leadership roles in their communities, business or politics. The ability to understand, and find common ground with, people who are different from them, will serve them well in their endeavors — now and into adulthood.

Jody Madell is a native New Yorker and has been working in New York City Public Schools since 1997.  She teaches ninth-grade history at Lyons Community School in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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To reduce dropouts, Adams 14 will change how it supports ninth graders https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/to-reduce-dropouts-adams-14-will-change-how-it-supports-ninth-graders/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/to-reduce-dropouts-adams-14-will-change-how-it-supports-ninth-graders/#respond Fri, 21 Feb 2020 00:29:05 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246812 With a four-year $91,000 grant, officials are planning a four-day freshman academy and are creating a warning system to track students who may be at risk of dropping out.

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Trying to cut down on the high number of students who disengage and drop out, Adams 14 officials plan to change how teenagers transition from middle school into high school.

With a four-year $91,000 grant, officials are planning a four-day freshman academy and are creating a warning system to track students who may be at risk of dropping out. The money will also pay for parent engagement nights where officials will teach parents about graduation requirements and how to use an online system to track their child’s academic progress.

“We want to have more opportunities to be with the students and the families as they come into the high school,” said Shelagh Burke, grant manager and executive director of federal programs for Adams 14.

Decreasing dropout rates is especially important for Adams City High School. Adams 14 is the first district in Colorado under management by a private company and is under a microscope to improve student achievement in the next four years.

The state grant, created last year, is intended to help schools support ninth graders to develop skills to stay in school. Denver’s Collegiate Preparatory High School and the St. Vrain district’s Longmont and Skyline high schools are also among the schools in nine districts that won grants.

In Adams City High School, officials say less than 25% of students entering ninth grade meet standards in English, and less than 20% meet standards in math.

It’s a difficult starting point, officials say, and it contributes to the school losing students every year. Typically, of approximately 540 entering freshmen, only 320 remain as seniors, according to the grant application.

According to the most recent state data, the high school had a 5.3% dropout rate, down from 5.7% the previous year, but much higher than the state’s average of 2%.

Adams 14 officials expect to identify about 120 students at highest risk of dropping out — those with two of the following: poor attendance, failing grades, or behavior issues — and to offer support such as tutoring or help from an outside organization.

All ninth grade teachers will have access to a data dashboard, so they can help students in their class who are at risk too. And with the school’s counselors or social workers, the teachers will meet every two weeks to discuss the highest-risk students and whether the interventions are working.

The grant will help pay team members for meeting outside the union’s contracted hours. Officials of MGT Consulting, the management company, previously cited the contract day and the inability to schedule training or collaboration outside it, as a limitation.

Burke said the district conducted surveys, and found that many parents and students wanted to better understand graduation requirements.

Family engagement nights that will happen in the next few months are meant to address that request.

“We want to have our parents well equipped but we’re here to do it with them,” Burke said.

One Adams City student, Eduardo Arroyo, a 14-year-old freshman, said one of his cousins dropped out from the high school, “because of staff and teachers” who didn’t seem to care.

For himself, Arroyo said his first year is “going good,” but said he wishes he could switch teachers in one class.

The planned changes will help Adams City in building relationships between students and their teachers.

Over the summer, middle school teachers and counselors will meet with ninth grade teachers and counselors at the high school. The collaboration is supposed to ensure that high school staff know who they’ll be getting and know what has already been tried, successfully or not.

In the fall, ninth graders will start high school with a four-day academy.

During that time, students will learn how to navigate the school building, how to find their classes, and will meet their teachers to start getting to know them.

Students will also meet mentors who are seniors at the school. It’s not a new practice, but Adams 14 plans to use the grant money to train more people to run the program and to identify more senior leaders to cut mentors’ responsibilities from 15 to 20 freshmen down to a handful.

Students need to have strong relationships because, “students' needs aren't just academic,” said Jamie Ball, accountability and assessment manager for Adams 14.

District officials increased the length of the academy, which they first envisioned as a two-day experience, so they can also let incoming students sample some of the elective classes they can choose to take.

The idea is students will then be able to pick something that truly interests and excites them.

“We wanted to not just tell them verbally what it’s like, but really provide the experience,” Burke said. “We know that’s what helps retain our students when they’re connected and engaged.”



9th Grade Success Application Narrative Final Draft Docx (Text)

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‘It’s just easier to kick a kid out’: Progress is elusive three years after school discipline reforms in Michigan https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/20/michigan-discipline-reform-three-years-later/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/detroit/2020/02/20/michigan-discipline-reform-three-years-later/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 23:33:01 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246826 On a Sunday afternoon last summer, four children slipped into their Detroit charter school through an unlocked window, took popsicles from a refrigerator, and fled.

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On a Sunday afternoon last summer, four children slipped into their Detroit charter school through an unlocked window, took popsicles from a refrigerator, and fled.

What happened next wasn’t supposed to happen anymore in Michigan.

The students — two girls ages 9 and 10, and two 13-year-old boys — were suspended for the rest of the school year, about three weeks. The school board added that the students couldn’t return unless their parents made an appearance at the school to explain their behavior.

Three years ago, outrage over such punitive responses to student misbehavior fueled a major overhaul of Michigan’s school discipline laws, which were among the nation’s strictest at the time. In order to suspend or expel students under the new law, school boards must consider seven factors, including the student's age, disciplinary history, disability, and whether a lesser consequence would be effective.

That didn’t happen at Joy Prep, said Arlyssa Heard, a policy analyst and parent organizer with 482Forward who attended the meeting when the students were suspended. She noted that they changed schools after the incident, further disrupting their education.

“Had they followed the seven factors, they would never have suspended the kids,” Heard said. “It’s just easier to kick a kid out, especially if it’s what they consider a bad apple. But it's far more productive to get to the bottom of what’s going on with the student.”

The principal and school board members at Joy Prep did not return requests for comment.

Detailed minutes from the hearing don’t mention the seven factors.

Advocates say stories like this one explain why the discipline reforms have been less effective than they hoped at protecting students — particularly students of color — from the harmful effects of being pushed out of school. They hope a recent lawsuit or even an opinion from the Attorney General’s office could shift the ability of school districts to interpret the law.

“We’re hearing some of the same stories that we were hearing before about being suspended for not having your shirt tucked in, or being suspended because you don’t have a parking pass and you park in the school lot,” said Angela Cole, Director of the Michigan School-Justice Partnership Initiative, a group that supported the discipline reforms. “There’s room to improve still.”

Expelling and suspending students has been shown to hurt them academically, and critics of those policies have long contended that pushing students out of school effectively pushes them into the criminal justice system. And studies in Michigan and nationwide have consistently shown that students of color, particularly African-American students, bear the brunt of tough discipline policies.

Michigan’s discipline reforms came as states nationwide reconsidered tough “zero tolerance” policies, which became widespread after the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999.

Kristin Totten, an education attorney with the Michigan ACLU, said the reforms were a big improvement. But she says that school’s are given too much leeway to “demonstrate that they considered” the seven factors as the law requires.

“It really hinges on, what does ‘consider’ mean,” said. “What we have heard is that it is a formality. They’re checking the boxes and not getting to the substance.”

Totten is keeping an eye on a lawsuit that challenges one school’s interpretation of the law. And she says an opinion from Dana Nessel, Michigan’s Attorney General, would help clarify the meaning of the law. Nessel would need an official request from the Michigan Department of Education to issue guidance on the law, but the department has so far declined to ask for one.

In the meantime, advocates say that the eyebrow-raising stories of discipline are still coming, three years after the reforms.

Kristin Totten, an education attorney with the ACLU, recounted a story of a 9-year-old African-American student in Flint with behavior issues linked to a disability who was pushed out of several schools in Flint.

Then there’s Alexis Harris, who was expelled from Detroit Collegiate Academy, a city charter school, because she shoved a chair that allegedly hit another student. Her advocate, Jenna Pickman, said the board didn’t adequately consider the seven factors. Kerri Smith, president of EQ Education, the company contracted to operate DCA, said that the board considered the seven factors in Harris’ case.

To be sure, there are signs that the law has spurred positive change. Expulsions are down 12% statewide in four years, and there is anecdotal evidence that some school districts are undertaking major school discipline overhauls.

Rob Dietzel, a lawyer with the Thrun Law Firm who helps represent about half of the school districts in Michigan, said that most districts take the new law, and discipline in general, very seriously.

“Without exception, every board meeting I’ve attended where student discipline was an issue, school boards will take the time necessary to weigh those issues,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen districts just do the minimum possible.”

Advocates aren’t so sure. Peri Stone-Palmquist, who runs the Student Advocacy Center, an Ypsilanti-based nonprofit that represents students in discipline disputes, told the state school board last year that the reduction in expulsions may have been offset by an increase in suspensions. The state doesn’t require schools to report suspension data. Stone-Palmquist raised concerns, too, that districts are pushing out poorly behaved students by telling parents that a different school would better serve their child’s needs.

Are her concerns justified? The state doesn’t know.

“Unfortunately, statewide [the Michigan Department of Education] does not have a clear picture of the effects of the law,” said Bill Disessa, a spokesman for the department.

Yet this is an urgent matter for the thousands of Michigan students who are expelled or suspended each year for violating school rules.

The top official in the department, State Superintendent Michael Rice, was a prominent supporter of the discipline reforms in his last job as head of the Kalamazoo School district. A department spokesman declined a request for comment. MDE has issued a template of school rules based on the law, but districts aren’t required to use it.

Now advocates have turned their attention to another option: the courts. Latanya Davis and her daughters, ages 16 and 17, filed a lawsuit in December against their Detroit charter school, Cornerstone Health and Technology High School, alleging that it failed to meet the requirements of the 2017 discipline law when it expelled the two girls for fighting a campus security guard.

The complaint is the first to challenge a school’s interpretation of the law, and legal experts say it could have repercussions for districts across the state if the final ruling adds any additional interpretation of the law.

Discipline reformers don’t deny the existence of behavior issues in schools.  

“Most of the time our students did something,” said Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of the Student Advocacy Center. “We try to have them think about what they did, and how they can repair the harm. How can we really get to the root of what’s going on with the student and create supports so it doesn’t keep happening?”

She says Michigan’s new law is designed to make that process happen. But while some districts, such as the Detroit Public Schools Community District, are working to overhaul their approach to school behavior issues, Stone-Palmquist said the shift is not as widespread as it should be.

That may be because “restorative justice” doesn’t come cheap. It requires time and plenty of additional staff, such as school counselors. And those resources are in short supply for many Michigan schools after two decades of largely stagnant education funding. The state has one of the worst ratios of students to guidance counselors in the nation.

Totten, the ACLU lawyer, said that poorer school districts have a harder time shifting their approach to discipline.

“They’re in survival mode,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that some districts that have resources are able to put restorative practices in place, when all schools need it. These are children. They’re making mistakes in their lives. They need to be taught, not punished.”

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IPS parents are resisting restart at their school. Will the district listen? https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/20/ips-parents-are-resisting-restart-at-their-school-will-the-district-listen/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/in/2020/02/20/ips-parents-are-resisting-restart-at-their-school-will-the-district-listen/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 23:06:33 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246817 Cordova loves the staff at the Westside campus, which educates about 600 students, so overnight, she became an activist.

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When Angela Cordova finally paused to check her voicemail late one night in January, she was stunned by the robocall she’d received. The school district had chosen her neighborhood school, where she had been a parent for five years, for overhaul.

That means the principal and teachers could be removed next school year, and Indianapolis Public Schools could hand control of School 67, also known as Stephen Foster, to a private, charter operator tasked with improving its rock bottom state test scores.

Cordova loves the staff at the Westside campus, which educates about 600 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and fears that if the school becomes a charter, it will not serve students with special needs well, she said. So, overnight, the mother of four students at School 67 became an activist.

"I really feel like pulling the rug from underneath the school's feet is not the way to go,” Cordova said. “I think this school has the means and the opportunity. They just need a little support.”

In the days after she learned about the plan, she began reaching out to other families, and fielding anxious calls from parents she had never met before — she estimates she’s spoken to more than 70 family members from the school. Cordova was one of about a dozen family members and educators who attended a recent meeting to plead with IPS Board members to reject the dramatic improvement plan and keep the current principal and staff in place.

While it’s unclear how many parents at School 67 support the overhaul, an unusually vocal campaign to halt the restart has district leaders facing a crucial question: How much of a say should parents have in whether schools with chronically low test scores are overhauled?

The Indianapolis Public Schools board is expected to decide next week whether to move forward with the innovation plan.

School board members have said repeatedly the district needs to do a better job engaging families before decisions are made, and Superintendent Aleesia Johnson’s administration has made a push in her first year leading the district to reach out to residents. District officials also say that in the future, they want to make sure that parents understand how their schools are performing so they are not surprised by proposed interventions.

At School 67, however, many parents said they felt stunned by news of the restart.

While policymakers often focus on concrete measures, such as test scores, when judging school quality, parents and community members may value other factors, said Joshua Glazer, an associate professor of education policy at George Washington University. When district leaders decide to take over a school, "they are imposing their own definition of failing,” he said.

***

Over the past five years, Indianapolis Public Schools has restarted six struggling schools with innovation partners. Those schools are still considered part of the district — which counts their test scores and enrollment — but they are managed by outside charter operators, and the teachers are not represented by the district union.

Although some of the restart decisions were controversial, school board members have often been able to sidestep the question of parental input because opposition has been mixed with support. A parent organizing group, Stand for Children Indiana, and the new school leaders often persuade families that the overhauls are for the best. But as political opponents of innovation schools grow more organized, they could amplify criticism of restart plans.

Whether the board supports the overhaul of School 67 and School 48 — a near northside campus where a proposed restart has been met with less resistance — are important tests because it has not voted on any restarts since two members who are skeptical of the approach won seats in 2018. They would also be the first overhauls approved during Johnson’s administration.

Jamie VanDeWalle, who oversees innovation schools for the district, said that while some parents at School 67 may be happy with their teachers and relationships, data shows that students aren’t meeting their full potential.

“Our job is to make sure that every student leaves… ready to do whatever they want to do next in life,” VanDeWalle said. “We feel a really strong obligation to make change when we think change is what’s needed in order to ensure that kids can do that.”

When it comes to test scores, School 67 is getting unusually weak results. Just 3.7% percent of students passed both the state math and English tests, and the school also got low marks last year for the gains students made on those exams.

It’s difficult to say how much input parents should have in restarts because they may not be aware of the problems and low test scores in their schools, said Gary Henry, dean of the University of Delaware's College of Education and Human Development, who studied turnaround work in Tennessee. "Often the parents that are most active are the parents of the kids who are having the best experience,” he added.

But Henry cautioned that in Tennessee, takeover was not the most successful approach to turnaround. “In many schools, not a single adult employee who was there the previous year is there after the restart. And that’s a jarring experience for kids," he said.

The power imbalance between the school system making decisions about restarts and families whose kids are at struggling schools can be particularly stark when it comes to innovation because the upheaval often affects low-income families and families of color.

For its part, School 67 serves a diverse population. It is located at the edge of Haughville, a working class neighborhood on the Westside of Indianapolis Public Schools, and nearly half of its students are English language learners — about twice the district average. More than 70 percent of students come from low-income families.

Before the administration recommended the restart at School 67, it held a sparsely attended focus group with parents and surveyed others to find out how the school was doing. But the campuswide meetings about innovation came after the central office had decided to recommend the restart to the school board.

For Cordova, it was galling to feel like she had no input on what would happen to her children’s school. And she found a kindred spirit in Chrissy Smith, an activist with the IPS Community Coalition, a local group with ties to a national movement that supports teachers unions and opposes charter schools.

"IPS thinks that they can just come in and do what they want to schools and parents aren’t going to stand up and say anything,” said Smith, a Westside parent who plans to run for school board in the fall. She tells parents, “'if you don’t want this, you have to speak out.’”

The Community Coalition offered parents at the schools facing overhaul advice on how to make the case against the restart. One document posted on Facebook entitled “What you can do to fight for your school!” included a list board members’ email addresses and instructions on how to signup for public comment. Another suggested questions to ask, including, “Why do we get no say in this decision before it was made?

When Henry Ingram, who has two grandchildren at Stephen Foster, went to a couple of the district hosted parent meetings, it seemed “like they got their mind made up,” he said. Ingram said he opposes the restart because he has concerns about whether the campus will serve his grandchildren well if it becomes a charter school.

But Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana — which organizes parents and campaigns for school board candidates who support innovation schools — said that the vocal opposition at School 67 is the product of a national, pro-union movement that is allied with the Community Coalition and “spread[ing] fear” about restart efforts.

Still, Ohlemiller said he’s in favor of more parental involvement in these decisions.  “I think parent input should absolutely play a role, a much stronger role in any decision to restart a school,” he said.

***

For many parents at School 67, the innovation recommendation came as a surprise because they hadn’t known the school was struggling and been given F grades from the state.

“They were shocked to know that the school was going to be restarted,” said school board member Elizabeth Gore, who attended one of the meetings at the campus. “They feel that their children are very stable in the environment."

District reports on some of its lowest-performing schools, which Chalkbeat obtained through a public record request, show that School 67 had a lower growth score on the state exam than all but two of the 10 other struggling schools that were targeted for school quality reviews. The school received 62.6 points for “growth,” which measures how much students improve on exams. That’s more than 20 points lower than the district average.

Still some educators and parents say that test scores alone are not an accurate measure of a school. Standardized exams, they argue, narrow curriculum, punish schools with large shares of low-income students, and are consistently plagued by administrative problems.

In fact, full test results, which are typically included in state A-F grades for schools, have not been released for most Indiana schools because Indiana officials waited for lawmakers to approve a hold harmless measure following a precipitous decline in scores across the state in 2019.

Curtis King, who has five children at Stephen Foster, said that despite the school’s failing grade, it has done well by his children: Four of them are honor roll students, and his third-grade twins have developed the independence to be in separate classes. "It’s been great,” said King, who opposes the overhaul and fears a charter operator wouldn’t provide as much support to students with special needs.

Those are concerns that Alicia Hervey, who leads a charter school that could become School 67’s new operator, has heard from several parents in recent days. Hervey is planning a school called The PATH that the district could choose to takeover School 67. The model is built around “path” teams of educators that focus on groups of about 150-200 students and include a social worker or therapist, a special educator, an instructional coach, and an educator who follows students after they leave.

“We designed a model with a special educator on every single path team because we believe so strongly that support is the key to student success,” Hervey said. “We are not telling kids they can’t come to us. We are not walking away from the challenges of special education.”

In the days before the board decides on the future of School 67, some parents, teachers, and activists are making the case against dramatic intervention. Despite the school’s enduring academic challenges, they say educators have supported their children and families when they needed it most.

"I think sometimes parents are, they are attached to the teachers and they have that relationship," said school board member Diane Arnold, who represents the neighborhood around the school. But most students at the campus are not on grade level, she said. “Where do we draw the line?”

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Oprah Winfrey gives $5 million boost to college-prep program with Newark roots https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/20/oprah-winfrey-newark/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/20/oprah-winfrey-newark/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 21:58:11 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246786 Oprah Winfrey's charitable foundation gave $5 million to Pathways to College, a nonprofit that has served Newark students for decades.

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For more than two decades, the nonprofit Pathways to College has helped propel Newark students towards higher education. Now the group is getting a big boost of its own — from Oprah Winfrey.

On Thursday, the media mogul and philanthropist announced a $5 million gift to the New Jersey-based after-school program, which helps high schoolers develop leadership skills and apply to college. Already based in three Newark schools as well as other sites across the country, the nonprofit hopes the major new grant will help it expand its services in Newark and beyond.

“We want to share this broadly,” said Judith Berry Griffin, the group’s founder and president. The program “can help our children do the one thing that makes the most difference in the world in terms of what they're able to do — that is, to get a college education.”

Today, fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — a rate that has increased over time, but which remains lower than the state and national averages. City, school district, and higher-education leaders have joined forces in an effort to get college degrees in the hands of more Newark students. And Newark schools chief Roger León, who attended the Thursday event where Winfrey’s gift was announced, has vowed to strengthen the city’s high schools and tap the expertise of partner organizations in order to better prepare students for college.

With its new infusion of funding, Pathways to College hopes it can support that citywide effort. Griffin said she would like to see the program expand to serve all six of Newark’s non-selective high schools — where just 14% of graduates earn college degrees — even as it launches in additional cities.

“Newark is going to be the showcase, the model,” she said.

Judith Berry Griffin (front center) started Pathways to College in Newark in the 1990s.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo credit: Bob Gore

Pathways to College has worked with more than 4,000 students from Detroit to rural Arkansas, but its deepest roots are in Newark. 

In the early 1990s, Griffin began mentoring a group of Newark students every weekend. A former principal, Griffin at the time was president of A Better Chance, a scholarship organization that sends students of color to elite public and private schools. But she believed that young people in traditional schools deserved similar opportunities. 

As the Newark group grew, it moved between borrowed spaces — classrooms at Barringer High School, backstage at Newark Symphony Hall, a meeting room at Metropolitan Baptist Church. By 2003, Griffin decided to turn the group into its own nonprofit, which became Pathways to College.

Today, the program operates in Arts, East Side, and Central high schools in Newark, and has been in 20 other locations across the country, Griffin said. Led by specially trained teachers at the schools, students get help researching colleges, applying for financial aid, and touring campuses. They also meet guests and complete projects designed to build skills, such as critical thinking and goal-setting, that will prove essential in college.

“It is a program that works to nourish what people are now calling ‘soft skills,’” Griffin said, “which research has shown are as important as the academic skills that students will bring to college.”

The program boasts strong results: 100% of its participants are admitted to college, 90% enter college, and about 70% remain in college after their first year, according to Pathways — rates far higher than the national average. And unlike some college-prep programs, Pathways does not only serve top-performing students; its application probes students’ interests and passions, but does not ask for their test scores.

Despite its apparent accomplishments, the group has sometimes struggled to make ends meet. In Newark, it has relied on district funding and private donors — including the Turrell Fund and the Geraldine R. Dodge and Victoria foundations — to pay teachers and send students on college tours. (Dodge and Victoria also provide funding to Chalkbeat.)

“There was always a troublesome gap between the amount of money the schools were able to give us and the amount that we could raise,” Griffin said.

That’s where Oprah comes in. Winfrey, who gave $500,000 to Newark’s West Side High School last year, has long promoted Pathways to College. She helped the group publish a college-prep guidebook, and donated a portion of the proceeds from an Oprah-branded tea to support the group’s mission. 

Griffin said that the $5 million gift from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation will enable Pathways to grow, though the group will continue to fundraise. The Newark school district provided some funding this school year, Griffin added, but she is waiting to learn whether it will continue or expand that funding next year.

One champion of the program is Valerie Valle, a senior at Arts High School. She said her two years in Pathways to College has boosted her confidence as she listened to guest speakers — a lawyer, a doctor, a video producer — and tutored her younger peers, modeling how to write a winning college essay.

The program’s teachers took her to Swarthmore College for her first-ever campus tour — “It was really a breathtaking experience” — and helped as she applied to a dozen colleges. Seven schools have already accepted her, including Johnson & Wales, a private university in Rhode Island that offered her a full-ride.

“Pathways was like this extra stepping stone,” she said. “Not that I wouldn’t be successful, but I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now and as I plan to be.”

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Chicago changed school policing, but can teachers and students tell the difference? https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/20/chicago-changed-school-policing-but-can-teachers-and-students-tell-the-difference/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/chicago/2020/02/20/chicago-changed-school-policing-but-can-teachers-and-students-tell-the-difference/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 21:46:00 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246790 For years, the role of police in Chicago schools was murky. 

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For years, the role of police in Chicago schools was murky. 

If principals had an issue with an officer, they didn’t know whether to take it up with the district or the police department. It was impossible to know whether officers were qualified to serve in schools. Police at times disciplined students in cases that didn’t involve suspected criminal behavior, leading to confusion over roles and responsibilities. 

All of that was supposed to change by last September. Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department made a slew of reforms intended to bring clarity, accountability, and safety to school policing. 

While some campuses noticed immediate changes, a Chalkbeat examination shows that the police-school agreement spelling out reforms remains a work in progress, with uncertainty over some key questions six months past a deadline. We charted progress on the main issues (see sidebar below). 

Despite a requirement to screen officers, nearly half have had misconduct allegations sustained against them. Schools still lack a system to register complaints about officers. Some principals remain confused about which situations police can and can’t get involved with. And some students, teachers and Local School Council members said they know little to nothing about the overhaul in school policing. 

Still, some school leaders feel grateful to have a clearer road map for how police and schools are supposed to work together.

“There is no more gray area. It is black and white,” said Jammie Poole, principal of Marshall HIgh School, where a video last year captured two officers dragging a 16-year-old student down the stairs and prompted a citywide outcry. “I feel good about the process.”

Chicago Public Schools says it’s committed to engaging with school communities, and that rolling out the changes are part of a multi-step process. The district, for example, has asked principals to communicate details about the school police program at Local School Council meetings, and said it will launch a survey in the spring to solicit feedback.

“The safety and security of all students is the district’s top priority and we remain committed to working with principals, LSCs, educators, and families, to ensure every school community plays an active role in school safety, including new changes to SRO training and selection,” district spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement. 

A difference at Marshall

At Marshall High, the change is palpable.

For principal Poole, school police officers used to be an extra pair of adult hands to have around the building when a student needed to be escorted out of the room, or teachers thought it was helpful to have in the cafeteria in case a fight broke out. “We used to be like, you know, if we were down a security guard, we would use our police,” said Poole, who heads a high school of 250 students on the city’s West Side.  

That casual approach is gone this year, at Marshall and the other schools with stationed officers. 

A different set of officers from last year patrols the hallways. They received training specific to working with young people. The principal himself introduced them to the school community.

Poole said he updated his leadership staff on the new directives for school police, but chose not to do so for teachers or students because he didn’t expect them to have any interaction with officers most of the time.

Despite the tasing incident, Poole said he and the Local School Council chose to keep police officers on campus this year because they have advocated for students who have issues with police outside of school. Marshall students live in a heavily policed neighborhood and may be more likely than students elsewhere to have had negative interactions with officers outside of school. 

He had no say in selecting the new officers.

But, he said, “I had the opportunity to speak with them and kind of go through our school and do a walk-through. So I was much more comfortable.” 

Now at Marshall, involving a police officer in an incident requires conversations with the principal and several administrators. 

“Before anything happens, we crowd into a room and discuss what’s going to happen, but also if it should happen, Poole said. “First and foremost, can we prevent any type of police escort?”

Sea change

That deliberative process marks a sea change in campus policing.

Chicago embarked on the biggest overhaul of its school policing program in a decade as part of broader police reforms. The cover-up of the fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 provoked widespread outrage and protests culminated in a civil rights lawsuit that the city settled last year and that resulted in a federal consent decree. 

Among other things, the agreement seeks to turn around a department struggling with low trust in Chicago’s black and brown communities and to bring the cornerstones of community policing best practice onto campuses. 

The incident at Marshall High School last year stood out because it was caught on video, but a lack of data and transparency makes it difficult to know how frequently students have negative encounters with police on school grounds.

Most Chicago schools have security officers employed and trained by the district, but only about 70 schools have stationed police officers, also known as school resource officers, trained and employed by the Chicago Police Department. While about 70 schools have officers stationed inside the school, others have police assigned in roving cars. 

The new school policing agreement screens officers, lays out who they report to, requires training on dealing with youth, and prohibits officers from engaging in school discipline unless an incident involves criminal conduct.

The Chicago Police Department reviewed the qualifications and records of all officers serving in schools this year to ensure they have an “appropriate” background, spokesman Luis Agostini said. That included a review of disciplinary history to ensure each applicant was fit to serve students and keep them safe, he said.

But a Chalkbeat review of current school-based officers, obtained in the fall, shows that 96% have faced allegations of misconduct, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, a database of police disciplinary records obtained by the Chicago-based non-profit journalism project Invisible Institute.

Those allegations range from excessive force, searches without a warrant, and physical domestic altercations to more minor accusations like unexcused permission and traffic violations. The alleged violations were sustained — found to be true — for 41% of officers serving in schools this year.

For those officers who had allegations against them sustained, Agostini said the police department issued “appropriate discipline and corrective measures commensurate with the violation.”  

The department required school officers to reapply for their positions, and veterans and newcomers alike underwent 40 hours of training on de-escalating conflicts, building relationships with young people, understanding disabilities and special education, intervening in youth crises and recognizing implicit racial bias.

What's happened in Chicago school police reform so far

Complete
Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department will sign a formal written contract that spells out the role of officers in schools.

The memorandum went into effect Sept. 1, but was posted online in December. It covers police officers’ access to student data, training guidelines, and the chain of command for oversight of school officers.

Incomplete
The city will review the disciplinary history of existing and new officers.

The city undertook a review but did not make clear what kind of record is acceptable.

Complete
The city will develop a set of criteria, including a formal application process, for school-level officers.

Officers must submit a resume to apply to work in a schools. Officers must have at least three years of policing experience, knowledge of juvenile laws and the student code of conduct, previous experience working with youth in a learning environment, the ability to problem-solve in a team environment, quality report writing skills, and enthusiasm for the position.

Incomplete
Officers will have a clear job description that spells out when they intervene in school situations.

The district said that officers will not interfere in discipline matters. However, some principals said they have not received written guidelines for when officers intervene and when they don’t, and a district survey found that 18% of principals somewhat disagree and 4% strongly disagree that they understood SRO responsibilities.

Incomplete
Principals will play a role in selecting school officers.

The agreement stipulates that district commanders coordinate with principals in officer selection. Some principals say they were offered resumes of officers to review, but others say they were not consulted.

Complete
Officers will undergo an annual 40-hour basic training specific to schools.

The district reported that all school officers attended a 40-hour basic training over the summer, led by the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Incomplete
The police department and school district will codify a formal complaint process for the public to file concerns related to school resource officers.

A district spokesperson said CPS and CPD are collaborating to codify the complaint process. A district presentation, however, did not give a school-specific complaint system, and instructed principals to route complaints through the Civilian Office of Police Accountability or the police Bureau of Internal Affairs.

 

Ambiguous job descriptions 

Not all schools have noticed — nor would argue they needed — the change.

In the Norwood Park neighborhood, where many police officers live, Taft High School has minimal tension between officers and students.

Principal Mark Grishaber said the role of officers in a school is only “1% to police a school, but 99% police PR.” That means positive interactions in a school that will pay dividends in the long run, he said. 

He didn’t see any changes from last year to this year among the officers who serve at his two buildings. But he said he appreciates having a more clearly defined role for police.

“We have two great officers here at Taft, and I know they are doing a good job because I see kids talking to them all the time,” Grishaber said. 

At Sullivan High School in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Principal Chad Adams said at the start of the year he still didn’t know how officers at schools were expected to perform differently this school year. “I don’t think I’ve ever really received any guidance on the officers from the district level, he said. 

In fact, some principals didn’t get clear directives until a webinar that took place this month, five months after the deadline to institute change. 

Marshall High’s Poole would like a clear list of what school resource officers do and don’t do, and how a school uses them, so he can post them for his teachers and students. 

Mo Canady,  executive director of the Alabama-based National Association of School Resource Officers, a leading group training school police, said communication between schools and the police department is key — and so is communication with parents. He cites an example in another district where officers attended family nights and handed out pamphlets describing their role. 

“The number one goal of a school resource officer is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth,” Canady said. That means letting students know why officers are in the halls. 

But even if the district were to publicly share detailed job descriptions, school officials say such guidelines may not apply to the ambiguity of many school situations. 

Earlier this month, during a district training on school resource officers for some principals, Benjamin McKay, manager of student discipline support at Chicago Public Schools, acknowledged just that. 

”A lot of situations will feel like they are in a gray area,” McKay said, according to an audio recording obtained by Chalkbeat. He noted that a December survey of 59 principals found that half were not entirely clear on the roles and responsibilities of officers in their building. McKay suggested that schools get to know their officers, and tread carefully in involving them in any school-related matters. 

The open question 

Advice like that has made some school police critics question, again, whether schools need officers, and point to a host of other needs they say could be met with the $33 million the district will spend this year on police in schools

“That makes me so aggravated and frustrated,” said Anna Lane, a history teacher at Kelly High School on the Southwest Side. ”We could use that money to fund people who could help with the mental health of a student.” 

Lane said she has little interaction with officers at her school and has never seen a school police officer at Kelly engage violently with a student. She did once see a young person being led out of the school in handcuffs, and said it was disturbing. 

“These are children, I don’t care how old they look,” said Lane. “They should be afforded that sense that these are still babies, we should respect them, their minds are still growing.” 

Some students say that school is already a place where they feel hemmed in by the rules they have to follow, a feeling that having police officers only exacerbates. 

“We have to follow the teacher’s rules, the school’s rules, and the dean’s rules,” said Derianna Ford, a student at Mather High School. Add in the police, Ford said, and “I have no freedom.”

Ford, who spoke at a press conference against the school police contract ahead of the Board of Education vote in August, also wants educators to consider the deeper reasons students may be acting out.

“A student always has reason why they're acting out. It may be a problem at home, maybe they have a problem at school,” she said. “We need someone that’s trained to come in and help us sort out the emotions we’re going through.” 

She said she has been trying to get a meeting with a school counselor since the start of the school year. “I know there are days where I’m like, ‘I’m so upset, I don’t know what to do,’ and I can’t go to my counselor,” she said. “She’s too busy.” 

Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee contributed reporting.

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Behind closed doors: When it comes to seclusion and restraint, Colorado schools ‘are investigating themselves’ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/behind-closed-doors-colorado-schools-seclusion-restraint/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/20/behind-closed-doors-colorado-schools-seclusion-restraint/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:00:39 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246535 A Chalkbeat investigation found that weak laws and oversight have contributed to wide variations in how Colorado school districts report restraint and seclusion.

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Nearly every day, Brenna Wann saw staff members take young students, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the “quiet room” of her Colorado elementary school.

“They get in there, and then they’re mad they’re in there,” said Wann, who left her job as a classroom aide for students with emotional disabilities in early February. “You watch them, and they’re like a caged animal in there. They’re pacing back and forth. If they see you in the window, they’ll come and attack the door and want to be let out.”

Shutting a student in a room, called seclusion, is an allowable form of restraint in Colorado for students who display violent or dangerous behavior. State rules say it should only be used “in an emergency and with extreme caution.” The same applies to physical restraint, which means using physical force to restrict a student’s movement for more than five minutes.

A Chalkbeat investigation found that weak laws and oversight have contributed to wide variations in how Colorado’s 10 largest school districts report restraint and seclusion, making it impossible to get a full picture of an increasingly controversial practice that could harm students.

Many affected students have disabilities. Advocates and others, including the U.S. Department of Education, have raised concerns about whether seclusion and restraint are even effective at curbing problematic student behavior.

Citing open records law, Chalkbeat requested copies of the districts’ state-mandated annual reviews that are meant to ensure they are “properly administering” restraint and seclusion.

Some were several pages long and full of details, such as color-coded pie charts showing the age, ethnicity, and disability status of the students restrained and secluded. Other reviews were just a few sentences with no data at all. One of the largest districts hadn’t yet completed a review for the school year that ended nine months ago. Two of the 10 districts refused to release their reviews publicly, citing student confidentiality, though one of those later released some data.

No state agency collects the reports, meaning there is little oversight.

“Essentially, the districts are investigating themselves,” said Alison Butler, the director of legal services for Disability Law Colorado, the state’s federally designated advocacy agency for people with disabilities. “They’re giving themselves their own report card and nobody else sees it.”

Anecdotal evidence points to the practices being more common than district data indicate. The federal government has raised similar concerns. A recent audit of federal restraint and seclusion data by the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted the likelihood of a “pervasive pattern of underreporting of restraint and seclusion in U.S. public schools.”

Wann, who left her job after a particularly troubling seclusion incident, suspects that was happening at the school where she worked, Cherry Drive Elementary in Thornton. In her four months there, she said she wasn’t asked to write a single report. As far as procedure, Wann said, “the only thing they told me was to call for backup.”

A spokesman for Thornton-based Adams 12 Five Star Schools said the district is investigating Wann’s claims. Only teachers and administrators, not aides like Wann, write reports, he said.

“We take the concerns raised seriously, and we’re responding to them and investigating,” said Joe Ferdani, the district’s chief communications officer. “If the outcome indicates the opportunity for refinement in any of our processes, we’ll certainly do that.”

Last year, Adams 12 reported 121 seclusions among its 39,000 students, according to the district’s written review. That number stands in stark contrast to the near-daily seclusions Wann said she saw happen this year at a single elementary school.

“A good day,” she said, “is when it wouldn’t happen.”

‘We were never called’

State rules say schools may use restraint and seclusion only when a student’s behavior poses a “serious, probable, imminent” threat of bodily injury to themselves or others. That includes situations in which a student causes a threat by abusing or destroying property.

Chalkbeat interviewed officials from several Colorado school districts about when they use restraint and seclusion. All of them chose their words carefully, emphasizing that restraint and seclusion are used as a last resort when students are “escalated.”

That could look like a student kicking, biting, or throwing punches at staff or classmates, they said. Some students will tip over desks or throw chairs. Others will run from the classroom or hurt themselves by banging their head on a wall, for example.

Restraint and seclusion should never be used as a form of discipline, state rules say, or to gain compliance. But advocates of reform say that’s sometimes exactly how they are used.

“A lot of times, it starts with a student refusing to comply with an adult directive,” said Pam Bisceglia, executive director of Advocacy Denver, a civil rights organization that serves people with disabilities. “The adults don’t always have the patience, the tools, or the training to really help de-escalate the situation. It’s kind of like, ‘No, you are going to do it, you are going to do it,’ pushing the kiddo’s buttons until it ends up in physical force.”

The annual reviews produced by Colorado school districts don’t include information about what preceded incidents of restraint and seclusion, making it impossible to conclude from those reviews alone whether districts are following state rules or not. A joint investigation by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune found thousands of incidents in that state in which students were secluded despite no documented safety threat. In response, the Illinois State Board of Education just voted to prohibit the use of locked seclusion rooms in schools.

In 2017, Colorado lawmakers passed the bill that mandated annual reviews. It aimed to do three things: collect better data on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, establish a process for families to complain about its misuse, and limit a particularly dangerous kind of restraint, called prone restraint, where a student is held face-down on the ground.

That part of the bill struck a chord with lawmakers. Across the United States, and here in Colorado, children have stopped breathing and died from being held in prone restraints.

But the data collection part of the bill was important, too — and on that issue, advocates said they didn’t get everything they wanted. They had long heard anecdotal stories from parents who were never told their children were being restrained or secluded at school.

One mother told lawmakers that her son was restrained five times at school, but administrators only informed her of one instance. She learned about the others when she requested a copy of her son’s records to figure out why he was “not thriving” in school.

“None of this was ever reported to us,” the parent, Laura Ayres, said. That included incidents in which the school nurse had monitored and documented her son’s ability to breathe while he was being held in a physical restraint. “We were never called, except for that one time.”

State Rep. Susan Lontine, the Denver Democrat who sponsored the bill, wanted more state oversight and detailed reporting by districts, with those reports to be posted on the state education department’s website. But she encountered pushback related to concerns about the staff time needed to collect and review the reports, and about student confidentiality in small districts. As such, the final bill did not include those requirements.

That decision set the stage for today’s hit-or-miss reporting.

“The department can only collect data that the legislature requires us to collect, statutorily,” said Colorado Department of Education spokesman Jeremy Meyer. “The legislature hasn’t required the state to collect restraint and seclusion data from districts.”

Inconsistent reporting

With no watchdog, the reporting by districts is all over the place.

Chalkbeat requested the annual written reviews for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years from Colorado’s 10 largest school districts, which educate more than half of the state’s students.

Some districts report hundreds of incidents of restraint and seclusion per year. Others report far fewer. Some differentiate between physical restraint and seclusion, while others lump them together. And while some districts track all instances of physical restraint, others only count physical restraints that meet the legal definition of lasting five minutes or more.

Often, the same students are restrained by adults or blocked in rooms again and again. Some districts report how many students are affected by these practices and some do not.

District Total number of restraints 2018-19 Restraints less than 5 minutes Restraints longer than 5 minutes Total number of seclusions in 2018-19 Total district K-12 enrollment
Denver Public Schools 295 248 47 The district banned seclusion 91,998
Jeffco Public Schools Annual report not completed 84,623
Douglas County School District 352 The district does not have a breakdown for how many of the restraints were less than 5 minutes and how many were longer than 5 minutes 79 67,591
Cherry Creek School District 51 The district does not track restraints less than 5 minutes 51 313* 55,791
Aurora Public Schools District refused to release report, citing student confidentiality 39,892
Adams 12 Five Star Schools 63 45 18 121 39,282
St. Vrain Valley School District No data included in annual report 32,639
Boulder Valley School District 27** 22 4 The district does not track which incidents are restraint and which are seclusion 31,169
Poudre School District 17 The district did not provide data on restraints less than 5 minutes 17 101 30,463
Colorado Springs School District 11 24 8 16 The district banned seclusion 26,395

* 113 of these were restraint + seclusion
** For one incident, the time was noted as "not specified"
Graphic credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

Douglas County School District, the state’s third-largest district, recorded among the highest numbers: 352 incidents of physical restraint and 79 incidents of seclusion in a district of about 67,500 students. But Douglas County officials said they’re meticulous about documentation; the district’s restraint count includes all physical restraints, even if they only lasted five seconds.

“It’s important for us to be transparent about what’s happening with children in schools,” said Nancy Ingalls, who oversees special education for the district.

Colorado Springs School District 11, the state’s tenth-largest, posted among the lowest numbers: just 24 incidents of restraint for 26,400 students and no incidents of seclusion. The district banned seclusion in 2018, though officials said it hadn’t been used for some time.

Instead, District 11 uses what it calls “retreat”: Students can be put in a room to calm down, but they cannot be alone with the door shut; an adult must be with them at all times.

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has a similar policy. It banned seclusion in 2019 in favor of “monitored seclusion,” which means an adult must be present in the room.

The policies for the other eight large districts allow seclusion. Cherry Creek School District, the state’s fourth-largest district, reported the most incidents of seclusion last school year: 313 for about 55,800 students. More than a third of those incidents involved a combination of physical restraint and seclusion, according to the district’s annual review.

Tony Poole, the district’s assistant superintendent of special populations, said secluding a student in what the district calls “time-out rooms” or other spaces can be less traumatic than physically restraining a student, especially if the student might be triggered by being touched. As soon as the student is calm, the door is opened and the student is let out.

“It’s not stuffing kids in a closet,” Poole said. “These kids, at times, have a full classroom to themselves.” That’s because the district counts it as a seclusion if school staff evacuate other students from a classroom to give the agitated student space to calm down.

Other large districts are opaque when it comes to restraint and seclusion.

Jeffco Public Schools, Colorado’s second-largest district, hasn’t reported anything for 2018-19. The district said it expects to produce its report in March, 10 months after the school year ended. In the 2017-18 school year, it reported 38 incidents of restraint and 220 incidents of seclusion.

The fifth-largest district, Aurora Public Schools, and the ninth-largest, Poudre School District, refused to release their annual reviews in response to open records requests. Both districts said their reviews contain confidential information about students that can’t be shared publicly. Chalkbeat asked if the districts could redact sensitive information, but they refused.

Poudre School District later released a tally of how many students were restrained and secluded.

Even though the St. Vrain Valley School District, the state’s seventh-largest district, wrote reports for both 2017-18 and 2018-19, they contain no data. The takeaway from the 2018-19 report, which is just seven sentences long, is that the district is doing everything right.

The youngest students

From the reports that do contain data, one thing is clear: Restraint and seclusion is most often happening to young students — 5-, 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds — with disabilities.

District leaders offered several explanations: Young students are still getting accustomed to school, and haven’t yet learned how to manage big feelings. Schools are also seeing an increase in students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, sometimes as a result of medical conditions and sometimes as a result of trauma.

Young students are also small enough for school staff to handle. When middle and high school students have explosive behaviors, teachers often rely on school-based police officers to respond, said Ashley Toomey, a special education coordinator in the Adams 12 district.

Officials in every district, whether they used restraint and seclusion a lot or a little, pointed to the same strategy for reducing it: de-escalation techniques that nip students’ behavior in the bud before it becomes violent or dangerous. The company that trains many Colorado school district staff emphasizes that prevention is the key to reducing restraint and seclusion.

But it’s not easy to do. Judy Gudvangen, the special education director for District 11, which reported the fewest incidents of the 10 largest districts last year, said all special education staff there are trained in de-escalation. Schools are grouped into clusters, and each cluster is supported by a team that includes several behavior specialists, instructional coaches, psychologists, nurses, and others who can respond to difficult student behavior.

If a student is struggling, Gudvangen said, the cluster team will visit the school, observe the student, figure out what is triggering the disruptive behavior, tailor de-escalation techniques for that student, and teach the student’s teachers and aides how to do them.

“I can’t say restraints never happen,” she said. “But we do it in as limited a way as possible.”

There’s a reason for that: Parents whose students have been restrained or secluded report that the experiences can be traumatic, and even dangerous, for their children.

Dawn Howard’s granddaughter, a 6-year-old kindergartener in District 11, is frequently put in “holds” to calm her down. (Howard doesn’t know how many of these “holds” constitute restraint because she doesn’t know how many last five minutes or more.)

Howard said she said she understands the reason for the holds. Her granddaughter’s behavior can be challenging. After a recent incident, Howard showed up to find every desk, every chair, every pencil and eraser thrown around her granddaughter’s classroom, she said.

“It took me an hour, with help, to put the room back together,” Howard said.

Howard said her granddaughter doesn’t seem to mind the holds. She has only been upset about them a few times, including once when she said an aide twisted her arm and hurt her.

But Howard is growing concerned that the holds might be doing emotional harm. Her granddaughter spent much of her infancy in a car seat while her mother used drugs, Howard said. She imagines her granddaughter strapped in, unable to move, crying for a bottle or to be held. Howard said she wonders if being squeezed tightly during a hold is surfacing that trauma.

“What if that’s taking her back to that place in her brain?” Howard said.

‘This was not OK’

The incident that led to Wann quitting her job as an aide at Thornton’s Cherry Drive Elementary happened in late January.

She was in the quiet room with a student who had gone there voluntarily when another boy came in. The boy was agitated. Wann doesn’t know why, but she said he started slamming the door to the quiet room over and over again. He was yelling and cursing, she said, and as she tried to calm him, he took off his shoes and threw them at her, then darted into the hall.

He ran around outside before ending up in a foyer between two sets of front doors. Wann and another staff member were with him, but he wasn’t responding to de-escalation techniques. When he started spitting at them, Wann said she and the other staff member left the foyer to stand sentry outside the doors. The boy, she said, was blocked in the foyer alone.

“In the meantime, the half-day kindergarteners are being picked up,” Wann said. “So you’ve got all these parents and grandparents watching us as we’re blocking this kid in the front entryway.”

Wann estimates he was in there, barefoot and fuming, for more than half an hour.

The incident itself was troubling, Wann said, but even more troubling that no one asked for her account of what happened.

“I’m in the thick of it,” she said. “Shouldn’t I be writing the incident report?”

District officials said a report was completed for this incident. Toomey, the special education coordinator for Adams 12, explained the reporting process in general: When a student is restrained or secluded, a teacher or administrator will write an incident report. It will include a description of what triggered the student’s behavior, the de-escalation techniques that were tried, how long the student was restrained or secluded, and the student’s reaction.

She said the school gives the reports to parents within five days. They’re also turned in to the district’s behavior specialists, who review them for trends or to identify training needs.

If an aide was involved in an incident of restraint or seclusion, Toomey said the teacher and the aide will often fill out the report together. If that’s not possible, she said, the teacher will write the report and then circle back with the aide to make sure all the facts are correct.

But Wann said that didn’t happen in this case. The incident in the foyer also changed the way Wann views seclusion. In the days afterward, she apologized to one of her students who was frequently put in the quiet room. Wann said she herself had sometimes blocked him in.

“I said, ‘This was not OK. What I did to you was not OK,’” Wann said. “He looked at me like I was a superhero almost, like, ‘Really? Oh my gosh.’

“These kids,” she said, “just deserve better.”

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Newark schools, NJ Transit will pilot monthly bus passes for students at six schools https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/19/newark-schools-nj-transit-will-pilot-monthly-bus-passes-at-six-schools/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/19/newark-schools-nj-transit-will-pilot-monthly-bus-passes-at-six-schools/#respond Thu, 20 Feb 2020 02:14:16 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246708 As part of a new pilot program, eligible students at six Newark schools will soon get monthly bus passes instead of two single bus tickets per day.

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Newark will start giving some students monthly bus passes instead of single-use tickets, officials said — a trial run years in the making designed to cut costs and ease logistical headaches for schools and students.

Presently, the district provides students who live a certain distance from their schools two bus tickets per day to cover the trips to and from school. Under the pilot program, which will run from April to the end of June at six schools, students will get monthly bus passes good for up to five trips per day.

But the passes will also come with a restriction: Unlike regular tickets, they will not cover evening or weekend trips, which could limit their usefulness for students who participate in after-school activities. 

The schools chosen for the experiment are: Barringer, East Side, Science Park, and West Side high schools, and George Washington Carver and Louse A. Spencer elementary schools. 

The result of years of negotiations between Newark Public Schools and New Jersey Transit, the effort will save the district money, board members said. It will also spare schools from having to distribute dozens of single-use bus tickets per month — and students from having to keep track of them.

“I think it will really help the students out a lot,” said Abrahim Kamara, a senior at American History High School, which is not one of the schools in the pilot program.

The current system can be inconvenient, said Kamara, who rides a bus about 30 minutes each way to his Central Ward school. Each week, the school distributes sheets with 10 bus tickets to every eligible student. Some students sell individual tickets they don’t need, while others sometimes misplace their tickets, Kamara said — as he has done many times before.

“If you lose it, that’s on you,” he said, adding that he relies on his mother for rides on days when he’s short a bus ticket. “There have been a lot of mornings where my mom has been late to work so she could drive to me school.”

The exact cost of the program, and any savings to the district, are unclear.

A spokesperson for New Jersey Transit did not return a call Wednesday. A district spokesperson declined to answer questions about the program, saying officials areworking closely with NJ Transit on the best way to announce this great initiative.”

Under state law, districts must provide transportation to students who live more than two miles from their elementary school or 2.5 miles from their high school. Like other cities, Newark relies on its public transit system to ferry those students to school. 

“Public transportation is viewed as a common sense choice to commute to school in a large urban school district,” the district website says, noting that students in charter schools are also eligible for bus tickets. (Students with disabilities are transported in school buses regardless of their home address.)

Since 2017, district officials have been in talks with the transit agency to find an alternative to the current system of single-use tickets. The result is the three-month pilot program, which will provide students a monthly bus pass that can be used from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. each weekday. 

“You got to give kudos to the district for really working hard on this,” said Tave Padilla, a Newark school board member who chairs the committee that oversees student transportation. In particular, he cited the efforts of Quanika Dukes-Spruill, the district’s transportation director, and Valerie Wilson, the school business administrator. “Anything you can do to alleviate any type of hardship and worry for parents and students is a win-win.”

School board members celebrated the new program at their meeting Tuesday, where details were first announced. They also voiced hopes that the program will eventually be expanded.

Board member Flohisha Hill praised district officials for bringing to life an effort that’s “near and dear and close to my heart.” But she also asked if it would be possible to extend the bus passes for use after 4 p.m., noting that her own sons play on school basketball teams that often practice late into the evening. (Separately, the district offers bus tickets to student-athletes who need them.)

Wilson said the district had pushed for passes that can be used on evenings and weekends. The idea was to make sure students had a ride home from after-school clubs and sports, as well as a way to visit libraries and cultural institutions when they aren’t in school. New Jersey Transit has not yet agreed to such passes, but negotiations are ongoing, Wilson said.

“All of those things are still on the table as a conversation, but we're taking what we've gotten right now because it's a step in the right direction,” she told the board. “Working it out and starting with a pilot is a good first step.”

If the experiment at the six schools goes well this spring, the district will consider expanding it, Padilla said.

Eric Bellamy, a college student who graduated from Malcolm X Shabazz High School last year, said the monthly passes would have made things easier when he was in school. 

He recalled waiting in long lines after school to collect his weekly tickets, which sometimes made him late to pick up his younger siblings, and getting to the end of a few weeks without any bus tickets left. Monthly passes would have solved those problems, Bellamy said.

“If you got that pass, you’re good,” he said. “I think that’s a perfect idea.”

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Thousands of young NYC immigrant didn't enroll in school. Advocates want to fix that. https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/19/thousands-of-nyc-immigrant-youth-didnt-enroll-in-school-advocates-want-to-fix-that/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/19/thousands-of-nyc-immigrant-youth-didnt-enroll-in-school-advocates-want-to-fix-that/#respond Wed, 19 Feb 2020 23:38:54 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246692 Thousands of immigrant students did not enroll in school upon arriving in New York, according to new data released Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute.

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Georges Remy had one year of high school remaining when he left Haiti with his family in March 2017 and settled in Brooklyn. At first Remy, then 17, had a hard time finding a nearby school, since enrollment officials said he should be placed in a program that serves new immigrants and would help him learn English.

“They said there was no current school that would take me,” until the following school year, Remy said, even though all schools in the city offer English-as-a-new-language programs. (A department official said she cannot comment on specific cases.)

Within two weeks, education department officials pointed him to two Manhattan transfer schools that serve under-credited, older students, and are equipped with programs for English language learners, including bilingual education. By April, he was traveling 45 minutes to get to one of them, Lower East Side Preparatory High School, where he took extra courses in order to graduate in 2019 — one year sooner than school officials predicted, he said. 

Remy is now in college, but there are thousands of immigrant students like him who did not enroll in school upon arriving in New York, according to new data released Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute. Results were first reported by Politico. 

At a news conference Wednesday, advocates said they believe this is largely the result of what they see on the ground: Immigrant students who often juggle a job with school, and do not receive the intensive services they need to learn English and graduate.

From 2013-2017, 4,200 newly arrived older immigrant students — ranging in age from 14 to 21 — were not enrolled in school, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Migration Policy Institute, in response to a request from the New York Immigration Coalition. The immigrant advocacy group defined “newly arrived” as youth who have lived in the United States between zero and three years. 

“That’s about the size of a small town in the USA,” said Rita Rodriguez-Engberg, director of the Immigrant Students Rights Project at Advocates for Children New York. 

As a result, a coalition called Education Collaborative — made up of more than 30 community groups — wants the education department to open a $6 million pilot program that would offer more seats at transfer schools for newly arrived, older immigrants. 

The data looks at responses to the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau distributes annually. In total, 21,500 of these newly arrived immigrant teenagers and young adults lived in New York City from 2013 to 2017, and roughly 17,300 of them were enrolled in school. Of the 4,200 students who were not attending school, just 400 of them were ages 14 or 15, underscoring how older immigrant students are more likely to drop out of school or not enroll at all, advocates said. Most of these students lived in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, according to the Migration Policy Institute. 

Last school year, 25% of high school students who are learning English as a new language dropped out of school, compared to less than 6% of high school students citywide. 

“It’s double, even triple of other subgroups, and that’s appalling,” said Kim Sykes, director of education policy for the New York Immigration Coalition, referring to the drop-out rate. 

Community groups are frequently helping students who say they aren’t getting the support they need in school, are turned away at enrollment, are told they were too old to enroll in school or told they should get a GED instead of a traditional high school diploma, Engberg said. 

“That’s really concerning for us because as an immigrant and as advocates for immigrants and folks that serve immigrants, we know our immigrant communities deeply, deeply want to get a good, quality education for themselves and their families and their future,” said Andrea Ortiz, education policy manager for New York Immigration Coalition.

The state has acknowledged some of these concerns in a corrective action plan for the city, which specifically calls on the city to eliminate any enrollment barriers that exist for older immigrant students, and focus on lowering dropout rates for English language learners, as well as improving their graduation rates. 

The education department has provided Family Welcome Centers, where students can go to enroll in school, with brochures and guides in 10 languages on options for students who are learning English as a new language, a spokesperson said. The department monitors these centers annually and held a training this November that focused on options for English language learners.

Officials have also been working with the Education Collaborative to address the concern over students being sent to GED programs.

The coalition’s proposal for a pilot program would open more seats at two schools each in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx — the boroughs where most of these students live, advocates said.

Currently, there are five transfer schools that advocates consider “well-suited” for such students because they have bilingual programming, are built for under-credited students, and provide access to wraparound services. Four are in Manhattan — including Lower East Side Prep — and one is in the Bronx.

The pilot program would run as a grant program to transfer schools willing to open seats and create programming for newly arrived immigrant students. The money would pay for programming at the school — teachers who could teach English as a new language, partnerships with community organizations for wraparound services, such as extra tutoring services for immigrant students and connecting families to social services, and providing professional development.

The department is reviewing different aspects of the proposal, including what good implementation would look like at the schools, an official said. 

“We’re working to increase access to quality programs for our older and newly arrived English Language Learners, and we thank these organizations for their partnership on this important issue,” said Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman for the education department, in a statement. “We are currently reviewing this pilot program and will continue to focus on how we can expand ELL programs to more transfer students and improve education for all ELLs.”

Sykes suggested the biggest hurdle at the moment is securing the total $6 million for the pilot. That could be tough as the city raises concerns about a $136 budgeting shortfall from the state, which is figuring out ways to plug a $6 billion budget gap of its own. 

“We’re gonna fight as hard as we can fight to make this happen,” Sykes said.

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Proposed change to public comment policy at Newark board meetings sparks debate https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/19/proposed-change-to-public-comment-policy-at-newark-board-meetings-sparks-debate/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/newark/2020/02/19/proposed-change-to-public-comment-policy-at-newark-board-meetings-sparks-debate/#respond Wed, 19 Feb 2020 23:07:58 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246685 Earlier this month, the Newark school board debated changing its rules about public comment at its monthly board meetings to limit the number of speakers.

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Parents and advocates spoke out this week against a Newark school board proposal to limit the number of speakers during public time at its monthly meeting.

Opponents of the rule change, reported recently by Chalkbeat, said they feared the plan would limit public input.

Under New Jersey law, boards must allot time for public comments at all public meetings, but officials can set parameters around how that is done. Currently, the board devotes half an hour at each business meeting and caps the number of speakers at 10. During regular meetings, any number of people can sign up to speak during the 90-minute public comment period, but it’s rare that more than 30 sign up. 

The board is trying to decide whether to limit the number of people who sign up to comment at regular board meetings to 30, or keep the rule as it is. At the special meeting, some board members cited the length and the tone of public comment as reasons for wanting to limit it.

Board President Josephine Garcia manages the public participation portion of meetings, and much of it is largely left to her discretion. She usually holds speakers to the 3-minute maximum individual speaking time. “We are not looking to cut anyone out or cut anyone’s time,” she said.

Parents and residents are concerned about the proposed changes because the board has previously come under fire for threatening to ban members of the public who are deemed to violate the public participation rules during board meetings. Newarkers also argued that under the state’s 22-year control of the district, which ended in recent years, residents weren’t able to give meaningful input into school policy. Ronnie Kellam, the parent of a first grader at McKinley Elementary School, called previous board members’ comments about public participation “disrespectful.”

“I don’t care if it takes up until 12 a.m. the next day — you guys should hear our concerns,” Kellam said. “You guys should not try to limit parents’ voices, because that shows that you are not willing to bring the parents to the front table for decision-making.”

Some were unhappy that the board discussion took place at a special meeting. The special meeting was advertised and open to the public, but the only topic on the agenda was board policies.

NAACP President Deborah Smith-Gregory said she wished the proposal had been discussed at a regular or business meeting, which are more widely attended.

Garcia said she will elaborate on the proposed policy change at the regular board meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 at Rafael Hernandez Elementary School.

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The Boys School of Denver, an all-boys charter, will close at the end of the school year https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/19/the-boys-school-of-denver-an-all-boys-charter-will-close-at-the-end-of-the-school-year/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2020/02/19/the-boys-school-of-denver-an-all-boys-charter-will-close-at-the-end-of-the-school-year/#respond Wed, 19 Feb 2020 22:42:22 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246657 The school is facing declining enrollment, and leaders said it was no longer financially viable.

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Facing a daunting financial outlook and declining enrollment, Denver’s only all-boys public school will close at the end of the school year, its board announced Wednesday.

The Boys School of Denver opened in 2017 as a counterpart to the successful all-girls charter school GALS, or Girls Athletic Leadership School. The aim of both charter schools is to build students’ self-esteem and sharpen their focus through physical movement and positive gender messages.

But the founding principal of The Boys School departed in 2018, and the school struggled to find a permanent home, moving from one northwest Denver church to another. The school received the district’s lowest academic rating, “red,” in both 2018 and 2019.

School officials said several pieces of unwelcome news last month caused them to consider closure. They learned that the cost of contributions to the state pension system for teachers was increasing, as was the cost to purchase nursing, social work, and psychology services from the school district. Those professionals are part of the Denver teachers union, which won big salary increases after a strike last year.

This month, after Denver families submitted their top school choices for next year, the district predicted that just 100 students would enroll at The Boys School in the fall. Declining enrollment is a districtwide issue affecting charter schools and district-run schools alike.

“Schools are relationship-based organizations that have to fit into a business model,” said Carol Bowar, executive director over both GALS and The Boys School. “It’s difficult to run small schools — and run small schools well.”

The Boys School is the second Denver charter school this school year to announce it will close. STRIVE Prep - Excel, a 260-student high school that shared space with North High School, will merge with STRIVE Prep - Smart, a high school of nearly 500 students located about 5 miles south.

The homegrown STRIVE Prep charter network, which runs 11 schools in Denver, cited declining enrollment as the reason for closing Excel. Last year, a small stand-alone charter school, Roots Elementary, closed due to declining enrollment and high expenses.

Enrollment matters because Denver schools are funded on a per-pupil basis. Denver Public Schools subsidizes district-run schools with fewer than 215 students, but it does not do so for charter schools, which are run by independent boards of directors.

As rising housing prices and declining birth rates continue to shrink the student population in Denver, the number of small schools is expected to rapidly grow. The school board has signaled that difficult conversations about district-run school viability are coming.

The Boys School of Denver will surrender its charter with Denver Public Schools, which allowed it to operate in the district. Bowar said the school and district are working with current sixth and seventh grade families to find them new schools for next year. Although the school choice window has closed, the district is extending the deadline for Boys students. It is doing the same for fifth graders who listed The Boys School as their first choice for next year.

Bowar said the school is working with current staff to help find them new jobs, too.

“It’s heartbreaking to be in this position,” Bowar said. “This is not a position we expected to be in this year. This is not a decision we wanted to make or made lightly.”

Bowar said The Boys School held a school meeting Thursday morning to talk to its 140 students about the closure. The boys, she said, gave shout-outs to each other. That sense of brotherhood is one of things she said makes The Boys School unique.

“They shouted each other out like, ‘Last year, I didn’t see you trying at all. This year, I see you working so hard and it makes me so happy,’” she said.

“Boys is such a special place,” Bowar said. “There is no other thing like it.”

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Facing backlash, Queens middle school integration plans are tweaked https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/19/facing-backlash-queens-middle-school-integration-plans-are-tweaked/ https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2020/02/19/facing-backlash-queens-middle-school-integration-plans-are-tweaked/#respond Wed, 19 Feb 2020 22:00:30 +0000 https://chalkbeat.org/?p=246643 The education department on Wednesday announced changes to the process that officials hope will lead to a plan to integrate middle schools in Queens District 28.

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Answering intense criticism from parents, the education department on Wednesday announced changes to the process that officials hope will lead to a middle school integration plan in Queens District 28.

The process will now take six months longer than originally anticipated, wrapping up in December 2020. It will also entail more public meetings — including one at every district elementary and middle school. 

Additionally, the city released the names of members of the working group that will guide decision-making for any final plans. Group members had previously  been identified only by position or affiliation with local schools and organizations, a point that critics used to blast the effort as shrouded in secrecy. 

“This process’s success is dependent on hearing viewpoints from every corner of the district, mutual trust, transparency and clarity, and we are committed to responding to the requests we’ve received,” education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon wrote in an emailed statement. 

The changes were announced just hours before Mayor Bill de Blasio was scheduled to appear at a town hall meeting in one of the district’s middle schools.

District 28 received a grant from the education department to launch a community engagement process, with the public's feedback used as the foundation for integration plan for the area’s middle schools. Though the Queens district enrolls a diverse group of students, not a single middle school reflects the local demographics. 

Through the grant, the district contracted with WXY Studio, the urban planning firm that led widely heralded public forums in Brooklyn. That process helped lead to a sweeping middle school integration plan in District 15, which spans brownstone neighborhoods, including Park Slope, and working-class immigrant enclaves, such as Sunset Park. 

But the process in District 28 has been far more contentious, with parents flooding public meetings in protest.

Now the city is pledging to add more members to the Queens working group. Parents had noted that the area’s vast Jewish community was not represented in the working group, a criticism that was leveled at the mayor at Wednesday night's town hall. He pledged to change that.

"I guarantee it," he said. "Of course there needs to be representation."

The changes didn't seem to go far enough for some. At the town hall, Vijah Ramjattan — president of the local Community Education Council, a parent body that oversees school issues — called for a complete do-over. He took issue with the working group being made up of unelected members.

“Can we squash the whole plan, start all over, and get a working group by the parents, for the parents," he asked. "Let's all vote as a community who we want to represent us.” 

De Blasio assured the crowd that any changes would only move forward with support from the community, and tried to quell fears that students would be bused across long distances to integrate schools

"School busing, to me, is not the way to get it done," he said. “We want a great education for our kids. We don't want our kids traveling crazy distances.”  

A spokeswoman for the education department said planning will kick off with school-level meetings prior to hosting six district-wide workshops, which will begin in May. 

Below is the list of working group members that the education department shared Wednesday. 

  •         Mohamed Q. Amin, founder and executive director of Caribbean Equality Project
  •         Oswald Araujo, director of Beacon Services at Queens Community House
  •         Stephanie Barreto-Lastra, community affairs borough manager, Division of Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communication of the NYC Department of Education
  •         Sadio Comrie, teacher at Redwood Middle School
  •         Simone Dornbach, PTA co-president at The Academy for Excellence through the Arts PS 303
  •         Merari Gallimore, PTA president of PS 80 Thurgood Marshall Magnet School of Multimedia and Communication
  •         Shavvone Jackson, PTA recording secretary, SLT member, and Title 1 board member for Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School
  •         Mohammed Enamul Karim, parent at PS 182 Samantha Smith
  •         Venus Ketcham, community leader in Southeast Queens and parent at JHS 217 Robert Van Wyck
  •         Seiw Kong, District 28 acting superintendent
  •         Karin Marroquin, parent leader at the Queens School for Leadership and Excellence PS 349
  •         Maureen McTigue, teacher at PS 117 J Keld Briarwood School
  •         Patricia Mitchell, principal of PS 48 William Wordsworth
  •         Shernette Pink, program manager at Queens Youth Justice Center
  •         Howard Pollack, Community Education Council District 28 member, PS 196 parent/teacher leadership team member
  •         Vincent Suraci, principal of JHS 157 Stephen Halsey
  •         Mazeda Uddin, director of South Asian Fund for Education Scholarship Training
  •         Stella Xu, education committee chairperson for Forest Hills Asian Association
  •         Student – JHS 8 New Prep
  •         Student – JHS 190 Russell Sage

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