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Posted by Jun 7th, 2011.

Until now, our blog has been maintained on a separate site from the main Education News Colorado website. As of today, the two sites are integrated, though our hope is you won’t notice much if any difference. The new site URL is http://www.ednewscolorado.org/category/opinion.

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Posted by Jun 6th, 2011.

Editor’s note: This post was submitted to Education News Colorado by Antwan Wilson, Denver Public Schools’ assistant superintendent, office of post-secondary readiness. It offers the district’s response to this blog post from EdNews Publisher Alan Gottlieb, and this article from Westword.

I wanted to take this opportunity to address the concerns raised in recent media reports about the credit recovery at North High School.

The issues raised in the report are very serious ones, and we are actively investigating the claims and reviewing our overall credit-recovery procedures.  Should we find violations of our guidelines or ethical standards or the need to implement clearer or stronger policies, we will take action to ensure the integrity and rigor of that program and all of our programs.  We certainly recognize that for our diplomas to have value, our programs must be – and be seen as – rigorous.

In addressing the concerns about rigor, it’s important to take a minute to discuss the purpose of credit recovery and where it fits in our overall high school programs.

To date, that investigation has determined at a minimum that there were serious deficiencies in following procedures and keeping records during the 2009-10 school year.

First, a word on rigor.  Over the past several years, the Denver Public Schools has significantly strengthened the rigor of its high school programs. The district has increased the number of credits required for graduation from 220 to 240 (the highest in the state to our knowledge) by adding a fourth year of math and additional lab-science requirement, among other changes.

We have nearly doubled the number of students taking and receiving college credit from Advanced Placement courses over the past five years, and we have also nearly tripled the number of students concurrently enrolled in college-level courses.

The percent of concurrently enrolled students receiving As, Bs, or Cs in these college level courses (and therefore college credit) is over 80 percent. And these increases cross all racial and socioeconomic groups. Our district also has posted double-digit gains in math and reading proficiency on state assessments over the past five years.

Our mission at DPS is to ensure that all of our students graduate high school and successfully pursue postsecondary opportunities and become successful world citizens.  This is an important mission in that it sets a high bar that requires that we implement a system district-wide that meets the needs of all of our students regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what their previous academic performance may have been.

Aligning mission to Denver Plan

This mission aligns with the 2010 Denver Plan goal of being the best urban school district in the country.  It says that we recognize and appreciate the diversity within our student population and the many unique needs of our students and we are making it our responsibility to construct a system that prepares all students for success in the college and career opportunities they seek.

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Posted by Jun 6th, 2011.

The recent Westword article on Denver North High School’s manipulation of its graduation rates, the  belief that “juking the stats” likely spreads beyond a single school and a sage comment at the end of Alan’s post wondering what other Denver high schools were affected all indicate that this is a topic where rhetoric might benefit from a closer relationship with data.

At its crux, the question is if graduation rates tell us something meaningful about how district schools are performing academically. And it sure looks like they do, but not in the way one might have hoped.

For what the North debacle — and a previous yet related controversy over Lincoln High School — bring into question is twofold. First, does a high school diploma signify a reasonable, baseline level of student achievement; and second, is the rise in DPS’s graduation rate spread evenly throughout the district or is being used by some schools to mask a lack of academic rigor and proficiency.

To answer the first question, we need to see if there a pervasive gap  – particularly at certain schools — between a school’s graduation rate and the ability of its alums to read, write, and do math at grade level.  As one teacher at North commented for the Wesword article, are we reaching a point where someone could say “Oh, they went to North? They’ll give a diploma to anyone” – and for how many schools might this be an issue?

So here is a quick graph comparing respective 2010 graduation rates (data here) and 2010 average proficiency rates* (from CDE’s schoolview.org) at a number of notable, open-enrollment DPS high schools.

The red line indicates the trend; the schools above the line will have more students who graduate with solid academic skills; those below the line will have more graduates who lack basic proficiency. How far you are from the line shows the gap: well above the line pretty much guarantees a close correlation between graduation and at least a base level of academic ability; well below the line increases the likelihood that a diploma has little relation to academic skills.

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Posted by Jun 2nd, 2011.

Here is an unscientific sampling of education blog highlights from the past several days:

  • Charter schools and low-SES kids: Damned if they do, damned if they don’t? Matthew Yglesias
  • Seven obvious things in education that are ignored. Washington Post Answer Sheet blog
  • Eight reformer state education chiefs endorse NCTQ review of teacher prep programs. Teacher Beat blog
  • Diane Ravitch is right to pop myth balloons about miracle schools (including Bruce Randolph) Flypaper
  • Data-driven policymaking? In your dreams. Larry Cuban’s blog
  • Big flaws in NYT piece on Gates Foundation influence. Rick Hess Straight Up
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Posted by Jun 1st, 2011.

Paul Teske is Dean and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

(These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system).

As we start summer – the real, post-Memorial Day, school is out, summer – it is worth reflecting on the near-term future of education funding in Colorado.

The legislature recently finished its session, which focused mainly upon budget cuts.  Both higher ed and K-12 took cuts, but in the end, these cuts were somewhat less than some feared (higher ed), or less than the original level of cuts (for K-12).  Remarkably, as the session ended, the fact that that cuts could have been worse seems to have been spun as mainly good news.

EdNews recently linked to new U.S. Census data that ranks Colorado’s per pupil K-12 spending (all revenues divided by number of students) as 40th among the 51 states (including DC).  That 2008-9 data is now two academic years behind  – two years, by the way, full of deeper cuts in Colorado (and some cuts in some other states, too, to be sure).  Consistent with other data on this subject, the Census Bureau shows Colorado spending about $2,000 per pupil below the national average.

I will leave it to others to figure out more precisely what $2,000 per pupil could buy.  It would seem, in a single class of 25 students, even if only two-thirds of funds were spent in the classroom, it would buy $33,000 worth of extra instruction for the students in that single classroom – a para-professional, lots of useful technological aides, or whatever students need most.

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Posted by May 31st, 2011.

Juking the stats. Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.” – a cop-turned-teacher in HBO’s series “The Wire,” when asked to boost test scores.

Last week’s article in Westword about abuses in Denver North High School’s “credit recovery” program touched a nerve, and for good reason. It’s a textbook example of kids being used to make adults look better.

There’s no reason to believe the problems detailed in Melanie Asmar’s story are limited to North. In fact I’ve received emails from people at other Denver high schools alleging similarly questionable practices. And the New York Times wrote a national story about credit recovery abuses in April.

I’m sure most of the adults involved – heck, probably all of them – allowed and in some cases encouraged kids to cheat on credit recovery homework and exams thinking it was in the best interest of those kids. So many studies, after all, have shown that young people’s prospects improve significantly with a high school diploma.

District leadership needs to do some soul-searching about whether the pressure exerted on high schools to improve graduation rates tacitly encourages school administrators to juke the stats to make themselves and the district look better.

If the diploma has been watered down to the extent that the credential becomes meaningless, though, then every graduate of North High School is hurt by this extreme manifestation of the “pobrecito syndrome” (as in “oh, these poor babies’ lives are so hard we can’t expect too much of them.”)

There’s also an element here of gaming the system for less altruistic reasons. Juking the stats doesn’t just happen in “The Wire.”  It’s exactly what happened in North High’s credit recovery program.

For those of you who haven’t read it, here are the main points from Asmar’s story.

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Posted by May 31st, 2011.

Does it matter what Denver’s next mayor thinks or does about public education?

Does the mayor of Denver have on obligation to work to improve our schools?  To improve the opportunities for our kids—the majority of whom are in the Denver Public Schools?

(I do not believe Mayors Peña, Webb, or Hickenlooper felt any such obligation. So what is different about 2011 that we might answer yes to these questions?)

Or is all the talk by mayoral candidates on reform only that—mere chatter, a token tip of the cap to this issue—or even worse, a distraction from more fundamental issues—like addressing a $100 million budget shortfall—that are the responsibility of the city’s leader?

Big city mayors have connected the struggles of their school districts to the quality of life and future well-being of their communities, and they have chosen to act.

Readers of The Denver Post get a decidedly mixed message.

In his April 26 column, Mike Littwin wrote that schools were one of the major issues in the mayor’s race, but he was quick to remind us, in parenthesis(“over which the mayor has little control”).  Vincent Carroll echoed this when he criticized the mayor’s race, as of May 4, for paying little attention to the city’s most pressing issues. Why? “Maybe the candidates were too concerned with letting us know their views of reform in Denver schools,” he wrote, before adding, “which the mayor doesn’t happen to govern.  It’s time they abandoned that dead-end theme and moved on for good to other issues.” And Joanne Ditmer began her May 27 column with this rebuke: “Sometimes it seems the candidates for mayor of Denver don’t live in the same city that I do.  They talk a lot about education, ignoring that it’s a Board of Education task.”

So should our next mayor use that political clout, or stay on the sidelines?  If the Post itself seems to waver, voters are putting education high on the city’s agenda.  According to the Survey USA poll in early April, the top concerns were: economic issues (31 percent), schools (25 percent), and budget (21 percent) (Post, April 15, poll of 588 likely Denver voters).

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Posted by May 25th, 2011.

This excellent piece of reporting by Westword’s Melanie Asmar exposes some scandalous practices in the “credit recovery” program at Denver’s North High School. As a fomer North teacher says at the article’s conclusion:

“What sucks is that there are kids working their butts off for a diploma to mean something and there are kids getting diplomas from North who have earned every single credit on there plus more,” says Brown. “Then a bunch of other kids get the same diploma, and it devalues it.”

She adds, “I’d hate for…people to look at a transcript and say, ‘Oh, they went to North? They’ll give a diploma to anyone.’”

Watch for this story to change some practices at North and probably other DPS high schools.

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Posted by May 24th, 2011.

The first 6:30 of this video from the May 23 debate deal with school choice and other Denver Public Schools issues.

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Posted by May 24th, 2011.

Once a week or so I will provide links to particularly interesting and provocative blog posts on education from around the nation, whether I agree with them or not. The number of education blogs out there has become daunting, so I do not pretend that my list is comprehensive, balanced or logical in any way. Here are my first offerings:

  • Diane Ravitch on Bill Gates’ negative influence over public education. Daily Beast blog
  • The average college grad starts at $27,000 per year, if he or she can find a job.  Joanne Jacobs
  • On a related notes, student loan default rates are rising fast. The Quick and the Ed
  • Has Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss become the Lou Dobbs of education? Jay P. Greene
  • Michelle Rhee and former union chief Parker: Strange bedfellows. Teacher Beat
  • What’s the real difference between Bill Gates and Randi Weingarten? Dropout Nation
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