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Tuesday, June 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

Popularity: 10% [?]

DPS’ response to the credit recovery controversy

Monday, June 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.

In order to fulfill this mission, we need to acknowledge where we are currently (a roughly 53 percent overall on-time graduation rate/66 percent for traditional high schools); we need to understand the challenges that negatively impacted efforts to improve in the past; and we need to work to construct a comprehensive system that better meets the needs of the students we serve.

Doing this requires improvement in how effectively we educate the entire child from kindergarten through 12th grade.  This includes raising the bar for all students in terms of academic rigor and expectations at all grades and at the same time implementing sufficient supports to ensure that students meet these expectations. We want our most motivated and successful students to know that they are noticed and appreciated, and that they will be challenged to reach their highest potential. At the same time we want our students who experience struggles to know that we expect them to be successful as well and will do what it takes to see that they too reach their potential.

This potential involves preparation for education beyond high school. Whether they be four-year universities and colleges, two-year community colleges or technical schools, or one-year certificated programs and/or military service, our goal is to prepare all of our students to enter these institutions having mastered the necessary standards and without the need for remediation.

In addition to implementing rigorous grading standards, we also recognize that we must have strong support systems when students fail to meet expectations or do not respond to the initial interventions by the classroom teacher and school leadership. Our students have a responsibility to learn, and we recognize that there are some students who have not mastered the study skills necessary to gain subject matter proficiency in their studies. In such cases, these students will earn failing scores and this will require us to provide more intensive supports to help them meet expectations.

Confronting tough challenges

Again, if we are to accomplish our mission to graduate all students and prepare them all to be postsecondary ready, we cannot give up when faced with these challenges. For these students, we will provide targeted support that helps them get back on the right path. These supports include, but are not limited to, interventions such as unit and credit recovery.

Unit recovery should be implemented as an on-time intervention after a student has not demonstrated mastery of content in a major unit of study while enrolled in a class. It consists of the collaboration between the classroom teacher and the student (with the support of school leaders) to re-take a unit that the student failed to master through the demonstration of competency on specific unit standards. This may occur in the classroom, online, or in a blended model.

Credit recovery, on the other hand, involves a student retaking a course they have previously failed. This is typically done in a blended learning environment involving online curriculum and assessments with instructional support provided by a teacher. We are partnering with APEX Learning on these efforts because of the rigor and comprehensiveness of their programs. Their programs are used across the nation in many urban districts to provide original credit, Foundational Courses, Literacy Intervention, Advance Placement courses and preparation, and unit and credit recovery. APEX is accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission and approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

In order to ensure the rigor of our credit recovery courses, the courses are each supervised by a teacher and the student receives individualized instruction as well as working online. Individual assignments emphasize the mastery of essential state standards, as in traditional courses, and students must demonstrate through assignments mastery of each individual unit before they can move on to the final exam.

To pass a credit recovery course, a student must obtain a score of 80 percent or better, which is 20 points higher than in a traditional course that has a required semester of seat time.  Students in a blended learning environment should be supervised at all times and all assessments should be closely monitored as expected in all classrooms. When taking tests and quizzes, students (except as may be provided for in an IEP) may not use of books, notes, web sites, or any other aids.

A thorough investigation

We are doing a thorough investigation of credit-recovery practices and auditing graduation transcripts at North High School to determine if these guidelines were not followed. 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.

We will continue a thorough and comprehensive review of credit-recovery at North and ensure that the shortcomings at that school from last year are not repeated in other programs throughout the district. We continue to believe strongly in the important role that unit and credit recovery play in our schools, as they do in districts nationwide.

It has long been clear that the old way of requiring a student who fails a course to repeat it again the following year in the same classroom fashion that the student failed it the first time is ineffective and leads to a big increase in dropouts. Our data clearly shows that the highest number of student dropouts fell off track during their ninth grade year due to failing core classes. Data also shows that it is increasingly harder to get these students on track the longer they are allowed to remain off track to graduate. The solution here must be to ensure the rigor of unit and credit recovery offerings, not to do away with them.

We must also face the question, as Mr. Gottlieb points out: “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.”

We acknowledge that this incentive exists here as in many places elsewhere.  The incentive to make oneself or one’s unit look as good as possible statistically is true regardless of whether you’re measuring graduation rates, financial performance, academic achievement, or athletic performance. The problem of teachers and schools having incentives to pass students on to graduation by reducing rigor long predates and extends far beyond credit recovery.

The question then is, how do you deal with the fact that these incentives have existed, do exist, and will exist. The answer cannot be to stop measuring or caring about our schools’ graduation rates. For that is clearly one of the most important measures of a high school.  Rather, the answer can only be in the district having a strong combination of clear procedures, ethical practices, and strong action to address of any violations.

As part of this effort, I convened earlier this year a task force of teachers and school leaders to clarify and strengthen grading policies, with clear alignment to state standards. Grades should not be based on process elements, like attendance, but on demonstrated proficiency through multiple assignments and test on the elements of the state standards the course is covering.

Setting high expectations for all

Students who are demonstrating an inability to complete assignments as expected by teachers should receive immediate intervention or consequences, depending upon the reason for not completing the work. This may include mandatory tutoring classes before school, at lunch, after school, or during the school day. It may also mean shortening the student’s academic class schedule to include core academic classes and a favorite elective, and then providing targeted study sessions the remainder of the day, with very small teacher-to-student ratios focused on supporting students with the completion at mastery level of work assigned by classroom teachers.

We cannot allow our students to choose to fail and for them to believe that we will do nothing to prevent it.  Teachers are NOT to give students either full or partial credit for work they did not do. In fact, we have taken recent action to end a grading practice at one of our high schools that allowed teachers to give a grade of 53 percent to students who missed an assignment.

Missing work is to be marked as missing in the grade book, and interventions are to be implemented immediately to support students who need additional instruction to complete the task or to hold students accountable for completing what was expected of them by their classroom teacher. Like school grading and measurement policies, school makeup work policies should be communicated effectively to all students, parents, and other stakeholders and consistently implemented throughout the school without exception.

We are here as public servants in the field of education for the sole purpose of giving ALL of our students the skills and confidence they need to make their dreams come true. We expect a lot from them and from ourselves. We work hard to challenge, support, and inspire our students. We do not accept excuses for failure; we will not tolerate dishonesty in reporting student achievement; and, we will never give up on a single student.

Popularity: 31% [?]

National ed blog highlights: June 2

Thursday, June 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

Popularity: 9% [?]

From the publisher: “Juking the stats” in DPS

Tuesday, 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.

  • North began using credit recovery in 2008, when its graduation rate was 46 percent. The program allows students who have failed core courses to retake them online with adult supervision.
  • By 2010, North’s graduation rate had jumped to 64 percent.
  • Asmar uncovered information from sources and records showing that kids and adults gamed the system, thereby increasing pass rates. Kids used search engines to find answers or took tests repeatedly until they got the right answers and then passed those answers on to friends. Adult supervisors said North administrators “encouraged and even helped” kids find ways to pass online tests.
  • North students in credit recovery could get a semester’s credit simply by taking the credit recovery final exam for a given course, which caused Asmar’s sources to wonder “whether they really learned anything at all.” Yet a senior DPS administrator, Antwan Wilson, was quoted by Asmar defending this practice.

There are many more depressing details in the story, but you get the drift.

It sure sounds like juking the stats to me. And, as in “The Wire,” while it benefits some people, it hurts others. In this case, it’s allowing students to graduate from high school without demonstrating in any meaningful way that they have learned enough to succeed in higher education or the job market.

The good news here is that plenty of caring teachers at North were outraged by the shenanigans and blew the whistle by calling Asmar. The bad news is that they resorted to this because they couldn’t get any satisfaction inside their own building. Westword found emails showing that one mid-level administrator at 900 Grant Street knew students were using the Web to cheat, and urged the school to block those sites during tests. But apparently no one from the district followed up, and North kept the sites unblocked.

Once Asmar brought the issue to the district’s attention, Wilson, DPS’ assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness told her that the district would audit the transcripts of every North graduate over the past two years. But what will the district do with its findings? And what, exactly, can an audit prove?

It is incumbent upon the district to launch a major investigation into credit recovery practices in all its high schools. In the unlikely event that North proves to be an isolated case, the people found responsible should face harsh sanctions (Assistant Principal Nancy Werkmeister, identified in Westword as the administrator in charge of the program, recently retired, and the principal, Ed Salem, is leaving the district).

If, as seems more likely, the investigation uncovers similar problems in other schools, then the district needs to do a couple of things. First, it needs to tighten its implementation of the credit recovery program and write clear regulations about how credit recovery computer labs are monitored.

More important, though, the 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.

Miraculously boosting graduation rates by giving would-be dropouts a meaningless diploma does no one any favors. And it sure as hell doesn’t make anyone look good. Quite the contrary.

Scandals of this sort call into question all the data the district releases trumpeting its improvement, and give fodder to the district’s relentless critics. Does DPS release the numbers without vetting them? Does it cast a beady eye and investigate suspicious jumps in test scores and graduation rates at specific schools?

I hope so. If district officials believe in statistical near-miracles, then (to borrow a parable I once heard) they are like the man who gains 50 pounds, can’t fit into his clothes, buys a much larger pair of pants, finds that they fit well and proclaims, “See, I’m in shape!”

Popularity: 20% [?]

A North High diploma mill?

Wednesday, 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.

Popularity: 23% [?]

Denver mayoral candidates debate education

Tuesday, 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.

Popularity: 13% [?]

Recent ed blog highlights: May 24

Tuesday, 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

Popularity: 9% [?]

DPS board members weigh in on mayoral race

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Editor’s note: Although the Denver mayor has no legal authority over the city’s public schools, education reform was a major issue in the first round of the current mayoral election. Now that Michael Hancock and Chris Romer are engaged in the runoff campaign, education has become less prominent an issue. This is perhaps because the two candidates do not differ significantly in their proposed education policies. Still, some Denver Public Schools board members have been vocal in their support of one candidate or the other. We asked two board members to answer some questions about their endorsements. Mary Seawell explains why she backs Hancock and Andrea Merida discusses her support of Romer.

1. If your candidate is elected mayor, what role would you like to see him play in Denver Public Schools?

Andrea merida

Andrea Merida

Merida: I would like Chris Romer to turbo-charge the current partnerships DPS currently enjoys with the city, such as the Lights on After Dark Program, the community resource officers stationed at schools (changing their role to a more restorative justice tack and the City covering the cost), the recycling program, school-based clinics and more.  I would also like him to use his deep, native-born knowledge of Denver to advocate on behalf of Denver’s families and to help the superintendent understand the composition and economic realities of its neighborhoods.  I would like him to work with me on putting together the framework for a single-payer health care system to be used by Denver and DPS employees, as well as by city residents; using the network of school-based and community clinics as the backbone.  Let’s focus more resources on serving Denver’s families and not as much on overhead.

Seawell: As Mayor, Michael Hancock’s role will be as a critical friend and partner to DPS just as he has been during his years on City Council.  Michael listens.  He verifies.  He reaches out.  And then he fights full force for what he knows is right. He is a collaborator but not afraid to disagree with anyone.  He always asks for more from the people around him to think differently and better.

Michael loves Denver and wants our city to be strong civically and economically.  He knows to be a great city it takes a world-class education system.   His plan called the “Denver Education Compact” will make sure the private, public and nonprofit sectors are dedicating more resources and support to our children.  Michael will utilize city services to create more efficiency with DPS operations, including plans to appoint a school’s liaison to help streamline services.  As he has done while on City Council, Michael will not just listen to DPS but he will listen and reach out to communities to understand their needs and push the District to create high quality educational options for every child in Denver.

2. Former Mayor John Hickenlooper was primarily a cheerleader for ex-superintendents Jerry Wartgow and Michael Bennet, and current Superintendnet Tom Boasberg. Is this the best role for a mayor? If not, what is?

Seawell: A cheerleader suggests someone who will cheer even as their team is losing.  Michael will not allow any of us to lose when it comes to our children, including the superintendent of DPS.  He will not make excuses if DPS does not implement reforms well.  I know if I am not doing my job as a school board member, he will let me know that Denver expects more from me, even publicly, until I do everything possible to improve our schools.

Denver needs our mayor to walk a delicate balance of supporting our public schools while challenging everyone to do better.  The mayor has a platform to push, confront, cajole, and demand that the district is doing everything possible to improve our schools. A mayor can also make a tremendous difference in school board races.  The mayor’s voice matters.

Merida: The better role for the mayor, in my opinion, is to be an advocate for the residents of Denver, especially given that the current superintendent is not one. The mayor lends credibility to such advocacy.  Further, the mayor is in a unique position to help lobby for more school-business partnerships to strengthen the bonds with our schools and offer our students access to real-world work experience.

3. Neither candidate has absolutely ruled out the possibility of pushing for mayoral control under the right conditions. What differences do you see between their positions on this and how big a role did it play in your endorsement?

Merida: Chris Romer, having extensive legislative experience, knows that Colorado prefers local control of school districts by elected boards.  The difference between Chris Romer and his opponent is that Chris is 100 percent clear on the scenario that would have to exist before even considering something so drastic.  He has stated that we would have had to have “lost hope for improving the district” first, putting the focus squarely on student achievement.  Chris is aware of the mixed results other urban cities have shown under mayoral control and is much more cognizant of the complexity of education reform. In contrast, Chris’ opponent told The Denver Post that personality issues would justify the takeover of the school district (“when chaos and dysfunction reigns to the point where clearly private agendas are overwhelming the mission,” The Denver Post on
4/3/11), clearly showing a weak grasp on the concept of a deliberative body. To Chris, “mayoral control” are not just buzz words to be bandied about when elected officials disagree on policy, and this has impacted my decision to endorse him.

Seawell: I do not support mayoral control because the data on mayoral control districts does not show it positively impacts academic achievement.  In addition, the process of converting districts to mayoral control becomes the focus instead of the academic growth and achievement in our schools. Michael knows this, he has seen the data, he has said he supports the direction DPS is headed and he has stated he will not support mayoral control unless the district was in a state of chaos, which DPS is not.  I think there are no sacred cows, and while I don’t support mayoral control I want people who will put anything on the table if it means helping our schools.

4. Speaking only of education, why did you decide to endorse your candidate over his opponent? Please be as specific as possible.

Mary Seawell

Mary Seawell

Seawell: Too often in education reform we debate ideas, but we don’t focus on the difficult time-consuming work it takes to improve schools.  I have sat side-by-side with Michael Hancock in school cafeterias and gymnasiums as he listened to people describe their dreams for better schools and their fears for their children being in failing schools.  I have watched in moments of seemingly total impasse Michael bring forward ways to find solutions.  Two specific examples:

  • During the months of community work in Far Northeast, Michael Hancock was the only person (now running for mayor) who came to community meetings and took an active role in this issue.  He was not there to support DPS, the superintendent or certain board members.  He was there to support children and families who deserve better than being trapped in schools that had being failing for many years, schools where too many believed success was not possible.
  • When the Stapleton community was in meltdown, because there were not enough seats to accommodate the exploding growth of children, Michael convened community meetings and brought DPS, the City, Denver Urban Renewal Authority and Forest City to the table until they figured out a solution that would open a new school quickly but keep the cost burden on Stapleton.

Michael knows success is possible in any school and in any neighborhood in Denver.  He supports the Dream Act and the right of DPS graduates to receive in-state tuition regardless of legal status.  Finally, Michael knows in order to have true social justice and equality, we must have an education system that can educate any child regardless of his or her family’s income level.

Merida: As I have stated on my blog, there are four major reasons I chose to endorse Chris Romer:

  1. He has pushed for legislation that strengthens families, such as payday lending reform and foreclosure deferment.  To me, this is important, since poverty and transience have deep negative effects on student achievement.
  2. His concurrent enrollment legislation has made college affordable and accessible, regardless of ability to pay or legal residency status, for both neighborhood school and charter students alike.  My Lincoln, Kennedy and Southwest Early College students all benefit from concurrent enrollment.
  3. Even his focus on charter schools have been for the benefit of minority, low-income students.
  4. He fought the good fight for tuition equity, which would have been game-changing legislation for entire families in southwest Denver.  He has been a consistent friend to Latinos.

In short, Chris Romer has consistently shown not only concern for the economic strength of Denver families, but has also acted swiftly and decisively to support them.  This concern is a core value that Denver’s mayor must hold.  This is the paradigm in which the mayor must operate, especially given the deep structural deficit our city faces that could threaten crucial support for the poorest of Denver’s families.

5. What is your biggest concern about your candidate’s opponent on education issues?

Merida: My biggest concern about Chris Romer’s opponent, with regard to education issues, is a seeming lack of regard for the impact of education reform on Northeast Denver families and the persistent silence toward the growing presence of Spanish-dominant Latino families in that sector of the city.  Additionally, as a practicing Roman Catholic, it is incumbent upon me to clarify how my faith might interfere with health curriculum or the availability of reproductive services at schools (it doesn’t).  Therefore, the two recent statements made by Romer’s opponent that appear to reflect a conservative Christian ideology must be carefully considered when choosing leadership for a city with a strong tradition of women leaders and a vibrant and open LGBTQQ community.

Seawell: Chris and Michael share some core philosophical beliefs about education.  Both are education reformers, but a great mayor doesn’t just need a philosophy, he or she needs a visceral understanding of what failing means to our most vulnerable children.  As a child who went to Cole Middle School and graduated from Manual and as a parent of DPS students, Michael’s commitment did not get formed in a conference room.  I worry Chris won’t support hard choices if it means risking political popularity.

Also, I am not sure how effective Chris would be in pushing the district around implementation. I’m not sure he understands the DPS structure like Michael does. For example, Michael helped Peter Groff to write the Innovation Schools Act.  He recognizes that the power of schools gaining innovation status is not just freedom from some of the provisions of the union contract.  He knows some schools also need greater autonomy from the district itself.  Chris criticizes Michael for being experienced in government but to change a system a person needs to know and understand the mechanics first.  I’m concerned Chris doesn’t understand either city or district systems and won’t know how/where to push for reforming either.

6. Without sounding like an answer-dodging PR flack, please tell me what is the greatest concern or biggest question you have about your candidate on education issues?

Seawell: It’s actually a question I have for both candidates – vouchers.  I care deeply about progressive social issues.  Allowing public funds to go to a private school which: a) has any religious affiliation, b) is not required to meet the same accountability and academic standards as public schools, and c) has tuition higher than the value of the voucher thus making it a program out of reach for low-income children is a not acceptable to me.  I would like to know where both candidates stand on vouchers.

Merida: Chris and I have the same concerns about education, but we sometimes don’t agree on the same solutions.  My biggest concern is that he and I will lose the wide-open dialog conduit we have always had because of the new challenges that will confront him upon election.  Chris has always been willing to “mix it up” with me about what works, what doesn’t and how we can do better for kids.  It’s a relationship that I value greatly and would be loath to give up because of schedule conflicts.

Popularity: 18% [?]

DPS: Segregation now, segregation forever?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

This post was submitted by Jennifer Holladay, who lives in Denver and also authored the foreword to Lessons in Integration: Realizing the Promise of Racial Integration in Schools, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield (University of Virginia Press, 2007.)

When third grade CSAP scores for reading were released last week, they revealed much more than students’ proficiency levels. They showed, yet again, that white and more affluent children tend to be concentrated in a certain kind of school, while children of color and those who live in poverty tend to be congregated in another.

The three schools that tied for first place — Bromwell Elementary, Polaris at Ebert Elementary School, and Steck Elementary School — each possess one of the district’s lowest poverty rates (just 8, 9 and 12 percent, respectively, when 73 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch). Their student populations also are overwhelmingly white (more than 75 percent white, in a district where fewer than 20 percent of students are.)

The situation reflects a collective lack of political and moral will.

On the flip side, the two schools that tied for last place, Barrett Elementary and Place Bridge Academy, are what researchers sometimes categorize as “apartheid schools” — schools that are virtually all “non-white” and where poverty abounds.

Of course, the segregation within Denver Public Schools is no secret. In 2006, the Civil Rights Project, then at Harvard and now at UCLA, released a scathing indictment of the problem within DPS in its report, The End of Keyes: Resegregation Trends and Achievement in the Denver Public Schools. That so many of our students have been, and are, trapped in racially and socioeconomically segregated schools remains cause for concern. After all, research has proven time and again that separate schools are inherently unequal, in terms of students’ educational outcomes and life opportunities.

Still, here in Denver, much of the talk — and action — around school reform seemingly accepts segregation as a permissible norm. That the West Prep and KIPP schools demonstrate success in high-poverty, racially-isolated environments, for example, too often deflects attention away from the fundamental purpose of integrated schooling: Opening the financial, social and political assets bound up in white, middle-class children on the larger, societal stage. (It’s easy to forget, too, that integrated schooling produces meaningful “pro-social” outcomes for students, such as increasing their capacity to thrive in diverse workplaces later in life.)

Looking at demographics for DPS, few schools are what researchers would consider “integrated”- possessing sizable white populations and at least two additional racial or ethnic groups represented in large numbers, with an ultimate mix of about 50 percent white and 50 percent “of color.” This is due, in part, to the reality that white families, especially those with class privilege, disproportionately opt out of public schools. It also relates to housing segregation, which remains pronounced. The situation further reflects a collective lack of political and moral will.

Still, there are a handful of schools holding onto the promise of integrated schooling in Denver: Odyssey Charter Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary and Highline Academy Charter School, the K-8 that my daughter attends, among them. At these three schools, third grade students scored at least 30 percentage points above the district average in reading, placing their schools among the top 10 in DPS on this measure.

Therein lies a lesson many failed to recognize with the release of the third grade, reading CSAP scores last week: A handful of schools that are comparatively white and affluent boasted the top scores, but pocketed among the top performers also are schools that afford increased access and opportunity through purposefully integrated environments.

I, for one, hope this can be a lesson observed, if not finally learned.

Popularity: 28% [?]

Hot Lunch: Leslie Jacobs on New Orleans reforms

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

New Orleans post-Katrina is “ground zero” for education reform, so it’s little wonder opponents of the current reform agenda cast an anxious eye toward the Crescent City, a leading Louisiana education advocate said in Denver Friday.

Leslie Jacobs, a former member of both the New Orleans school board and the Louisiana state board, now runs Educate Now! a non-profit “dedicated to effective and sustainable reform of New Orleans public schools.”

“I call them the discounters,” Jacobs said of those who criticize New Orleans’ radical move to a nearly all-charter district. They discount or explain away the gains by making a series of claims not supported by facts, she said. The truth, Jacobs said, is that the district is as poor as it was before the storm and the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in schoolchildren poses an added layer of challenge. Despite this, she said, achievement has been on the upswing since 2007.

Podcast and PowerPoint
New Orleans school reformer Leslie Jacobs discusses radical changes to her city’s schools post-Katrina

Jacobs has been in the middle of the reform battles that began in 2003, two years before Hurricane Katrina nearly drowned New Orleans, when the state legislature created the Recovery School District to transform underperforming schools.

Once Katrina hit, destroying many schools, New Orleans created its own recovery district and assumed control of all but the city’s 16 highest-performing schools. Since 2007, when most schools finally reopened, the recovery district has been steadily moving toward making New Orleans virtually an all-charter district. And the city’s students have made marked gains in achievement.

“Everyone talks about New Orleans being the epicenter of charter schools and in many ways we are,” Jacobs said. “But this did not happen overnight. It has been a gradual conversion.” By next school year, 75 percent of the city’s 40,000-plus public school students will be attending charter schools.

Jacobs displayed a quote from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who hailed the progress New Orleans schools have made since Katrina. He called New orleans the “most improved school district in the country” and described the progress as “remarkable” and “stunning.”

Among some of the data points Jacobs shared:

  • In 2005, 62 percent of New Orleans students attended failing schools; today 17 percent attend such schools
  • In 2007, 32 percent of black students at all grade levels and tested subjects were proficient or above; today 49 percent meet that standard
  • Since 2005, the city’s dropout rate has been cut in half, to 5.7 percent in 2009-2010

Jacobs was in Denver as part of the monthly Hot Lunch speaker series, now on hiatus until the fall. The series is sponsored by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations, both of which are also funders of Education News Colorado.

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Colorado Health Foundation Walton Family Foundation Daniels fund Pitton Foundations Donnell-Kay Foundation