A year after the release of If Not Now: Transforming Aurora Public Schools from Failing to Great, A+ reviewed APS’ progress on the report’s recommendations. Stay tuned for another report on Aurora Public Schools in 2017!
2016 Election Update
Like the first episode of this season’s Walking Dead, the presidential election has been unsettling and grim, and we are very ready to move on to the real work of governing. On the heels of messages from both presidential candidates about binding wounds of division and building a country that is hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted, here’s a short education election recap. It’s now up to the very real work of our representatives, school board members, and educators to ensure 2017 heralds in a time of healing, hope, and collaboration on our state’s most vexing public education challenges.
Donald Trump Takes the White House
The 2016 presidential election will likely change and have dramatic impacts on every domestic federal policy issue, including education. Donald Trump has been clear about a few things on public education: he wants to get rid of Common Core (he can’t, as standards are set by states); increase the number of charter schools and school choice (which he may be able to influence through federal funds, yet most of these decisions will be left to states and school districts); and continue to significantly shift power back to states through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We have some deep concerns about what this will mean for civil rights enforcement (for instance, will states still protect rights of students learning English as a second language, or students with disabilities?), as well as for ensuring good governance of programs designed to support students who have traditionally been left behind by our public education system.
We hope that with the reelection of Senator Michael Bennet (D), who was a key architect of ESSA, along with Senator Cory Gardner (R), who co-sponsored an important transparency amendment that requires cross-tabulation of data under ESSA, that there will be continued attention paid to ensuring that all kids receive a quality education. We also know that Representative Jared Polis (D) will continue to lead the charge for education in the House of Representatives. While Colorado has some strong advocates for educational improvement in our nation’s capital, it will be up to our Governor, our state legislature, State Board of Education, and school districts to determine whether Colorado moves forward or slips back.
The State Board of Education- Race Still Running
As of writing this, the race for State Board representative of the 6th Congressional district between the incumbent Debora Scheffel (R) and her challenger Rebecca McClellan (D) is still undecided as votes are still being tallied, and may go to a recount. If it turns out that McClellan wins, it would likely have a significant impact on the direction of the State Board.
Congratulations go out to the other two CO State Board of Education candidates, Steve Durham (R) and Joyce Rankin (R) that were successfully re-elected on Tuesday. A+ Colorado is hoping that regardless of the final outcome in the 6th district race that with the elections over, we can have greater clarity and allow the board to move forward leading educational improvement. We cannot continue to down the most recent path that the board has taken.
It remains to be seen whether Val Flores, the far-left leaning Democrat representative from Denver will continue to team up with the Republicans or if she decides to join more with the centrist Democrats. We fear that we may continue to have the same ideological fights over policy issues related to data, transparency, and school turnaround, but time will tell. The Education Commissioner’s leadership will be crucial in moving things forward. The Colorado State Board of Education will soon be able to decide whether they offer Katy Anthes the permanent Commissioner position or once again open up another search. Our big question is whether Commissioner Anthes wants the job.
We look forward to working with the State Board of Education and the Department to ensure schools and districts are providing students across the state a high quality education. A+ will continue to hold them accountable.
Denver & Aurora Approve Bond and Mill Levy
It was great to see so many communities including Denver and Aurora step up to provide local funding for school buildings and programs. We were disappointed to see so many communities like Greeley and JeffCo reject tax increases; we wonder if this is related to not wanting more taxes, feeling the districts are not delivering for students, or a combination of the two. We hope that more districts provide more transparency and accountability for spending so that there may be more confidence for spending what is required for an effective quality public school system. The problem of course with passing local school funding referendums is that the gap widens between school communities that have resources to spend on schools and those that don’t resulting in increasingly inequitable funding. Additionally it may relieve pressure to solve Colorado’s school finance challenges which are felt statewide.
Stay Tuned for a New Colorado Legislature
With the return to the state house of many incumbent education legislative leaders, we suspect to see many of the same issues and fights arise that we saw in last year’s legislative session. It is far too early to predict all of the issues or bill proposals, but the usual battles over education funding, charters, and teacher evaluation are likely to continue. Here’s hoping that there are legislative leaders that can get beyond the partisan bickering to match the commitment to improve public education as we have seen with previous legislative leaders such as Republicans Nancy Spence and Keith King, and Democrats Terrance Carroll, Michael Johnston and Peter Groff. Colorado is far from reaching our objective of having all students being college and career ready; we need leadership on both sides of the aisle to get us there.
Massachusetts, an Aberration or Harbinger?
A+ was very disappointed to see Massachusetts voters choose to limit the expansion of high quality charter schools. Not only will thousands of low income students be denied the right to high quality school options because of the failure of Measure 2, but the outcome of this vote is likely to have impacts around the country on similar charter bills. Sunday’s New York Times did a nice job describing the fight between the teacher unions and well-funded charter supporters. We saw an effort to create an Opportunity School District in Georgia–which would have included the expansion of charter schools–go down in flames for similar reasons. We can only hope that this loss results in a better understanding of what is required to move more voters to support school improvement efforts in general which includes high performing charters. We believe one of the reasons that Denver has continued to make progress is that many charters in Denver and Colorado serve low income and more affluent families alike. If public education improvement efforts are to continue to grow here and in the rest of the country, policy must deliver for both low and middle income families. We believe education reform has to be bipartisan and must lift all boats.
As challenging as it may be to look forward to elections in November, 2017 after the most “bizarre, ugly and dispiriting campaign” ever, we all should be prepared to pay attention to all of the school board races in 2017. The Colorado Department of Education will finally be forced to step up (or at least we hope so) on behalf of students when the clock runs out this summer for schools and districts that have had at least five years to improve. How and whether school districts respond is likely to set the direction for what Colorado does to ensure all kids have access to a quality public education. School boards and district leadership will play a critical role in 2017. A+ Colorado will keep you updated.
A+ recently visited Boston P-8, which serves students in Northwest Aurora. Last year, Ruth Baldivia took over as principal and her leadership along with a strong school staff has already started to impact student growth. Last year, Boston’s middle school clocked some of the highest median growth percentiles* in APS. Baldivia gives credit to a clear focus on writing and committed teachers working toward a common goal.
Walking through the building the positive school culture that encourages student achievement was evident. Student work covered the walls both in public spaces and in classrooms. Boston students in multiple classrooms were engaged in research projects about different cultures: in seventh grade, students used laptops to research and share information about different countries and, in fifth grade, students used library books to research Native American communities across the United States.
This is only Boston’s first year as an innovation school and second year under Baldivia’s leadership, but the school has already managed to get off of the accountability clock. We look forward to watching Boston P-8 thrive as one of the first innovation schools in Aurora, and share its lessons learned with other schools in APS and across the state.