These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

February Newsletter: Keeping you informed about A+ Denver

Dear Members and Friends,
Another big congratulations to 2014 Game Changers Anne Jacobs, Brian Eschbacher, Rosemary Rodriguez. See the past awardees they join from 2013 and 2012.

Accountability whiplash:
We don’t have to break the news to you that there is some major grumbling going on about Common Core, PARCC, testing in general, or some conflation of the three. Then there are graduation standards. As you probably saw in Sunday’s Denver Post, Colorado is one of the only states in the country that does not have any state standard regarding high school graduation. We and others supported those standards and are uneasy about the talk of weakening them. The current backlash against efforts to set a minimum bar claims that, for example, a C- in a concurrent enrollment class is too much to ask, and a student should only have to get a D to demonstrate competency. But what we mean is, scoring 2 on an AP test is not a passing grade and does not indicate college preparedness. In fact, it probably indicates the opposite. As college admissions expert Allen Grove puts it, “although the College Board defines a 2 as “possibly qualified” to receive college credit, almost no college will accept a score of 2. In fact, most selective colleges will not accept a 3 for college credit.”

Recent events:
Joel Klein
Joel Klein, former Chancellor of NYC public schools and author of Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools led a thought-provoking discussion about how he sought to “create a system of great schools, not a great school system.” During his eight-year term, more than 700 new schools opened, many of them small and distinctive. He spoke to a packed house about what he sees as the most important domestic problem of this generation: inequality. Cautioning that ignoring the problem will eventually dissolve society, he points out that many systems perpetuate that inequality. He points out, for example, that “people with the greatest challenges are the ones with the fewest choices” when it comes to educating their kids. Klein, whom many saw as the boldest school chief in the country, offered up the single most important reflection on his tenure, “I would have been bolder.”School Choice Panel
Following the release of An Evaluation of Denver’s SchoolChoice Process, A+ hosted an event on January 22nd to discuss the SchoolChoice system. Over sixty people joined a conversation with panelists Betheny Gross, lead author of the report and Research Director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Brian Eschbacher, Director of Planning and Enrollment at DPS, and Miguel Oaxaca, member of the Board of Directors at Together Colorado and a DPS parent. The panelists addressed 1) how Denver’s SchoolChoice enrollment system is working, and 2) whether it is meeting the demands of Denver families.

While there is general agreement that the process is water tight, challenges remain. Although the application is simple, families find that it is still difficult to choose the right school for their kids. In fact, 40% reported difficulty in finding a school that would be a good fit.

To make a model Choice system, we need not just the enrollment system where all families can access the city’s schools, but we need better choices to fit all our students’ needs. Read a full summary of the event on our blog.

What we’re working on:
Strategic conversations
A+ is leading talks on strategic challenges and intervention strategies related to Turnaround schools and improving the school leadership pipeline. We hope to release policy recommendations related to school leadership in about five weeks.School rating metrics
A+ and several partners have been pushing for more accurate and rigorous scoring standards for schools, or a better School Performance Framework. We’ve engaged in conversations with district leadership several months ago, and have been notified that DPS is in the process of revising the SPF. We hope these revisions will be publicly available soon.

Annual Report:
As you’re reading this newsletter, so are 15,000 educators, policy makers, fellow wonks, and neighbors. To learn more about what A+ has been up to this year click here to view our 2014 Annual Report.
Upcoming events:
Join us for an evening with Dr. Howard Fuller, a social justice activist, former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and currently the director and founder of Marquette’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning. Dr. Fuller has dedicated his life to fighting for those most in need, from better housing to access to better schools. Let us know if you’re interested in attending here, and we’ll confirm your registration based on space availability.Mark your calendars! Rick Hess will be here March 23. We will host an event with Dr. Hess that evening. Look for details in your inbox. Hope to see you there.

Cheers,A+ Denver