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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: March 2017

stay sharp

A+ Updates

A Month of Events

This evening, join A+ and YEP for a conversation with renowned education reformer, Rick Hess. In his latest book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer, Rick Hess distills 25 years of knowledge working in and around school reform, offering a window into Hess’ thinking about what education reform is and should be. Timely insights to any young person passionate about transforming education—and to not-so-young reformers who are inclined to reflect on their successes and failures. Register here.

Wondering how Aurora Public Schools are performing? Join A+ Colorado for the release of our second report about the state of Aurora Public Schools. We will discuss schools to watch and policy suggestions to improve Aurora Public Schools. The event will be held from 6-7:30pm on March 22 at the Aurora Cultural Arts District (1400 Dallas St.). RSVP here.

Save the date for an Evening With Dr. Emdin: Join the Denver Public Schools Imaginarium and A+ for an enlightening evening of learning from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Emdin about how reality pedagogy can lead to student success. Event will be held on the evening of April 5th at History Colorado Center. Register here.

NW Aurora Continues Conversation with State Board Member Rebecca McClellan

On Saturday February 25, the Resident Leadership Council in Aurora hosted a community meeting with State Board of Education member Rebecca McClellan. Aurora Residents testified about their experiences with Aurora Public Schools. They brought up questions about underprepared high school graduates, student safety in the face of increased deportations, and what the State Board of Education could do to improve all APS schools. The Resident Leaders Council made a clear call for a more community-friendly way to communicate with families about school performance so that they could advocate for their children and their schools.

A Plan So Every Student Succeeds?

A+ Colorado provided feedback on Colorado’s Draft Plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, which the state expects to submit to the federal Department of Education on April 3rd. This plan outlines how Colorado expects to meet the legislative requirements of ESSA (in spite of Congress rolling back some critical regulations, and an administration that might have a different vision for the Department than the Bush and Obama-era administrations). A+ is also one of 24 signatories to a letter from the Equity in Colorado Coalition providing additional feedback. Our biggest concerns with the current Plan? That, as a state, we are moving away from holding schools and districts accountable for helping student reach academic expectations (the Plan proposes shifting to an almost entirely normative accountability system), and that we are creating a system that is significantly less transparent (plans for collecting and releasing data are notably absent; the Plan goes above and beyond federal requirements and cements a practice that needs much more thought, stakeholder involvement, and iteration before implementation), and that, ultimately, the state is making it significantly more difficult to understand how schools and districts are serving different groups of students, and where there are lessons to be learned and shared.

News to Share

Keeping Budget Cuts Away from the Classroom?

After hearing impassioned calls from community members, teachers, and school leaders the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education gave Superintendent Munn directions to avoid increasing the staff to student ratio. APS still needs to find a way to cut up to $31 million from the budget, and Superintendent Munn pointed out that the district would feel the cuts, even if they are able to avoid increasing the student to staff ratio. We recommend keeping an eye on this ongoing conversation to ensure that budget cuts reflect the needs of the APS community. Once decisions are made for next year, it’s important for district leadership to examine what led to this current budget crisis in order to proactively avoid such painful and disruptive budget decisions in the future. APS teachers, students, families, and taxpayers deserve accountability and financial transparency from their district leaders.   

Denver’s 2020 Plan

DPS continues to bring new schools into the district in an effort to improving the number of high quality options students have and will be opening at least three new schools this coming fall (including DSST: Conservatory Green High School, Boys School of Denver, and Inspire Elementary. Other planned schools may open pending enrollment). But new schools are only meaningful if students can access them: SchoolChoice Round 1 results are out, and Denver continues to boast large participation numbers with 87% of families with incoming kindergartners proactively selecting a school in the SchoolChoice process. The biggest perennial challenge for DPS is to accelerate improvements in the district’s lowest performing schools and/or replace them with other new high performing schools. To that end, DPS is currently seeking community review board members that will help review the redesign applications at Greenlee and Amesse elementary schools. See here

On Our Own

A+ was in DC with a number of other state-level advocacy/research non-profits a few weeks ago to get the latest on federal education policy. Our take away was that states will be entering uncharted territory with next to zero accountability from the federal government to ensure that our most vulnerable students get the public education they deserve. Our new national education law ESSA might provide a framework but it appears unlikely that the Department of Education will be doing much to enforce this or other federal education laws.  Everyone, including the new White House advisor on education said that it will be up to A+ and other state-level civil rights, business and education advocates to ensure our state lives up to our expectations for a quality education for all.  Here’s hoping Representative Polis and Senators Gardner and Bennet can help our state do the right thing for kids in light of the recent Congressional repeal of the ESSA regulations.

Innovative District Practices

A+ has had the privilege to visit with a number of innovative districts in the last month.

  • Falcon 49 District in Colorado Springs has focused on a rich set of community engagement strategies combined with some remarkable flexibility from the district to deliver different career pathways in a mostly suburban district environment.  We still have real concerns about student achievement but glad to see such attention to meeting community needs.
  • Camden Public Schools has recently begun to turn a corner with a strong focus on community engagement and a thoughtful set of school turnaround strategies under superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. While many other state takeover strategies for low-performing districts have faltered, we see the attention to community engagement as being the critical ingredient to setting Camden in the right direction.

Spotlight: CEC Early College of Denver

march CEC

A+ recently had the opportunity to tour CEC Early College of Denver, one of eight CTE school programs in Denver Public Schools. CEC offers 21 career-track programs ranging from culinary arts (the students run their own in-house restaurant) to a Certified Nurse Assistant program which allows students the opportunity to graduate as a state certified CNA.

As the cost of college continues to increase, schools like CEC offer students the opportunity to earn tuition-free college credits through partnerships with Community College of Denver and Emily Griffith Technical College with an option for students to complete a fifth year and earn an Associate’s Degree at no cost. Results from this program are reflected in CEC’s 5-year graduation rate (2015): 96.7%, significantly outperforming the district’s average 5-year graduation rate of 74.6%.

In addition to strong graduation numbers, CEC 9th grade students showed above average growth last year on annual state assessments, and CEC students who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch posted average composite ACT scores (18.6) that were higher than the district average for students eligible for free or reduced price lunch (17). Taken together these provide evidence that core academics can work in tandem with non-traditional course offerings. The number of students wanting to attend CEC regularly exceeds the number of seats available, proof that CTE programs are anything but obsolete and an important proof point for the district as they work towards creating high quality school options for all kids in Denver.

A+ in the News

The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice, NPR

Aurora educators say statewide reports don’t accurately explain students’ success, The Aurora Sentinel

Report reveals Steamboat Springs School District among fastest growing in state, Steamboat Today

Summit County has one of Colorado’s fastest growing districts, Summit Daily News

Commentary: When big money becomes the new normal — contrasting LA’s and Denver’s school board races, LA School Report

Colorado Students Continue To Flock To Online Charters, Despite Controversies, KUNC

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