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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: June 2018

stay sharpThere has been a lot happening in education in Colorado since the end of school. Catch up on our updates as well as some of our reports from the past spring. We’ll be taking a break from our newsletter for the month of July. We’ll be back in August with some exciting updates!

A+ Updates

Catch up on our Reports

A+ had a busy spring, releasing four new reports. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read them, add them to your summer reading list!

Learn Together, Live Together: A Call to Integrate Denver’s Schools

The Outliers: The State of Colorado School Districts 2018

Start with the Facts: Denver Public Schools At A Crossroads 

Unequal Choices: School Model Diversity in Denver Public Schools

News to Share

New Schools Set to Open in Aurora

On June 19, the Aurora Public School Board approved two new charter schools, Aurora Community School and the Empowerment School. Last month, A+ published a letter from a parent from the Empowerment School who shared why she wanted to see this option in Aurora. While some Board members shared their concerns with Empowerment School (and Board Member Cox ultimately voted against it) there was a large majority in support of both high quality applications, who showed community support and were recommended by the Superintendent for Approval. A+ Colorado congratulates both schools, their families and leaders who are pushing new opportunities for kids in Aurora.

With these actions, Aurora has shown enormous energy and potential for change. They should be applauded for capitalizing on early momentum these past years, building a stronger process for approving new schools and recognizing community demand for these options. While there are still many schools and students in APS who need something different, Aurora seems to be emerging as a leader in Colorado for transitioning from a bureaucratic, unresponsive system to one that can lead in pushing for new opportunities for kids.

The End of School Turnaround in Denver?

As we reported several weeks ago, Denver has decided to put the School Performance Compact (SPC) on hold for a year. This policy, while far too technocratic, was designed to ensure that the lowest performing schools were either set on a path to improvement or replaced with schools that can better serve their student population. A+ Colorado is deeply concerned that combining this policy with the massive inflation of SPF school ratings and the lack of turnaround support from the Colorado Department of Education, will result in students trapped in schools unable to meet their essential academic needs. While the Board has indicated that the policy is on hold temporarily to allow time to collect feedback from the community and inform changes, we do not think that a redesigned SPC is likely to return next year given that 2019 will be another DPS school board election. You can read more here.

Denver Shares, Colorado Hides Inequities in Special Education

This spring Denver Public Schools made an important and game-changing decision to publicly share information about how different groups of students receiving special education services are being supported to master grade-level content. The takeaway is that in Denver, black and Latinx students without learning disabilities perform more similarly to white students with learning disabilities than to white students without learning differences. This is a difficult pill to swallow. And it raises other questions: is this reflective of other districts? Or are there communities in Colorado where students with learning differences are being supported to meet the same academic expectations regardless of their race or ethnicity?

Sadly we do not know. Despite requirements in federal law to allow communities to look at this intersectionality — or “cross-tabulation” of the data– the Colorado Department of Education does not provide this information. Not only that, but even getting a glimpse at whether students with Individualized Educational Plans are meeting grade level expectations is woefully incomplete. Take for example two middle schools in Jeffco. Carmody Middle School and Deer Creek Middle School are less than a 15 minute drive apart. Both serve student bodies where 11% of students receive special education services. Both offer center-based programs for students with significant needs. Yet there is no information about whether more students on IEPs at Carmody or Deer Creek are mastering grade-level content. That is to say nothing about whether there are discrepancies about how outcomes vary for students of different races, or other backgrounds, with similar learning needs.

We applaud Denver for naming this inequity, and hope other systems will ask and publicly share the answers to similar hard questions about how schools are — or are not — supporting students with learning differences regardless of their identity or background. It is impossible to fix the problem and fundamentally change the experience for students without naming it.

A Colorado Governor’s Race Focused on Public Education?

Colorado’s race for the next Governor hits the next stage with Walker Stapleton (R) and Jared Polis (D) winning their respective primaries. The primaries, particularly the Democratic one, were dominated with debates regarding public education and what should be done to improve our schools. We are hoping the discussion continues until the November election with so much at stake for Colorado’s students. Elections matter and our next Governor will set the agenda for what does or doesn’t get done to support more of our students being ready for college and career. We can no longer expect our schools to magically improve on their own without substantive state policies, incentives, resources, and attention.

No Summer Break in Adams 14

Uncertainty continues in Adams 14 School District in Commerce City as the Board president resigns and vocal frustration from families and community members over the current school board, district actions, and Superintendent shows no signs of subsiding. The Colorado Department of Education is on the verge of making recommendations to the State Board of Education on how to hold the district accountable for chronic low performance after 7 years on the state accountability clock. In anticipation, some community organizations are pushing for a change and working with families to build a new vision of what is possible. Concurrently a local high performing charter is working with families to design a new school option. After decades of challenges, it has become clear that major structural changes are needed for students and families to have better outcomes in Adams 14. Given that the district has yet to solve problem after problem, the state needs to take direct and clear action to change the current system while working with community organizations to ensure family voices are empowered to steer the next direction of the district.

A+ in the News

Far from reaching its ambitious goals, the Denver district plans to ask for community input, Chalkbeat Colorado

Denver’s school board is taking a break from its school closure policy, Chalkbeat Colorado

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