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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: May 2018

stay sharpIt’s almost summer and A+ Colorado is racing towards the finish line just like many students and educators as the school year winds down. Read on to find out what’s keeping us busy.

A+ Updates

Welcome to Laura Valle-Gutierrez, A+’s Newest Team Member

We are thrilled to announce that we have hired Laura Valle-Gutierrez to be A+’s Policy Analyst, supporting our policy and research work. She is from Longmont, Colorado and is a recent graduate of Brown University with an MA in Public Affairs (with a concentration in data driven policy!). She has most recently been working as a policy analyst at the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab. Laura has a BA from Brown in Comparative Literature, and we’re excited to have her bring her writing and number crunching skills to the team. Laura is returning home to Colorado this summer and will be joining the team full-time in July.

Upcoming report releases

Look for two reports from A+ next Thursday: Start with the Facts: Denver Public Schools At A Crossroads and Unequal Choices: School Model Diversity in Denver Public Schools. The release will be accompanied by a panel discussion on Denver: Past, Present, and Future and features four former and current Denver School Board Members. Visit the event page to learn more and RSVP.

End of School Year Happy Hour

Please take a break and join us on Tuesday, June 5th from 4:30-6:30pm as we wrap up another school year with drinks and food at 10 Barrel Brewing Company. RSVP here.

News to Share

No Sunlight for Colorado Kids

Colorado has been a national leader on public education data transparency for decades but over the past several years (and we’ve been writing about it), it has decided to mask most of the achievement data by race and income at the school level. Though we are 64 years beyond the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, we know less about how black and African American students are doing in school than we did a decade ago.

Because of these decisions, we have no idea whether black students in Boulder Valley are being supported to read at grade level. Or whether any emerging multilingual middle schoolers in Pueblo are learning math. This is a transparency and access crisis that has real impacts for families and communities in Colorado. To learn more, see Van Schoales’ perspective that describes why this a problem and what is causing this remarkable retreat from Colorado’s focus on educational equity for all here.

Teachers Pay and Education Spending

The movement to pay teachers more here in Colorado and across the country is gaining momentum. Teacher pay and education spending in Colorado is relatively low compared to other states, The National Education Association (the largest teachers’ union) ranked Colorado 28th for per-pupil funding while others put Colorado’s spending at 39th or even lower. It will be difficult if not impossible for teachers to be paid a truly professional wage without doing more to close huge disparities in education spending by district and also raising the overall spending on public education. This fall’s potential ballot initiative also raises this conversation. Van Schoales shares his perspective on why teachers need to be paid more here. Also, read A+ Colorado’s report on how to pay Denver’s teachers more of a professional wage.

Dive into Denver’s Spending

DPS released a remarkable document a few weeks ago with little to no fanfare, the Budget Transparency Guide which breaks down the general fund expenditures of $10,806 per student. It is important to note that this does not include all funds, e.g. federal, local, capital funds, etc so constitutes only 61% of the district’s overall spending. The guide is a treasure trove of information on various DPS program costs while also raising many more questions about the district’s spending, e.g. how much is the district spending on the SPF or central controlled instructional professional development?  DPS should be applauded for releasing this guide while also empowering some schools to make decisions about what they can and can not purchase from the district offerings. Other Colorado school districts should be following DPS’s lead. Interestingly while DPS has moved control of more spending to the school level, there remains a great deal of spending at the DPS central office. For example East High School is spending a total of $5,417 per student for the prior year according to the Colorado Department of Education’s Financial transparency website. DPS could do more to push more funding and decision making down to schools when it appears that only about 42% of the funds are spent at the school level.  

New Schools Across the Metro Area

This past week, Denver Public Schools approved two new school options. While DPS didn’t explicitly call for new schools in their usual process this spring, their approval of quality applicants is an important signal it will still continue to build their portfolio of options. Included in the approvals was a Native American serving school, the first of a kind in Denver. If any school deserves its own building and facility, it would be a school that was supporting the least served students in Denver – indigenous Americans. Also approved was replication of the Middle School Beacon model at Grant and Kepner. Given a recent state law change, DPS pulled it’s application for additional Early Colleges. This has been a planned major expansion in DPS with the goal of ensuring significantly more students graduated with concurrent enrollment in higher education. With this adjustment impacting current Early Colleges and potential new expansions planned, it remains to be seen what the district will do to adjust course.

Over in Aurora, the Board will be voting on new school applicants on June 5th.  This will be a major moment for the Aurora system, with many observers wondering how the district will respond to these applications and their community support. If the board doesn’t vote to approve these schools, many of these applicants will have a strong case to make on appeal to the State Board.


Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment: Opening Doors, Sharing Power

The student population at Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment is changing: more students qualified for free or reduced price lunch than five years ago. More students are emerging multilingual, learning English at school and from different backgrounds. And while Montclair students from every background have seen improvements in terms of the percent meeting grade level expectations, opportunity gaps endure.

As the student body changes, and understanding the increasing importance of supporting students in culturally responsive ways, Montclair has committed to shift its practices and staffing to better reflect its school community. One dramatic step the school has taken is to engage families in the hiring process for new teachers. Generally staff hiring decisions are made by school leadership and the hiring committee, but Montclair opened that process this year. New teacher candidates now go through an open interview process with the school community where families were part of the decision about who to hire, and could ask questions that mattered to them and their students. They also added an equity conversation based on real problems and real opportunities faced at the school.  Parents were present in the room to see how prospective teachers responded. And in a dramatic shift, candidates who failed to meet determined criteria (developed by parents) during the equity conversation would not be moved forward – no matter how well they performed on other tasks.

“Too often in public education schools and districts create constraints that ask families to fit in. We’re flipping the script and asking parents to design the constraints that we should operate in to serve them. Candidates leave knowing that Montclair is putting a stake on the ground around equity for our kids.” said Ryan Kockler, Principal at Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment.

At A+ Colorado, we know the power of staff understanding the cultures and values of their students and community.  Montclair offers an exciting example of how schools can prioritize culturally reflective and responsive hiring practices. We are excited to see how opening decision making to families and sharing power can fundamentally shift the relationship between communities and schools such that programming, supports, and solutions to school challenges can be co-created. We hope that this shift in practice continues to shift and improve academic achievement.



Apply to Teach Plus

The Teach Plus program is now accepting applications for its year-long fellowship. Teach Plus Colorado offers the Teach Plus Colorado Teaching Policy Fellowship to outstanding teachers in the Centennial State looking to deepen their knowledge of education policy and gain a voice in decisions that directly affect students and the teaching profession. Find out more information and apply here.

Participate in a Statewide Survey on Education Priorities

The Education Leadership Council (ELC), a nonpartisan council of government, business, and nonprofit leaders, established by Governor Hickenlooper last summer, is developing a blueprint for Colorado’s educational system. Take their survey to voice your perspective on the state of Colorado education: what is working? What isn’t? And where should we go from here?

A+ in the News

RE-1 ranks strong in new ‘Outliers’ report, South Platte Sentinel

Why these Denver charter schools are closing or delaying opening, Chalkbeat Colorado

Analysis: In Denver, Rising Expectations, a Generational Divide, and a New Education Reform Revolution on Its Way, The74

How one of the lowest performing school districts in Colorado changed its fortunes by becoming “all-choice”, The Denver Post

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