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

Stay Sharp Newsletter: October 2017

stay sharp


This month has been full of conversations and engagement about the future of education in Colorado. We have been working to share resources with voters ahead of next month’s upcoming school board elections. We have hosted discussions with David Osborne about his new book Reinventing America’s Schools. We have been looking at the latest achievement results across the state (though much of this information continues to be hidden) and Denver’s release of the 2017 School Performance Framework (SPF) results. This newsletter shares what we’ve learned. As always, we invite you to participate in the conversation.

A+ Updates

Get Out the Vote:  School Board Elections 

Ballots for the November 2017 election should arrive this week. If you live in Denver or Aurora and you don’t yet know who you will vote for in the school board election, check out our election resource center.  We summarized these resources in two emails focusing on the Aurora School Board Election and Denver School Board Election

Event Recap: Reinventing America’s Schools

A+ Colorado hosted a series of great conversations on “Reinventing America’s Schools” with the author David Osborne.  The events included breakfast with district leaders, community advocacy groups and education-minded citizens from across Colorado. David Osborne has literally written the book on how school districts around the country have made progress, with a large section on Denver.  His discussion with leaders ranged from lessons learned on how Denver built political momentum for improvement, the role of parent advocacy, how other districts can apply best practices, and how different types of districts require unique solutions for their context.  


In the evening, A+ Colorado partnered with the Progressive Policy Institute, Gates Family Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs and Donnell-Kay Foundation to bring a conversation about David Osborne’s book to wider Denver audience. After a presentation by David Osborne, Van Schoales moderated a panel of local education policy experts, Jason Glass (Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools), Jennifer Holladay (Executive Director, Portfolio Management, Denver Public Schools), and Rosemary Rodriguez (School Board Member District 2-SW, Denver Public Schools) and David Osborne. The engaged audience asked insightful questions. The desire for further conversations and interdistrict cooperation was raised by both the panelists and the audience.

News to Share

A Sea of Green?

Denver released the 2017 School Performance Framework (SPF) ratings (better known by the colors: Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red) last week.  The ratings this year were notable for the dramatic increase in “Green” or good schools, and the even greater decrease in “Red” schools, particularly at the elementary level. Denver Public Schools made significant positive gains (up 4.7 percentage points) in elementary school proficiency rates in CMAS English Language Arts from 2016 to 2017. These gains should be celebrated, and as an education community, we should dig into what is working for students. But, these gains do not add up to an 80% reduction in “Red” schools at the elementary level and a significant growth in the number of green schools. We are concerned that there is a disconnect between how students are being served in schools, and how the district is communicating quality schools to families. See more description of the problem and our commentary here.

As a reminder, all DPS schools are expected to host community meetings about the School Performance Framework results. Find your school’s meeting here.

More Data Masked

The Colorado Department of Education quietly released two years of information about how different groups of students in schools and districts performed on CMAS PARCC. However, this data release continued to hide vast amounts of the data, making it near impossible to understand which schools and districts are successfully supporting or struggling to support students of different races or ethnicities, students with diverse language backgrounds, students with different learning needs, and students from low-income families to reach college and career-ready standards.

Curious about how linguistically diverse students are doing? In Adams 14, half of the students who took an assessment are emerging multilingual students, but there is no district-level data from 2017 on CMAS PARCC math assessments for these students. Even more school level data is hidden.

How about opportunity gaps by race or ethnicity? Even though 3% of Boulder students are black, the state released no data on the levels at which these students performed in 2017. This in a district with, historically, some of the largest race-based gaps in academic performance.

And how are schools supporting students from low-income families? Tough to tell when half of all Denver schools have no results reported for students by free or reduced lunch eligibility for any grade.

When data is suppressed, educators, families, communities, and policymakers cannot answer essential questions. The lack of information creates an unnecessary barrier to creating excellent and equitable schools across our state.

Take Action: A+ is mobilizing a community of concerned stakeholders who understand the big problem this data suppression creates for families, communities and educators.  Interested in joining? Contact us to get more involved.

Mill Levies & Bonds in Our Communities  

This November, voters in some Colorado communities will be deciding whether or not to vote for an education-related mill levy or bond measure. There are eighteen mill levies and thirteen bond measures on ballots throughout the state. What are these bond and mill levies telling us?  

All districts with bond measures on the ballot except one are rural or mountain districts.  Nine of the thirteen bond measures are BEST State Grant matching initiatives. In the past four years, 100% of the BEST bond measures have passed.  Other bond measures, however, have had only a 57% pass rate. Of the bond measures, five of the thirteen are for rural districts and are focused on replacing existing facilities with a centralized P-12 building.  

While bond requests are limited to certain uses such as capital improvement projects, mill levies can be used to fund non-capital expenses.  This year school districts have placed mill levy requests on the ballot to fund teacher pay and retention, better curriculum resources, technological improvements, and deferred maintenance costs.  As with bond measures, in the past four elections, only 57% of education mill levies have passed.

Colorado Springs’ District 11 is requesting funds to pay for an increased number of school counselors, school nurses and security personnel, defrayed maintenance and increased charter school funding.  The Greeley-Evans School District plans on using some of their money on job training and workforce readiness, replacing old school buses, and installing security cameras in high schools and middle schools. They state that an equal share of funding will go to all charter schools on a per-pupil basis.

Small, rural districts are mostly requesting funds to recruit and retain teachers, deferred maintenance, and for general operational costs. One of these proposals state what seems evident in all – we’re “trying to keep our heads above water.”  Several proposals reference the reduction in state education funding as the reason for requesting local funding of schools. In Montezuma – Cortez teachers are going door-to-door to improve the chance of their district’s mill levy passage. A+ Colorado will be bringing you more information on the results of these efforts to increase dollars to education across Colorado.

Data for this article was obtained from Colorado School Finance Project.

Spotlight: Arrupe Jesuit: Corporate Work Study Program

A+ Colorado usually highlights an innovative, effective public school, whether, district-managed, innovation or charter, but this month we wanted to share some practices from a private school with a strong public mission. Arrupe Jesuit started in NW Denver,  fifteen years ago, with the objective of serving low-income Latinx students, using the Cristo Rey Model (an education philosophy strongly linked to Theodore Sizer and others). The school is small and focused with an expectation that every student graduate and matriculate to college prepared to succeed in life.  The school uses a number of educational practices that would be found in high performing charter schools like DSST, Uncommon, and Thomas Maclaren.

But probably the most powerful educational design feature of Arrupe is the Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). There are no other high schools in Colorado (public or private) that have such a comprehensive and integrated work-study program. All Arrupe students participate, working five days per month with 130 corporate partners in every job sector from healthcare, technology to law. It’s a remarkable program that instills job skills and 21st-century habits of mind but most importantly connects low-income students to a mindset that prepares them to move into the middle class. This program has been proven to be a powerful tool for Arrupe’s success and could be replicated or modified for use in any number of public high schools in Colorado. If you have not seen or been to Arrupe, regardless of your high school setting, it is worth a visit or a look at their program and learn how they can be incorporated into any high school setting.

A+ in the News

6 Things To Know About Denver-Boulder’s School Achievement Gaps. Colorado Public Radio

Exclusive Videos: 12 Changemakers Across the Country Who Are Reinventing American Education The74

Free for All: The Five Best Free Events in Denver This Week.  Westword

Reinventing America’s Schools: Van Schoales, CEO, A+ Colorado. The74

What’s different about this year’s Denver school board election? Betsy DeVos, for one. Chalkbeat Colorado


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