Archives for category: Colorado

Colorado Chalkbeat reports that the opt out numbers were high in the state, especially for high school students. Only five of the state’s 20 large districts met the federal government’s requirement of a 95% participation rate. The greatest concentration of opt outs was in the 11th grade.

Changes are planned, but test critics don’t think it will make a difference. The biggest source of information and support for opting out was, apparently, students talking to other students.

The PARCC language arts and math tests were given in two sections, one in March and the second at the end of the school year. Many districts reported that opt-out rates were higher for the second set of tests.

High school assessments and the testing schedule both will change in 2016. Juniors won’t be tested in language arts and math, and there will be only a single testing “window” in April.

“I don’t claim to be a prophet, but, yeah, I expected high opt-out percentages,” said Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker, who was heavily involved in legislative testing and opt-out debates. He also suggested high school refusal rates were significantly driven by students. “The awareness and them advocating to each other is more important.”

“Folks have been wondering where those big districts would fall. It’ll be an interesting convers what we do about those big districts with a high rate” of opt outs, said Bill Jaeger, a vice president with the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Jaeger served on the state task force that studied testing before the 2015 legislative session and has followed the issue closely.

As for the variation among districts, Jaeger said, “It’s an interesting finding to me, and there’s a whole host of explanations that I don’t think anyone’s explored.”

Noting testing changes made by both the legislature and the PARCC, Jaeger said, “It will be interesting to see if there is a restoration of confidence in the assessments.”

One testing critic, St. Vrain Superintendent Bob Haddad, doesn’t think that will happen.
“I don’t think it will make a difference,” Haddad said of testing reductions. “I don’t think you’re going to get parents and students back at the table … because there’s no trust” in the state testing system. “CMAS was summarily rejected by our students and parents.”

Jeff Bryant recounts the story of Jefferson County, Colorado, known as “Jeffco,” where parents are battling religious zealots and charter advocates for control of their community’s schools.

 

Sprawling westward from the Denver skyline, where the front range of the Rockies sharpens its ascension to the peaks, Jeffco, as the locals call it, is experiencing an acrimonious debate about its public schools.

 

At scores of house parties…, parents and public school activists circulate flyers and repeat a well-rehearsed message of dissent. They complain of a new school board majority that is secretive, disrespectful to parents and teachers and irresponsible with tax dollars. They warn of the influence of right-wing groups, some with connections to evangelical Christianity. They complain of a powerful charter school industry, different from the “organic charters” Jeffco parents already send their kids to.

 

Behind every grassroots issue they identify lies a much “bigger thing,” as more than one parent will tell you.

 

It’s a complicated narrative that defies stereotypes and neat polarities. Although the fight is political, Republicans and Democrats are distributed on both sides of the debate. The argument is about education, but it’s not an argument over pro-charter school versus anti-charter. Jeffco has had charters for years, many of which are highly popular with parents. Neither is this a narrative about choice versus anti-choice. Jeffco already allows parents to enroll their children in any school in the district (although there are cases of selective enrollment), and many families do opt for a school other than their neighborhood one.

 

Jeffco is a mostly white, middle-class and suburban school district that hardly resembles the “failing” school systems you’re used to hearing about. According to the district’s website, Jeffco students “outperform the state in all grade levels and content areas” on state mandated achievement tests. Six of the district’s high schools rank in the top 40 of the 2014 Best High Schools in America according to U.S. News & World Report, and 11 elementary schools were listed as 5280 Magazine’s top public elementary schools.

 

And Jeffco is not a community where teachers’ unions are defending their turf from disgruntled parents. Parents, not union operatives, lead the numerous and frequent house parties like the one at Green Mountain Church.
What is also true about Jeffco is that the story unfolding here is one that is recurring across the country, as community after community becomes mired in debates about who gets to call the shots in education systems strained by unending financial austerity and an unremitting “reform” agenda whose intent is unclear to the people in its way….
Who’s Messin’ With Jeffco?

 

Over coffee at a Lakewood Starbucks, Kyle Ferris’ mother Barbara now dismisses the national media’s focus on her son’s activism as “the flavor of the day.”

 

For sure, Ferris supported her son’s actions. “When Kyle came to me saying he and other students wanted to stage a walkout, my input was to encourage him to clearly state his reasons for the walkout,” she recalls.

 

What she values most about the protest is, “It got a group of kids to demonstrate the critical thinking they were taught in class,” she says. “It increased their awareness of other big issues.”

 

What other big issues?

 

“A lot of the problems have risen from the new board that emerged from the recent election,” Ferris explains. “We now have a majority that is influenced by the Tea Party with an agenda right out of right-wing talk radio.”

 

Ferris also worries about the growing influence of charter schools in the district, pointing to recent actions the board has taken to send more money to charter schools at a time when neighborhood schools still haven’t recovered from the effects of the recession. She says parents are still reeling from the impact of fees, imposed after the recession hit, for bus transportation and other services, and she wonders why funding sent to charter schools isn’t instead being used to end the fees.

 

Ferris is quick to add that she is not opposed to the idea of charter schools. But the urgency to establish more of them now escapes her. “Jeffco already has a phenomenal choice system,” she explains.

 

Ferris, an Asian American who decided with her husband to move to Jeffco “for the schools,” now sees a troubling landscape in her community. “We’ve got great schools; we’ve got great teachers,” she says. “I don’t want things to get messed up.”

 

“Everyone believes they are doing the right thing,” she says. “But we don’t believe in the same things.”
Nothing Funny About This

 

One belief most in dispute in Jeffco is the role of community voice in running the schools. That issue is especially central to the parent-led house parties. Shawna Fritzler and Jonna Levine are two Jeffco parents who often lead those events. In some respects, they’re a collaboration of opposites. Fritzler is a lifelong Republican, while Levine is an avowed Democrat. Fritzler still has children in Jeffco public schools, while Levine’s children have graduated and moved on. The issue that initially brought them together was the chronic underfunding, in their minds, of Jeffco schools. They both actively campaigned for a countywide referendum — a “mill levy and bond” issue — to offset budget cuts from the state. The referendum passed.

 

But the target of their ire now is the new conservative school board majority, elected in 2013. In that election, a slate of three candidates— Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams— ran together and branded themselves “WNW.” The three candidates got the backing of the Jefferson County GOP and an organization called Jeffco Students First, a state-based education advocacy group patterned after the controversial national organization StudentsFirst (founded and formerly led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington, DC public schools). StudentsFirst and its Colorado state version promote an “education reform” agenda that favors charter schools, vouchers, grading schools and educators based on student test scores, and drastically altering teacher compensation, performance evaluation, and job protection….

 

 

So who are the outsiders invading Jeffco schools, and what do they want?

 

Jeffco public school activists describe a strange combination of forces undermining their local control, from right-wing operatives and evangelical Christians to billionaire businessmen and charter school entrepreneurs. The declared intentions of these characters span the culture war spectrum: with some holding high the values of freedom and patriotism and others claiming to fight “the civil rights cause of our time.”

 

But the way these Jeffco parents and educators see it, their community is being picked over the way a glutton works the all-you-can-eat salad bar. He may start off with a small plate, but he’s quickly back for more.

 

The influence of outsiders, in fact, is one of the factors that doomed the new board majority to controversy even before they were elected.

 

Dougco Is Coming

 

As an article in the Denver Post documented in November 2013, days before the election, three wealthy businessmen contributed an out-sized quantity of money— more than $200,000— to school board races in Colorado, including the effort to elect Witt, Newkirk and Williams in Jeffco.

 

None of the three men appears to live in Jefferson County. The first, C. Edward McVaney is co-founder of software company J.D. Edwards and founding trustee of Valor Christian High School, an independent private Christian high school in Douglas County Colorado. McVaney has a propensity for donating to school board candidates around the state who favor school vouchers. The second is Denver businessman Ralph Nagel, president of Top Rock LLC, an investment firm. The third is Alex Cranberg, CEO of Aspect Energy, who Forbes describes as a “Texas oilman.” Cranberg’s notoriety stems primarily from his company’s venture into oil drilling in Iraq.

 

The reporters introduce the trio as, “Financial backers who want school districts to adopt the anti-union, pro-voucher, and school-choice model set by Douglas County.” Another wealthy man, also from Douglas County, hosted a fundraiser to elect the WNW team. According to reporters, the bash raised another $30,000….

 

 

Another major influencer in the public education system in Colorado has been Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization founded by Charles and David Koch. As a report in Politico noted at the time of the Dougco school board race, “Americans for Prosperity is spending big” in support of candidates who favor an agenda of making schools “compete with one another for market share” and allowing tax money to go to religious education.

 

The reporter, Stephanie Simon, wrote, “Conservatives across the U.S. see Douglas County as a model for transforming public schools everywhere.”

 

Among those conservatives was former Florida governor, now declared presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, who donated $1,000 to each of the Koch-backed candidates in Dougco. Money raised for those conservatives dwarfed that raised for the challengers, ensuring a conservative win and establishing a theme that has been occurring throughout practically all of Colorado…..

 

 

Why Dougco?

 

There could be some justification for imposing the Dougco charter school model on Jeffco if there were real proof that model could generate genuine academic gains.

 

But based on analysis available at the Support Jeffco Kids website, there’s not much evidence it can.

 

One video posted on the site points out that the student demographics of the two districts are quite different, with Jeffco schools having a far more diverse spread of low-income versus upper-income students. Virtually all research shows that scores on standardized tests, the most commonly used metric for student achievement, are strongly correlated to family income, so taking student demographics into account is essential….

 

Another common argument for expanding charter schools is that they will bring innovation to a school district that has grown lazy due to “bureaucracy” and “complacent teachers.”

 

The influential charter school lobby in Colorado has promised that charters will be more “innovative” than public schools. But anyone who can’t find signs of innovation already in Jeffco public schools simply isn’t looking or has blinders on.

 

In fact, experts at the National Education Policy Center, a progressive education research center and think tank affiliated with the University of Colorado in Boulder, recently recognized two Jeffco high schools for being “Schools of Opportunity,” a designation for having “excellent practices designed to expand student opportunity and access to academic success,” according to the NEPC announcement.

 

NEPC’s School of Opportunity project analyzed schools in two states, Colorado and New York, based on 11 specific principles identified by experts as critical to closing “opportunity gaps” that exist between high-income school children and their lower income peers. Those principles include more and better learning time, a broader and richer curriculum, and attention to students’ individual academic, health and language needs.

 

The two Jeffco schools receiving this recognition were Jefferson County Open School, which received a Gold Medal, and Long View High School, which received Silver….

 

 

“I’m amazed and impressed at what we’re doing,” Fitzler says about Jeffco schools. “Is everything perfect? No. But you don’t tear down what’s working.”

 

Being a Republican, Fritzler initially needed to be convinced Jeffco public schools were being good financial stewards. She was also on the receiving end of the Republican messaging campaign that argued for budget cuts and more outsourcing to charter schools.

 

“So I looked for myself to see if there was any waste,” she says. “I didn’t find it. I was amazed at how far we were getting despite the cuts.”

 

So instead of tearing things down, what would Fritzler like to see instead?

 

“I want my school back,” she answers. “This is our community. We could leave if we want. But these are our schools.”

 

Levine adds, “They look at school governance like it’s a business decision. But it’s not a business decision. You can’t run a school district like a business … I want a board willing to treat community as partners. They go through the motions of doing this but they don’t do it….”

 

 

One thing parents in Jeffco believe for sure is they should have more of a democratic say-so in how their schools are run. Do their adversaries believe the same? Apparently, not so much.

 

*Correction: This article originally identified Lesley Dahlkemper as the current school board president; her correct title is in fact 2nd vice president.

 

A few days ago, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the voucher plan adopted by the school board in Douglas County was unconstitutional. It was a split decision. It is puzzling that it was a split decision, because the Colorado state constitution explicitly prohibits any public funding of religious institutions.
Text of Section 7:
Aid to Private Schools, Churches, Sectarian Purpose, Forbidden.

 

Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property, ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

 

s Hess at the American Enterprise Institute writes in the National Review that the U.S. Supreme Court might well decide to throw out this part of the state constitution because it was written in the late 1870s as a Protestant ban on funding Catholic schools. Such amendments, found in 2/3 of the states’ constitutions, are known as Blaine amendments for James G. Blaine of New York, who led the movement to keep public money out of religious schools.

According to the Denver Post, the Douglas County school board plans to appeal the ruling that declared vouchers unconstitutional. It will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The voucher program, which would use taxpayer money to send children to private schools, was put on hold in 2011 just as the first 304 students were about to enroll. Most planned to attend religious schools.

“The court found the program conflicts with “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

“Wrote the court “… this stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools.”

The article describes the county as a “wealthy suburban district.”

School board officials promised to fight for vouchers:

“During a news conference Monday morning, Douglas County school officials indicated they likely would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case for consideration. They also said they will immediately seek a legal way to proceed with vouchers.”

The Supreme Court of Colorado struck down the voucher program in Douglas County. It is unconstitutional, the justices said.

After a radical group won control of the public schools of Douglas County in Colorado, they enacted a plan for vouchers. Being a relatively affluent community, there was no baloney about “saving poor kids from failing schools.” The point was privatization of public funds intended for public schools.

Here is the story, as told by the nonpartisan group that brought the suit, called Taxpayers for Public Education.

Contact: Cindy Barnard
(303)905-3803

CO Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers

Douglas County Program Found to Violate State Constitution

“Denver, CO June 29, 2015) In a landmark legal decision today, the Colorado State Supreme Court struck down the Douglas County School District (DCSD) voucher program. In the case of Taxpayers for Public Education, et al., v. Douglas County School District, et al., the Court found that the program violates the Colorado Constitution.

“This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado,” said Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education (TFPE), one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools.”

“In this groundbreaking case, Michael McCarthy and Colin Deihl of the Denver office of Faegre Baker Daniels represented Taxpayers for Public Education pro bono. Other plaintiffs and intervenors in the suit included children and parents of the Douglas County School District, Douglas County citizens and several local and national organizations that support a strong and vital public education system.

“As we celebrate this important victory, we have to continue to closely watch the leaders of the Douglas County School District as they look to implement other programs and methods to intentionally erode the quality of public education in their own district,” said Barnard.

“Details of the Court’s ruling can be found on the Taxpayer for Public Education website at taxpayersforpubliceducation.org. ”

###

About Taxpayers for Public Education:
Taxpayers for Public Education, (TFPE), is a Colorado-based, bi-partisan, 501c4 organization. The members are Colorado taxpayers and parents of children enrolled in public schools. TFPE supports public education and believes that a strong public education system is instrumental in building and maintaining an extraordinary workforce that will keep American companies and American entrepreneurship viable and robust to meet the challenges in the years ahead.

For more information, please visit: http://www.taxpayersforpubliceducation.org.

Contact:

Cindy Barnard
President, Taxpayers for Public Education
(303) 905-3803
cindrabarnard@q.com

Anne Kleinkopf
Director, Taxpayers for Public Education
(720) 219-6253
annekleinkopf@msn.com

Michael McCarthy
Attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels
(303) 607-3670

Mason Barnard

Plaintiff/Former Douglas County Student

(303) 518 – 7939

###

The Pearson server crashed in Colorado as tens of thousands of students were taking online assessments in science and social studies.

It was not what you would call an opt out, but it had the same effect. The Brave Néw World of online assessment is not quite ready for prime time.

The Colorado legislature is considering legislation permitting parents to opt their children out of state testing. The legislation is opposed by corporate reformer State Senator Michael Johnston and corporate reform groups like Colorado Succeeds.

Johnston, drawing on his experience in Teach for America and a brief stint as a principal, was author of legislation passed in 2010 that made test scores count for 50% of teacher evaluations.

I was in Denver the day his dreadful legislation came to a vote, and we were supposed to debate before about 100 civic leaders. Johnston waited outside the room for me to finish my presentation, so he heard nothing to contradict his love of high-stakes testing. As soon as he entered the room, he told the audience about the passage of his “great schools, great teachers” bill.

I was happy to see this part of the AP story about legislation in Colorado:

“Several more testing-related bills await hearings this week, including proposals to reduce social studies testing and to eliminate all statewide tests not required by the federal government. Another bill would dismantle a 2010 requirement that teacher evaluations rely at least 50 percent on student test scores.”

That last item is Mike Johnston’s “historic” bill.

According to the Cherry Creek News, Colorado parents are trying to beat back another high-stakes testing bill by State Senator Michael Johnston. This one is aimed at kindergarten children. They would be required to pass a reading test or take remedial instruction.

Maybe kindergarten kids will stage protests or their parents will.

The last education reform bill by Johnston made test scores 50% of every teacher’s evaluation. He called it “Great Schools, Great Teachers,” all accomplished by the magic of standardized tests. That was 2010. How did that work out?

Colorado students are rallying to demand testing reform. This is THEIR issue. They have been subjected to test after test after test. They lose instructional time. They lose time for the arts and history and foreign languages to make more time for testing. Their scores can get their teachers and their principal fired. They are genuine patriots. Despite 12 years of testing, they have not been turned into robots. They are standing up for their right to a real education. They refuse to be crushed by the standardization machine. These students can teach the nation what matters most.

 

On Saturday, March 7th, from 11 am to 12 pm, high school students from schools around the state will join on the West Steps of the Denver Capitol.

 

They aim to have their voices heard on the issue of standardized testing in Colorado. The Colorado Measure for Academic Success (CMAS) test proved to be the uniting factor that prompted these students to raise concerns regarding the corporate ownership of tests such as the CMAS, as well as the ways in which they feel these tests are misaligned with curriculum design.

 

Other grievances regarding these tests include the fact that teachers cannot see the tests their students take, and that depending upon the school district, they feel teachers and schools can be unfairly jeopardized based upon the students’ scores. After contemplating this myriad of complaints and concerns, a group of high school seniors in Fort Collins began an organization known as ‘The Anti-Test’, a group which seeks to peacefully protest certain aspects of standardized testing for the sake of testing reform. They have organized this rally in Denver so that the voices of civically engaged students may be heard in what they ultimately believe is a student issue.

 

I hope they bring a special message of dissent to State Senator Michael Johnston, who wrote Senate Bill 191, which made high-stakes testing the focus of “reform” in Colorado. Johnston is a former member of Teach for America. He insisted that 50% of educators’ evaluation should be based on test scores. Making testing so important, he claimed in 2010, would produce “great teachers” and “great schools.” How has that worked out?

Last night, I posted an appeal to support Peggy Robertson, who is under fire for her bold advocacy of opting out of mandated testing.

 

The story in the Denver Post said that the Colorado Education Association was ambivalent about standing by Peggy. Its story said:

 

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said the state’s largest union has a legal duty to represent its members but also recognizes Colorado law requires standardized tests.

 

She said: “It may be difficult to defend those who don’t comply,. We absolutely will do our best to defend our members who are acting in the best interest of our students. “

 

There can be no doubt that Peggy Robertson is acting “in the best interest of our students” by defying the state.

 

In a comment sent to this blog, Kerrie Dallman, president of the CEA, says the Denver Post story was erroneous. The union will support Peggy.

 

She wrote:

 

There is no ambivalence, CEA will support Peggy if there is any job action take against her. We will do all that is within our power.

Clearly Denver Post writers did some picking and choosing from my comments provided to them.

Check out my guest commentary in the Denver Post on the same issue:

http://www.denverpost.com/guestcommentary/ci_27612734/education-reformers-denial?source=infinite

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