Colorado

Peter Groff weighs in on Dougco reforms

The Democratic former president of the state Senate has weighed in on Douglas County’s lively education debate with a paper that approves of the district’s education reforms.

Peter Groff now runs MCG2 Consulting in Virginia and travels widely speaking and consulting on education issues. Groff represented northeast Denver districts in the House and Senate from 2000 to 2009 and was elected Senate president in 2007. He left the legislature in 2009 to take a position at the U.S. Department of Education.

Former House Speaker Terrance Carroll and Groff were the leading Democratic voices for educational choice and charter schools in the legislature during the first part of the last decade.

Groff’s seven-page review of Dougco, titled “The Impact of a World Class Education,” covers largely familiar ground about Colorado education reform and Dougco’s efforts to expand parent choice (including a voucher plan), create new evaluation systems for district personnel and change academic standards so that they meet international benchmarks.

“Even districts with relatively high achievement scores, low academic gaps and middle class and wealthy families must respond to the challenges and the expectations of parents with choice and innovative options,” Groff wrote. “Douglas County is one such district.”

Noting the district’s relatively high achievement results, he continued, “Whereas many districts with that type of relative success would be satisfied, DSCD has pursued a transformative effort to overturn a system it has seemingly mastered because it realized the current results are not preparing its graduates to compete in the global economy.”

Peter Groff - File photo
Peter Groff – File photo

Discussing the economic implications of a well-educated workforce, the paper concludes, “DCSD’s innovation and commitment to give all students a world-class education by using all means necessary will ensure the continued success and greatness of Colorado and America.”

During a visit with EdNews Tuesday, Groff said he got interested in doing the paper at the suggestion of a Republican former Senate colleague, Josh Penry.

Groff said he thinks Dougco is now far enough along in its choice program that schools can truly attend to individual student needs, and that “Denver is close to being able to be in that position.”

The voucher, or scholarship, element of Dougco’s program is being challenged in the courts. Groff said he thinks “It still works” without vouchers, but one group of parents will be left out – those who feel their children’s needs are best met in private schools – if the voucher program ultimately is tossed out.

Groff said he initially was skeptical of vouchers but feels the Dougco program meets the tests of being accountable, accessible and affordable. He credits the district’s system of forming partnerships with private schools for that.

The Dougco Republican Party has been heavily involved in school board elections for the last four years. Asked about that, Groff said such partisan involvement “generally is a bad thing.” But he noted Denver school board races are equally intense but that it’s “an interparty struggle” among Democrats in DPS.

Groff differed with the Dougco board on one issue. Asked about Amendment 66, he said, “If I were here I’d vote for that.”

Groff produced the paper for the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a self-described “free-enterprise think tank” that commissions research on economic issues. He presented his views to the group Tuesday morning.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.