year in review

For Colorado’s lowest performing schools, 2016 was make-or-break

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Scott Carpenter principal Chadwick Anderson reads an inspirational quote during the morning announcements.

Improving chronically low-performing schools is one of the hardest jobs in education.

And for dozens of Colorado districts and schools, 2016 amounted to a make-or-break moment. That’s because after a one-year pause, the state’s “accountability clock” began ticking again.

Districts and schools that didn’t show enough improvement on this year’s English and math state exams faced possible sanctions from the State Board of Education.

Schools could be shut down, converted to a charter or redesigned as an innovation school. Schools awarded innovation status receive waivers from local policies and state law similar to charter schools. But they’re still governed by their district’s school board.

Districts could be asked to reorganize or hand over some of their operations to a third party.

The 18,000-student Pueblo City Schools was expected to be the biggest challenge facing the state. The district, as well as 12 schools, were considered chronically failing prior to preliminary quality ratings released in October. But nine schools boosted learning enough to be spared sanctions. The district was also taken off the state’s watch list.

Sheridan and Ignacio are among the districts that had languished on the state’s accountability watch list but bounced off at the last minute.

Thanks to an overhaul of the reading curriculum and other changes, Thornton Elementary School in the Adams 12 Five Star District also showed enough improvement to be spared sanctions.  

Two Westminster schools that were facing sanctions, including M. Scott Carpenter Middle School, moved off the list. However, eight new schools were put on the list, keeping the district’s accreditation in jeopardy. (Districts that fail to adhere to the state’s sanctions risk losing their seal of approval, potentially putting federal funding at risk.)

Five districts and as many as a dozen schools could end up facing some form of sanction from the state board. The state is expected to release school quality ratings in January.

There were numerous other efforts in 2016 to boost student learning at schools that were either not on the state’s accountability watch list or were not facing immediate sanctions. And early signs showed progress.

At Boston K-8 in Aurora, the school adopted a new writing curriculum and carved out new joint planning time for teachers. Those efforts led to some of the state’s best academic growth scores. Academic growth measures how much a student learns year-to-year compared to their academic peers.  

At one Jefferson County elementary school that serves a large population of English language learners, most students participating in an after-school reading club saw their literacy skills improve dramatically.

In Denver, officials in the state’s largest school district have found giving principals more time to plan school improvement efforts pays off. This year, the district gave principals tasked with turning around low-performing schools a “Year Zero” hoping it makes the work more doable and sustainable.

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”

student says

Here’s what New York City students told top state officials about school segregation

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Students discussed attending racially isolated schools at the Board of Regents meeting.

New York state’s top policymakers are wading into a heated debate about how to integrate the state’s schools. But before they pick a course of action, they wanted to hear from their main constituents: students.

At last week’s Board of Regents meeting, policymakers invited students from Epic Theatre Ensemble, who performed a short play, and from IntegrateNYC4Me, a youth activist group, to explain what it’s like to attend racially isolated schools. New York’s drive to integrate schools is, in part, a response to a widely reported study that named the state’s schools — including those in New York City — as the most segregated in the country.

The Board of Regents has expressed interest in using the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to address this issue and released a draft diversity statement in June.

Here’s what graduating seniors told the Board about what it’s like to attend school in a segregated school system. These stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

“I have never, ever had a white classmate.”

Throughout my years of schooling and going to school, I have never, ever had a white classmate. It’s something that now that I’m getting ready to go to college, it’s something to really think about, and I don’t think that we’re moving in the right direction. I went to the accepted student day at my college — I’m going to SUNY Purchase. I went there, and I’m being introduced into this whole new world that I never was exposed to.

It’s really a problem. I know I’m not the only one because I have family members and I spoke to some of my brothers and I’m like, “I have never encountered a white classmate in my whole life.” Just to show you how important [it is] to integrate the schools. Just so future kids don’t have to deal with that.

It wasn’t in my power for me to be able to have different classmates. I think in our school, we had one Asian girl, freshman year. She was there for literally like two days and she left so I have been limited in my school years to just African-Americans and Latinos.

So now that I’m getting ready to step out there, this is something I’ve never had to deal with. So the issue is something that’s really deep and near to my heart and now that I’m going to college I have to, you know, adapt. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game.

— Dantae Duwhite, 18, attended the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, going to SUNY Purchase in the fall


“I saw how much of a community that school had.”

I first became involved in IntegrateNYC4me my junior year when we were having a school exchange between my school in Brooklyn [Leon M. Goldstein] and Bronx Academy of Letters.

When I went into the [school] exchange, I was really excited to see how different the other school would be. But when I got there, I saw how much of a community that school had and personally, I didn’t feel that in my school. My school is majority white and it’s just very segregated within the school, so [I liked] coming into [a different] school and seeing how much community they had and how friendly they are. They just say hi to each other in the hallways and everybody knows each other and even us. We went in and we’re like strangers and they were so welcoming to us and I know they didn’t have the same experience at our school. That really interested me and that’s how I got into the work.

If it weren’t so segregated, it could be so easy for all of us to have a welcoming community like the Bronx Letters students did.

— Julisa Perez, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, a screened high school in Brooklyn and will attend Brooklyn college in the fall


“They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment.” 

I also went on the exchange my junior and senior year. The first time I did it was my junior year and when I went to Bronx Letters, the first thing I noticed was how resources were allocated unfairly between our schools.

Because, at my school, we have three lab rooms:, a science lab, a chemistry lab and a physics lab. And at Bronx Letters, they never even had a lab room, they just had lab equipment. And I think it’s important to see that all New York City students are expected to meet the same state requirements. They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment and they’re not given the same resources. So I think it’s unfair to expect the same of students when they’re not given equitable resources. That is what I took away from it.

— Aneth Naranjo, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, will attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the fall