Who Is In Charge

Nearing finish line on key CAP4K task

What does a Colorado kid need to know to successfully move from high school to college, other training or the workforce?

Teams of Colorado educators and others think they’ve managed to answer that question in three pages that list the content knowledge and learning and life skills necessary for what’s called in current jargon “postsecondary and workforce readiness.” (The unavoidable acronym is “PWR.”)

Creation of that document is required by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law, which calls for descriptions of school and postsecondary/workforce readiness, new K-12 content standards, new statewide tests, adoption of high school graduation requirements by school boards and general alignment of the K-12 and postsecondary systems.

The State Board of Education got a look at an almost-final version of the PWR description Wednesday. The board and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education will meet together on June 30 to jointly adopt a final version. (Further tweaking is expected before that meeting.)

In broad terms, the document lists the content skills high school graduates should have in literacy, math, science, social science and the arts and humanities. The description also lists learning and life skills in nine areas.  (For more details, see the diagram on this page and the link below to the full document.)

According to the description, “Postsecondary education and workforce readiness assumes that students are ready to demonstrate the following without the need for remediation.”

Some may see the document as a statement of the obvious, but it’s meant to provide the broad guidelines for the more detailed requirements of CAP4K. Those include a total update of state content standards, due to be finished and approved by SBE in December, and selection of new state tests by December 2010. Following that school districts will have to align graduation requirements and curricula to the new state system.

The PWR description was developed by staff at the departments of education and higher education. Several public meetings on the issue were held around the state, and various K-12, higher ed and business groups also were consulted.

Do your homework

Draft description of postsecondary and workforce readiness
More information about CAP4K (CDE)

SBE cautious about national standards

Some board members Wednesday raised some concerns about the current push for national content standards.

Gov. Bill Ritter and education Commissioner Dwight Jones last month enlisted Colorado in a 49-state effort to develop common K-12 core content standards in English and math.

The project is organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers. National standards, at least voluntary ones, have drawn increasing interest recently as part of the broader debate about improving achievement and making American education more competitive internationally.  (Go here for more information from the NGA.)

Member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, remarked that the project “was not well met” by several people she had talked to in her district. “The idea that we would do this … kind of blew my mind,” Neal said, adding that she thinks the board should pass a resolution saying Colorado won’t be bound to adopt any eventual national standards.

Jones was quick to note that “just because we joined the effort … we are not bound to participate.” (Jones’ June 1 news release about the project did specify, “engagement in the effort in no way forms an obligation to adopt the proposed common core standards but potentially provides a way to leverage the good work already underway in the state.)

SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, noted that such voluntary national changes have a way of turning into federal requirements.  “It’s easy to say we’re not obligated” now, Schaffer said, but there could be problems down the road if national standards tied to federal money emerge. He cited No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top portion of the stimulus as examples.

So, Schaffer said, it wouldn’t hurt to pass a resolution. Member Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, agreed. Neal is expected to prepare a draft for consideration at the board’s August meeting.

Member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, was skeptical, saying, “We can’t speculate on what’s going to happen 10 years from now.”

Full text of Jones and Ritter June 1 standards announcement

A few words on school finance

The board took a few minutes in a packed agenda to meet with members of the legislative interim committee that will study the school finance system this summer and fall.

Board members had several pieces of advice.

“What we’re doing now isn’t going to get us” to significant education improvement, DeHoff said, urging finance reform but warning, “There is not this huge pot of money out there.”

“I really think you have an incredible opportunity … to make some pretty big changes,” said Gantz Berman. “Everything needs to be on the table,” including Amendment 23.

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, urged the committee to take a look at the cost of state-imposed mandates on school districts.

There also was brief discussion of outcome-based funding – supporting education based on student results rather than just enrollment and school days.

Schaffer urged the lawmakers to think “outside the box” but warned that interim committee recommendations often get drastically changed in the full legislature.

Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, had a blunt piece of advice about controlling education costs. “No new education bills – stop,” she told lawmakers in the audience.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.