Colorado

Analyzing Colorado’s shot at the Top

R2T news conference
Gov. Bill Ritter with Esmeralda Aguilar, a member of the student group Project VOYCE, among those supporting the state's R2T application.

Will Colorado’s desire for collaboration doom the state’s chances of winning the Race to the Top?

That question lingered Tuesday after the state submitted its application to try to secure $377 million of the $4.35 billion federal grant.

Analysts who’ve followed the highly competitive national education reform competition for the past year have typically placed Colorado among the top 10 contenders for the prize.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged as much during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“We’re expecting to get a great application from Colorado,” Duncan said, declining more specific comment on any individual state’s chances.

But others were quick to point out what they see as the plan’s greatest weakness – the creation of a council to figure out how to link teacher pay, retention, dismissal and tenure to student academic growth rather than the details of a plan doing exactly that.

Nationally, a former U.S. Department of Education official noted Colorado was among the states opting for buy-in from stakeholders such as teachers’ unions over the creation of a definitive proposal.

“The state decided against making tough calls on teacher evaluations, potentially knocking a frontrunner back several spots,” wrote Andy Smarick on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog.

 

Be bold, or collaborative?

 

One D.C. insider slotted Colorado behind states such as Tennessee, where the teachers’ union signed on to a plan linking 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation to measures of student academic progress.

Florida also is favored over Colorado, though that state’s union president publicly fought a proposal linking teacher evaluations to student growth and requiring that data be used to implement merit pay.

Duncan has repeatedly called for bold ideas in states’ proposals but states also get points if they show broad support for their plans.

“With Obama and Arne Duncan, the question is do you reward states for leaping out front even if they may make a bunch of mistakes?” said Paul Teske, dean of the School of Public Affairs at CU-Denver.

“Or do you reward states, such as Colorado, where there’s really been a huge process of getting everybody on board and, as a result, you had to make compromises so the final result isn’t as bold as you’d like but you have the buy-in to make changes?”

From a researcher’s point of view, he noted, there are plenty of questions about linking student achievement to teacher performance.

For example, “when you’re looking at urban classrooms where half of the 25 kids at the beginning of the year are not the same 25 at the end of the year, 12 kids are statistically not enough to say whether the teacher really did well or badly,” Teske said. “The numbers are too small.”

 

Not interested in status quo

 

Colorado leaders on Tuesday agreed some states may wind up with “a better score” on their application.

But, “I would take our way of commiting to implementation over how some other states are doing it through conflict anyday,” said Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien. “We are arm and arm together.”

Duncan gave somewhat conflicting statements about whether broad support trumps a bold plan.

“What I see us doing is, we’re basically investing in states where the management team and all of the adults there are working together,” he said at one point in Tuesday’s conference call. “Just as in business you wouldn’t necessarily invest in a management team where people are fighting each other on different pages, we want to invest in those places that are working together.”

On the other hand, “If a state is getting consensus but doing it by perpetuating the status quo, well frankly, we’re not going to be that interested in doing it,” he said.

“What we think, and what we’re actually very confident, is that you’re going to have a set of states that both have folks working together on the same page and pushing a very strong reform agenda. So there’s a combination of those two that we’re going to look for. That’s how you’re going to win this competition.”

Duncan also repeated that there will be far more losers than winners among those competing in the first round of Race to the Top. Some are estimating no more than a handful of winners will be selected.

“This is a very, very difficult competition,” he said Tuesday. “This is not a race to the middle. This is a race to the top, and we meant what we said.”

 

Timeline for teacher changes

 

Colorado union leaders praised the state’s “unwavering commitment to pursuing a collaborative strategy” in a letter of support that accompanied its Race to the Top application.

Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, said the creation of a Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness “will give us the opportunity to work on this crucial issue and get it right.”

Here’s the timeline of the council’s work, according to the application:

  • By Dec. 31, 2010, the council will recommend statewide definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and adopt guidelines for identifying measures of their effectiveness.
  • By Sept. 30, 2011, the council will recommend policy changes, including changes in state law, to clear the way for school districts to use evaluations in determining teacher pay, retention, removal and tenure.
  • By fall 2012-13, all school districts participating in the Race to the Top will implement evaluation systems that have at least four ratings categories and that use student growth measures to determine at least 50 percent of a teacher or principal’s rating.
  • By 2013-2014, those districts will use their new evaluations in making decisions about the pay, promotion, retention and removal of teachers “after they have had ample opportunities to improve.”

“Teachers and principals will have timely feedback to identify areas for improvement, access to meaningful and relevant resources to address such areas, and ample opportunity to take advantage of such resources,” the application states.

 

‘Weak link nationwide’

 

Coverage of Race to the Top has focused on its emphasis on linking student growth to teacher evaluations, in part it’s the single largest chunk of possible points in the 500-point application.

It’s also controversial, and Colorado is far from the only state perceived by some as weak in that area.

“Teacher effectiveness is a weak link nationwide,” said Joe Williams, executive director of the New York-based Democrats for Education Reform, which supports many of the ideas pushed in the Race contest.

Colorado is seen as stronger in other key areas. Some states, including New York, tripped over efforts to loosen caps on charter schools – Colorado has no such limits.

The state has a student data system, the Colorado Growth Model, being adopted by others and it recently adopted “fewer, higher and clearer” academic standards in 13 content areas.

Still, the application promises to “dramatically transform public education” and initiatives spelled out in its 152 pages could do just that in the 134 districts statewide that have agreed to participate.

Small rural districts would receive unprecedented help in linking into, and using, the state’s student data system. Urban districts could get as much as $2 million per school to help turn around their lowest performers.    

Teachers would be asked to share model lessons and those whose lessons are rated highest by their peers would win $10,000. Students in high-poverty schools could benefit from a plan to ensure their teachers are just as effective in those at more affluent campuses.

Winners will be announced in April. If Colorado isn’t among them, round 2 kicks off in June.  

“If they make it through in the first round and are successful, fantastic,” Duncan said Tuesday of the application from Colorado officials. “If not, we expect them to come back in the second round.”

Click here to read Colorado’s Race to the Top application.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or 303-478-4573.

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.