Colorado

Charters at top, bottom of DPS ratings

New charter schools rank at the very top – and the very bottom – of Denver’s latest school report cards released Thursday.

West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, the first replication for the high-scoring charter network, topped the list of all city schools on DPS’ School Performance Framework, which considers achievement and growth on state tests along with factors such as student attendance and parent satisfaction.

The Harvey Park campus achieved 98 percent of possible points on the SPF, the highest score ever, while the original West Denver Prep campus achieved 88 percent – ranking it no. 4 on the schools’ list. Both campuses are in southwest Denver.

Find your school

At the other end of the spectrum is Manny Martinez Middle School, an Edison charter school that, like the Harvey Park campus, opened in fall 2009. Both charters are middle schools sharing space in traditional school buildings.

But the similarities appear to end there. Martinez achieved only 5 percent of possible points on the SPF, the lowest score of any school in the three-year history of the ratings.

‘Completely unacceptable’ performance

And while DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will highlight the achievement of West Denver Prep in a morning news conference at the Harvey Park campus, he’s taking a stern tone about Martinez.

* DPS this year created a subcategory of Accredited on Watch, called Accredited on Priority Watch, to spotlight the lowest-performing schools in the Watch category. It also better aligns with the state school ratings to be released in December. Of the 61 Watch schools, 22 are on Priority Watch.

Boasberg said DPS is talking with Edison “about what’s needed to see significant improvement” at Martinez, located inside West High School in downtown Denver.

“I think kids in this area need to see a dramatically better option this year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the performance is completely unacceptable.”

Some school board members, including Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area, voiced concerns about using Martinez as the default middle school for students who previously attended nearby Greenlee K-8.

DPS board members voted last November to approve a turnaround plan for Greenlee that removed middle school grades this fall. Those students are given the choice of Martinez or, further away, Dora Moore School.

Click here to see the presentation to the DPS board, including how the SPF is compiled and dollars attached for staff.

Boasberg said DPS has shown its willingness to intervene in low-performing schools, including charters. In the past two years, the district has closed or restructured its five lowest-scoring charters on the SPF – Amandla, Data, Skyline, P.S. 1 and Northeast Academy.

“We have a single accountability framework that treats all schools equally, district-run or charter,” he said. “And we have full capability with both district-run schools and charter schools that are not meeting student needs to intervene as necessary.”

Progress at the bottom

Thursday’s SPF ratings for 132 traditional schools, including charters, and 11 alternative campuses mark the third annual release of the school report cards.

Schools are given one of four possible ratings – Distinguished, Meets Expectations, Accredited on Watch or Accredited on Probation.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Since 2008, the number and percent of schools given the top rating of Distinguished has increased slightly, from ten schools in the first year to 12 this year.

But the biggest movement has come in the lowest category of Accredited on Probation, also known as the “red” schools.

In 2008, 30 traditional and five alternative schools were given that rating, or 24 percent of all schools. In 2010, that’s dropped to 12 percent or 14 traditional and three alternative schools.

Boasberg credits the focus on closing or reforming the lowest-performing schools, plans that have sparked heated opposition in some communities.

“I think that really shows the turnaround strategies are working,” he said. “We know the turnaround strategies are politically controversial. But we’re seeing in these two years a dramatic reduction in our lowest-performing schools.”

That “is really helping lead to the significant increase in growth that we’re seeing across the district” on state exams, he added.

Results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program released last month show Denver’s overall growth in reading, writing and math is more than double that of the statewide average since 2005.

Interventions, incentives tied to ratings

Of the 14 traditional “red” schools on the 2010 list, seven already are slated for closure or are in the midst of reform work.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

That includes Rishel Middle School, which will end its program after this year, and Montbello High School, the lowest-scoring high school on the SPF, which is slated to receive federal turnaround dollars.

The other seven schools include the new Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, which shares a building with West Denver Prep’s Harvey Park campus, and a neighborhood school in the “red” for a third straight year – Oakland Elementary in far northeast Denver.

Boasberg said any “red” schools that haven’t already received a visit from a Colorado Department of Education diagnostic team can expect one.

“The primary purpose of the school performance framework is really to help school communities -teachers and principals and parents – understand where the school is succeeding and also understand where the school needs improvement,” he said.

“And to give the level of information and detail and disaggregation that allows schools to plan how to make sure they’re … maintaining their areas of success and focusing on their areas that need improvement.”

The SPF ratings also are used to determine some performance pay for teachers and principals in DPS. Charter schools do not participate in either the teacher or principal plans, known as ProComp.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at [email protected]


Election Forum

Tennesseans are about to get their first good look at candidates for governor on education

PHOTO: TN.gov
Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks as his successor, Gov. Bill Haslam, listens during a 2017 forum hosted by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Tennesseans will elect their next governor in November.

For almost 16 years, two Tennessee governors from two different political parties have worked off mostly the same playbook when it comes to K-12 education.

This year, voters will choose a new governor who will determine if that playbook stays intact — or takes a different direction from the administrations of Bill Haslam, a Republican leaving office next January, and Phil Bredesen, the Democrat who preceded him.

Voters will get to hear from all but one of the major candidates Tuesday evening during the first gubernatorial forum televised statewide. Organizers say the spotlight on education is fitting since, based on one poll, it’s considered one of the top three issues facing Tennessee’s next governor. Both K-12 and higher education are on the table.

Candidates participating are:

  • Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet and former Tennessee state senator;
  • Randy Boyd, a Republican from Knoxville and former commissioner of Economic and Community Development and a Republican from Knoxville;
  • Karl Dean, a Democrat and former mayor of Nashville;
  • Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat from Ripley and minority leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Rep. Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville and speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives;
  • Bill Lee, a Republican businessman from Williamson County

The seventh major candidate, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican from Gallatin, is in the midst of a congressional session in Washington, D.C.

The next governor will help decide whether Tennessee will stay the course under its massive overhaul of K-12 education initiated under Bredesen’s watch. The work was jump-started by the state’s $500 million federal Race to the Top award, for which Tennessee agreed to adopt the Common Core academic standards for math and English; incorporate students’ scores from standardized tests in annual teacher evaluations; and establish a state-run turnaround district to intervene in low-performing schools at an unprecedented level.

Tennessee has since enjoyed steady student growth and watched its national rankings rise, but the transition hasn’t been pain-free. Pushback on its heavy-handed turnaround district led to changes in school improvement strategies. Leaders also ordered new academic standards due to political backlash over the Common Core (though the revised standards are still basically grounded in Common Core).

A major issue now is whether the next governor and legislature will retain Tennessee’s across-the-board system of accountability for students, teachers, schools and districts. Snafus and outright failures with TNReady, the new standardized test that serves as the lynchpin, have prompted some calls to make the assessment just a diagnostic tool or scrap it altogether. Haslam and his leadership team have stood firm.

“We as Tennesseans made the right call — the tough call — on the policies we’ve pursued,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat recently. “Nearly every other state has compromised in some way on some of these core foundational components of policy work, and we have not.”

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education, an advocacy group that works closely with Tennessee’s Department of Education, is a co-host of Tuesday’s forum. Known as SCORE, the group has sought to shape the election-year conversation with priorities that include teacher quality, improving literacy, and developing school leaders — all outgrowths of learnings during Tennessee’s Race to the Top era.

SCORE President David Mansouri said the goal is to maintain the momentum of historic gains in student achievement from the last decade. “The next administration’s education policy decisions will be crucial in determining whether Tennessee students continue to progress faster than students in other states and whether they graduate ready for postsecondary success,” he said Monday.

The one-hour forum will delve into a range of issues. College and career readiness, education equity, and school funding will be among the topics broached before each candidate is allowed a one-minute closing statement, according to David Plazas, a Tennessean editor who will help moderate the discussion.

“It will be really exciting,” Plazas promised. “We’re hoping the candidates are prepared to talk substantively on the issues and to avoid slogans.”

The event begins at 7 p.m. CT at Nashville’s Belmont University. Along with SCORE, it’s being co-hosted by USA TODAY NETWORK and Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. You can livestream the event here and learn more about attending or watching here.

Tennessee’s primary election is set for Aug. 2, with the general election on Nov. 6.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede