Future of Schools

Monday Churn: Second half kicks off

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Monday is the 62nd of the 2011 legislature’s 120 days, and as lawmakers move into the second half, their attention will turn increasingly to the 2011-12 budget, which is expected to see significant cuts to K-12 schools and noticeable ones to higher education.

The March state revenue forecasts will be issued Friday, setting the base on which the budget will be built.

Some key education measures are on the calendar this week, including House Bill 11-1270, the parent-trigger proposal that will be heard in the House Education Committee this afternoon. If this one advances through the House, it’s given little chance in the Senate. The Colorado Education Association, which lobbies actively at the statehouse but which makes public statements on only a few bills every session, has publicly opposed this one.

The concussion bill, Senate Bill 11-040, faces a final House vote this morning, as does the “recess” bill, House Bill 11-1069, in the Senate.

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee will take up Senate Bill 11-052, the proposal to base 25 percent of higher education funding on performance measures starting in 2016-17. While influential legislators and the Hickenlooper administration are interested in this idea, college leaders are wary of changing the financial rules at a time when state funding is dropping.

On Friday, the Senate may take up one of the most ideologically charged education measures of 2011, Senate Bill 11-126. That’s the proposal to make undocumented students eligible for lower tuition rates.

Meanwhile, expect a newsy week in school districts as well. The Douglas County school board is set to vote on a voucher pilot on Tuesday while the Denver school board takes up the restructuring of its pension plan on Thursday.

What’s on tap:

(Go here for the full legislative calendar.)

MONDAY

A Denver school board closed executive session starts at 4 and an open work session begins at 4 p.m., 900 Grant St. The bulk of the meeting time is devoted to prep for Thursday’s vote on the district pension restructuring. Agenda.

Cherry Creek school board meets starting at 6:30 p.m. at West Middle School, 5151 S. Holly St., Greenwood Village. Agenda.

TUESDAY

The Jefferson County school board holds a special meeting on state legislation at 7:30 a.m. in room 354 at the state Capitol. Agenda.

The Douglas County school board convenes at 5 p.m., 620 Wilcox, Castle Rock. A closed session is scheduled to last until 6:30 p.m., when the board goes into open session. A vote on the district’s voucher proposal is scheduled at 8 p.m., following public comment set for 7:30 p.m. Agenda.

The Aurora school board meets at 6 p.m. in the Educational Services Center, 1085 Peoria St. Agenda.

WEDNESDAY

The Adams 12-Five Star board meets starting at 5 p.m., Educational Support Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. Agenda.

The St. Vrain school board holds a study session at 6 p.m. in the Erie High School Commons, 3180 County Road 5, Erie.

THURSDAY

The Denver school board holds a regular meeting beginning at 5 p.m. and a public comment session beginning at 6:30 p.m., 900 Grant St. Agenda.

FRIDAY

The State Council for Educator Effectiveness meets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., location to be determined.

The March state revenue forecasts will be issued during a Joint Budget Committee hearing at 1:30 p.m. in room A of the Legislative Services Buildings, 200 E. 14th Ave.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Reform fail? Things were bad in Detroit Public Schools, and then the radical changes began. New York Times.

Pushback

National head of DFER after Colorado Democrats’ platform vote: ‘We’re not going anywhere’

PHOTO: Newark Trust
DFER President Shavar Jeffries

The national head of Democrats for Education Reform responded to the dramatic rejection of his organization at the Colorado Democratic Party state assembly with a simple message: We’re not going anywhere.

In an email to supporters that he also posted on Medium Thursday, Shavar Jeffries laid out his credentials as a Democrat and said disagreements over education policy should remain a “family fight.”

“We understand that on some issues, some in our party disagree with us,” Jeffries wrote. “We welcome that disagreement, and we welcome the debates that ensue periodically. We stay true to our principles because we believe our vision best reflects the values of the party and the outcomes we seek for young people.

“But we will fight  –  when fights are necessary  –  anchored in the understanding that this is a family fight and thus we will not engage in the politics of personal destruction against those with whom we disagree.”

Jeffries went on to blame the election of President Donald Trump on an unwillingness among Democrats to set aside their differences.

“Trump is president to a large degree because progressives and liberals engaged in a civil war over the 10 percent of policies where we might disagree, as opposed to uniting around the 90 percent where we agree,” Jeffries wrote. “Hillary Clinton was booed at the DNC convention in 2016 by the same forces that still seek to sow division within our party. Our unity is our best weapon against the ongoing assault to our democracy visited upon the country each day by Trump.”

Jennifer Walmer, the head of the Colorado chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, was booed down by delegates at Saturday’s assembly. Those delegates went on to adopt into the official party platform a call for DFER to stop using “Democrats” in its name.

Former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the backing of the teachers unions, won 62 percent of the vote at the party assembly. The platform vote happened later in the day, after some of the more than 3,000 delegates had left.

It’s not clear how the platform provision could be enforced. Some members want the party to send a cease-and-desist letter to Democrats for Education Reform, something the Los Angeles Democratic Party tried in 2012, with no apparent effect.

The Colorado vote drew cheers and jeers locally and around the country. In New York City, one blog called it a “ray of sunshine” that could signal cracks in support for reform policies. Meanwhile, conservatives used the vote to cast Democrats as extremists. The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette said it represented “a far-left shift in the Democratic Party.”

Education reform has become an increasingly divisive issue within the Democratic Party. Since the 2016 presidential election, opponents of a suite of reform policies, like charter schools and test-based teacher accountability laws, have increasingly sought to tie Democratic proponents of these policies to the unpopular president and his education secretary.

Jeffries said his organization would not be dissuaded by those tactics.

“If our intra-party opponents would prefer counter-productive family warfare as opposed to unity around shared values, this should be clear too: We stand with the millions of families across our country demanding access to high-quality public schools and the thousands of elected Democrats who fight tirelessly to ensure they get it,” he said. “We are not going anywhere.”

You can read Jeffries’ entire statement here.

get out the vote

Can schools encourage students to be more involved citizens? A new study suggests yes they can.

Democracy Prep charter network superintendent Seth Andrew at a 2012 admissions lottery event.

In a city of roughly 1,800 schools, many have names that have little to do with what students experience.

Not so for Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that a new study concludes makes students far more likely to vote once they turn 18.

The study, conducted by independent researchers commissioned by Democracy Prep, took advantage of New York City’s charter school admissions rules to examine the impact of applying to, getting accepted to, and enrolling in the network’s schools on later civic participation.

Looking at more than a thousand students who applied between 2007 and 2015 who were old enough to vote in 2016, the researchers found that just being selected in the admissions lottery was correlated with a slight increase in voting rates. Students who were chosen voted 6 percentage points more often than students who were not.

The impact was much greater on students who were chosen and actually enrolled: They voted 24 percentage points more often than students who applied but never got a chance to attend.

The findings suggest that Democracy Prep is achieving its explicit goal of promoting civic participation. They also offer one answer to the question of whether charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, undermine democracy.

“Democracy Prep provides a test case of whether charter schools can successfully serve the foundational purpose of public education—preparation for citizenship—even while operating outside the direct control of elected officials,” the researchers write. “With respect to the critical civic participation measures of registration and voting, the answer is yes.”

Seth Andrew, who started the network with a single middle school in Harlem in 2006, said he was pleased by the findings — and unsurprised, because the network has baked civic participation into its culture and academic program. Students must take on a personal “Change the World” project and pass the U.S. citizenship exam to graduate.

“This idea of ‘change the world’ was very central to what we were trying to get our kids prepared and excited to do,” he said.

Creating more engaged citizens takes more than just adding a civics class, said Katie Duffy, the CEO of Democracy Prep. Schools have to make democracy a part of the daily culture, she said.

“The more you talk about the importance of voting, the importance of elections, the importance of advocacy,” she said, “the more it becomes ingrained in our kids.”

The network has also long used Election Day — when district-run schools are often closed so their buildings can be used as polling stations — as a teachable moment.

In 2008, Democracy Prep students spent the day working to get out the vote in their neighborhoods. Four years later, Democracy Prep schools were among the few housed in city space that got special permission to stay open — and the network sent students out to advance the “Vote for Somebody” campaign it had kicked off in a catchy viral video. The next year, students promoted a different message — “I can’t vote but you can” — in an effort to boost the city’s 11 percent primary election voter participation rate.

The network’s influence extends far beyond its students. In 2012, six years into the network’s existence, officials estimated that students had helped 5,000 New Yorkers register to vote. Now, the network runs 22 schools in five states.

Andrew said the study’s findings about the impact of the network — which he left in 2012 to work on other civic engagement initiatives, including at the White House — offer only a start at a time when the United States lags behind other developed countries in voter turnout.

“I was thrilled with the outcome,” said Andrew. “But the as the guy that founded Democracy Prep I feel like there’s a whole lot of room to grow.”

Correction: A previous version of this story described the increase in voting caused by Democracy Prep as a percent figure, rather than in percentage points.