Friday Churn: Wrong track?

Updated – A new report says U.S. education reforms are out of sync with what’s occurring in higher-performing countries and are unlikely to produce major improvements.

The report, from the National Center on Education and the Economy, sets out an agenda for improving American schools based on efforts undertaken in those countries whose students score the highest on international assessments.

Among the steps: less frequent standardized testing and a greater emphasis on the professionalization of teaching.

“We’ve been unwilling to pay teachers at the level of engineers,” Marc Tucker, NCEE president, told Education Week. “We’ve been solving our problems of teacher shortages by waiving the very low standards that we have. We have been frustrated by low student performance, and now, we’re blaming our teachers for that, which makes it even harder to get good people.”

Read the EdWeek article and see the full report, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

A community campaign will keep Jefferson County’s outdoor lab program open through 2011-12, district officials announced Thursday.

Closing the program, a popular rite of passage for Jeffco sixth-graders since the early 1960s, was part of a budget reduction package announced by the state’s largest school district in March.

But supporters of the Mt. Evans and Windy Peak Outdoor Lab schools, where students spend a week immersed in environmental education, rallied to raise dollars to keep it going. They set a June 15 deadline to raise $600,000.

Thursday, Jeffco officials said more than $625,000 had been raised – about half from community efforts, including an anonymous donor’s gift of $99,000, and the rest from matching district funds.

“As a result of conservative spending on the part of district departments during the 2010-11 budget year, Jeffco had $1.2 million in surplus funds,” district officials said in a news release. “Members of the Board of Education directed that $450,000 of that money be put toward the Outdoor Lab schools in matching funds.”

Students fees also will increase next year, from $199 per student to $300, to help support the program.

Also Thursday, Colorado Department of Education officials for the first time posted school and district improvement plans online, as required by the Education Accountability Act of 2009. You can access the plans via this SchoolView tool.

“We strongly encourage parents and community members statewide to explore these plans and learn more,” new education Commissioner Robert Hammond states in the news release. “Every school is unique and has its own story to tell.”

EdNews, which has written at length on the new school and district ratings required under the accountability act, checked out several improvement plans using the nifty data tool, focusing on those schools and districts rated “turnaround” – the lowest in the state.

As many required reporting documents are, the plans are blindingly bureaucratic in places: “Learning gaps are not efficiently identified and appropriately addressed to support concurrent instruction in the grade-level expectations” is one of many “root cause” analyses listed by Douglas County’s Hope Online about why students continue to lag significantly behind state averages on annual exams.

Others are more succinct: “Teachers have limited knowledge of state standards and a broad range of instructional strategies,” is a root cause listed for Denver’s Cheltenham Elementary.

Persistent readers can find interesting data. Denver’s Manny Martinez Middle School plan describes the academic deficits of children entering its program – 43% of incoming sixth-graders in fall 2010 were reading below grade level, with a quarter of those three or more grades behind.

Perhaps it’s the sheer work involved in publishing 179 district plans and 1,476 school plans but Thursday’s online posting is several weeks behind the April 15 deadline. Which made it even more surprising to see several of the plans obviously dated. For example, the Cheltenham plan is blank in some areas, advising readers that some information is “Not available until Nov 2010.”

Read the department’s news release for more details.

Educators at chronically low-performing schools will have a chance to compete for $6 million in federal turnaround grant dollars, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Thursday.

“When a school continues to perform in the bottom five percent of the state and isn’t showing signs of progress or has graduation rates below 60 percent over a number of years, something dramatic needs to be done,” he said. “Turning around our worst-performing schools is difficult for everyone but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids.”

The $6 million is Colorado’s share of the total $546 million available to states for the School Improvement Grant program in fiscal year 2010. That’s a lot less than the $3.5 billion available in 2009. Details.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Data drops – Two interesting education data reports were released this week:

  • Public Education Finances 2009, a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows “Public school systems spent an average of $10,499 per pupil in fiscal year 2009, a 2.3 percent increase over 2008” and other trends. New York spent the most of any state, averaging $18,126 per pupil while Colorado came in 40th at $8,718 – federal, state and local sources were included.
  • The Condition of Education 2011 also focuses on trends, such as the overall increase in bachelor’s degrees earned between 1975 and 2010 by white, black and Hispanic 25 to 29-year-olds. Yet the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between blacks and whites during that period increased from 13 to 19 percentage points and the gap between whites and Hispanics increased from 15 to 25 percentage points. It’s from the National Center for Education Statistics.


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.