First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Poudre elementary fifth-graders prep for ECO Week

A drizzly rain didn’t dampen the excitement of Laurel Elementary fifth-graders as they searched for insects, plants and rocks while learning about ecosystems at the Poudre River.

Poudre fifth-graders doing research as part of ECO WEek.The Laurel Elementary School of Arts and Technology fifth-graders recently went on field trips to the Poudre River and to Horsetooth Mountain Park to prepare for their turn at ECO Week in October. Many fifth-graders in Poudre School District participate in the annual ECO (ecology) Week excursions to the mountains in the fall to study ecological lessons. ECO Week, which is usually held in Pingree Park or Estes Park, is a key component in helping students achieve standards in both science and social studies.

While experiences vary by participating schools, ECO Week activities may include lessons on the environment, streams, landform identification, stargazing and astronomy. Memorable group experiences, team building and hiking are often a part of the experience as well.

Reactions to SB 191 rules seem positive

The clock is ticking for the State Board of Education to adopt regulations for implementing the educator effectiveness law, and the last full public hearing on the issue drew a large crowd Wednesday.

The drafting process has been going on for months, often focused on debate over how much flexibility school districts should have in designing systems to evaluate principals and teachers. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Middle school changes credited for DPS enrollment growth

Preliminary enrollment numbers for Denver Public Schools show that for the first time, the district is educating more than 80,000 students. The official count, done Friday, shows the DPS student census increased to 81,438, up 2,015 pupils from the year before. Read more in the Denver Post.

Math-class methods multiply in Denver schools

When Julie Selsberg’s elementary school son and daughter have math homework, Selsberg reads instructions on worksheets and learns the math before helping her kids.

“We do follow how they do it first because we don’t want to frustrate them,” Selsberg said. “But sometimes they can do it our way better.” Read more in the Denver Post.

As expected, Colorado schools fall behind on yearly progress target

Fewer Colorado schools and districts met “Adequate Yearly Progress” targets established by the No Child Left Behind law this year than last year.

The data were made public Tuesday by the Colorado Department of Education. In 2011, 46 percent of schools in Colorado met their targets, down from 62 percent in 2010. Read more in the Denver Post.

Enrollment window opens in Dougco schools

The Douglas County Board of Education has approved a change to the Open Enrollment window. It will now open Nov. 1, 2011, and close Jan. 5, 2012.

The board, acting on feedback from several departments following the first year of the Douglas County School District’s new open enrollment policy, moved the window up so the district can provide staffing guidelines to schools by mid-February.

Families who wish to open enroll their student, must complete an application, available online at www.dcsdk12.org beginning Nov. 1. Applications are accepted for the following school year on a space-available basis.

As of March 15, the New Student Choice Enrollment application is available to families who move to Douglas County during the school year and want to enroll their student into a school other than their attendance area school. These families may apply for open enrollment at the requested school during the current school year. New Student Choice Open Enrollment forms are available at all district schools and on the website. Students are not eligible to enroll if the requested school is capped or has students on the prioritized wait list for the current year.

For more information, visit the district website at www.dcsdk12.org.

Study: Most U.S. states score an ‘F’ on civil rights education

American students are increasingly ignorant of the basic history of the civil rights movement, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The study finds that the further states are from the South, and the smaller their African-American populations, the worse they fare in civil rights educational standards. The report blames states’ academic standards for public schools as a leading cause. Read more in TIME Magazine.

Lack of math emphasis in schools doesn’t add up

Is U.S. education like the weather? Everyone talks about it but no one can quite figure out how to improve it?

Education theory has changed over the years from the days when students were bolted to their seats and kept their mouths shut amid threats of being sent to the principal’s office to today’s more relaxed classrooms where students roam freely and say whatever pops into their heads. Read more at UPI.

CU-Boulder initiative promotes K-12 school diversity

A new initiative housed at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado will focus on promoting school diversity and student achievement.

The Initiative on Diversity, Equity and Learning, launched this week, is funded through a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation. The goals are to serve as a clearinghouse for ideas related to school diversity and student achievement, explain existing research and develop new research and ideas. Read more in the Daily Camera.

U.S. surpassed in education ratings

In China, students have longer school days and longer school years than their peers in the United States.

China also has more rigorous academic standards, which focus largely on math and science. China’s smartest students are pushed through the K-12 system and guaranteed spots in major universities.

That birth-to-college-graduation mentality doesn’t exist in America and it needs to change if the United States is going to compete in the 21st century global workforce, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Miller said recently at an education conference in Miami. Read more in the News-Press.

October is Head Start Awareness Month

Join Community Partnership for Child Development (CPCD) in its observance of Head Start Awareness Month through October. CPCD will be hosting community events and campaigns to spread awareness about the importance of early childhood education, both locally and nationally.

CPCD is a nonprofit organization that provides free comprehensive early childhood development and family programs for families with children, prenatal through age five, who are living in limited income homes, have special needs or experience other adverse circumstances that could challenge their readiness for kindergarten. CPCD currently serves more than 1,900 children each year in El Paso County through Early Head Start, Head Start and the Colorado Preschool Program.

Created in 1965, Head Start is the most successful, longest-running, national school readiness program in the United States, with more than 25 million alumni to date. On average, Head Start graduates rank higher in language, literacy, social conduct and physical development than their non-Head Start peers. Head Start children are also significantly more likely to complete high school and attend college than those who did not participate in the program.

CPCD’S HEAD START AWARENESS MONTH ACTIVITIES:

  • Garden of the Gods Gourmet Community Dinner benefit, Sunday, Oct. 23, 5-8 p.m., The Carter Payne
  • 2011 WHY? Community Breakfast, Thursday, Oct. 27, 7:30-8:30 a.m., DoubleTree Hotel
  • CSBJ Diversity & Inclusion Awards, Nominee, Thursday, Oct. 20, 11:30 a.m., Cheyenne Mountain Resort
  • Three unique volunteer opportunities, Saturday, Oct. 8, 15 & 22. For more information, contact Delberta Uvalle at (719) 884-1411.

First Person

I’m an Oklahoma educator who had become complacent about funding cuts. Our students will be different.

Teacher Laurel Payne, student Aurora Thomas and teacher Elisha Gallegos work on an art project at the state capitol on April 9, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

I’ve spent the last 40 years watching the state I love divest in its future. The cuts to education budgets just kept coming. Oklahoma City Public Schools, where I spent the last 10 years working with teachers, had to cut over $30 million in the 2016-17 academic year alone.

Over time, students, teachers, and parents, at times including myself, became complacent. We all did what we could. For me, that meant working with the students and teachers in the most disenfranchised areas of my city.

In the past 18 months, that has also meant working at Generation Citizen, a nonprofit promoting civics education across Oklahoma. We help students deploy “action civics.” Over the course of a semester, students debate what they would change if they were in charge of their school, city, or state, and select one issue to address as a class, which may involve lobbying elected officials or building a coalition.

Their progress has been incredible. But when teachers across the state decided to walk out of their schools and head to the State Capitol to demand additional funding for education, action civics came to life in a huge way. And in addition to galvanizing our teachers, I watched this moment in Oklahoma transform young people.

My takeaway? Over the long term, this walkout will hopefully lead to more funding for our schools. But it will definitely lead to a more engaged youth population in Oklahoma.

These past two weeks have sparked a fire that will not let up anytime soon. With actual schools closed, the Oklahoma State Capitol became a laboratory rich with civic experimentation. Students from Edmond Memorial High School wanted elected officials to personally witness what students and teachers continue to accomplish, and when the walkout started, the students started a “Classroom at the Capitol.” Over 40 students held AP English Literature on the Capitol lawn. Their message: the state might not invest in their classrooms, but classes would go on.

In the first few days of the walkout, the legislature refused to take action. Many wondered if their voices were being heard. That’s when Gabrielle Davis, a senior at Edmond Memorial, worked to rally students to the Capitol for a massive demonstration.

“I want the legislators to put faces to the decisions they’re making,” Gabrielle said.

By Wednesday, the “Classroom at the Capitol” had grown to over 2,000 students. The students were taking effective action: speaking knowledgeably on the funding crisis, with a passion and idealism that only young people can possess.

As students’ numbers grew, so did their confidence. By Wednesday afternoon, I watched as the state Capitol buzzed with students not only protesting, but getting into the nitty-gritty of political change by learning the names and faces of their elected officials.

By Thursday and Friday, students and teachers were no longer operating independently. The collaboration which makes classroom learning most effective was happening in the halls of the Capitol. When students identified the representative holding up a revenue bill, they walked through the line to find students from his home district to lead the charge.

Last Monday, with the walkout still ongoing, the students I saw were armed with talking points and legislative office numbers. After another student rally, they ran off to the offices of their elected officials.

Two students, Bella and Sophie, accompanied by Bella’s mom, made their way to the fourth floor. The girls stood outside the door, took a deep breath, and knocked. State Senator Stephanie Bice was in a meeting. They stepped out to decide their next move and decided to write personal notes to their state senators. With letters written, edited, and delivered, Bella and Sophie were beaming.

“That feels so good,” Sophie said.

A week of direct civic action had turned protesters into savvy advocates.

Until this walkout, most of the participating students had never met their elected officials. But that’s quickly changing. Students have worked collaboratively to demystify the legislative process, understand the policy goals articulated by organizing groups, and advocate for revenue measures that would support a more equitable education system.

Jayke, a student from Choctaw, reflected on this reality. “These last few days at the Capitol I have learned more about life and how to stand up for what I believe.”

That’s no small thing. Over those 14 days, I listened to students use their voices to express their experiences. Many also spoke on behalf of students who were not there. They spoke for the 60 percent of Oklahoma public school students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. They rallied for the students at each of their schools who do not have enough food to eat.

Through this conflict, our students are learning the importance, and the mechanics, of political participation. Our young people are becoming powerful in a way that will outlast this funding crisis. It’s everything a civics educator could hope for.

Amy Curran is the Oklahoma site director for Generation Citizen, an education nonprofit.

First Person

Let’s solve the right problems for Detroit’s students with disabilities — not recycle old ones

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

First Person is a standing feature where guest contributors write about pressing issues in public education. Want to contribute? More details here

As Superintendent Nikolai Vitti approaches his first anniversary of leading the struggling Detroit Public Schools Community District, I commend him for his energy and vision. In particular, I applaud his focus on developing a robust curriculum and hiring great teachers, the foundations of any great school district.

However, his recently announced plans to create new specialized programs for students with disabilities are disconcerting to me, given decades of research demonstrating the benefits of inclusion.

Specifically, Vitti has discussed the possibility of creating specialized programs for students with autism, dyslexia, and hearing impairments. The motivation is twofold: to meet students’ needs and to offer distinct programs that will attract parents who have fled Detroit in search of higher quality schools.

I’ve spent 25 years both studying and actively trying to improve schools for students with disabilities, and I can understand why Vitti’s proposal may have appeal. (I’m now the head of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.) But while the specialized programs might fill a critical need immediately, I have seen the downside of creating such segregated programming.

Once the programs are created, parents will seek them out for appearing to be the better than weak programs in inclusive settings. This will reinforce the belief that segregation is the only way to serve students with learning differences well.

This is a problematic mindset that we must continually try to shift. One need only to examine decades of special education case law, or the outcomes of districts designed solely for students with disabilities — such as District 75 in New York City or the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support — to see that such segregated settings can become one-way paths to limited access to a robust curriculum, peers without disabilities, or high standards, even when those districts are created with the best of intentions.

While a small proportion of students with the most significant support needs — typically 2-3 percent of students identified for special education — can benefit from more segregated and restrictive settings, the vast majority of students with disabilities can thrive in inclusive settings.

Vitti is clearly committed to ensuring that students with disabilities have access to essential supports and services, especially students with dyslexia. He has spoken passionately about his own experiences growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia as well as watching two of his four children struggle with dyslexia. And Vitti and his wife started a school for students with dyslexia in Jacksonville, Florida.

However, I would urge him to reconsider his approach in favor of exploring strategies to integrate robust supports and services into existing schools. By integrating, rather than separating, Vitti can ensure that all students have access to the general education curriculum and to teachers with demonstrated subject knowledge.

Furthermore, integrated programs ensure that students with disabilities have access to their typically developing peers and, conversely, that these peers have access to special education teachers’ expertise.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing such inclusive programs in action around the country. For example, at San Diego’s Thrive Public Schools, there is no discernible distinction between students receiving special education services and students who are not. When I visited earlier this year, I saw how special education teachers work alongside general education teachers and share responsibilities for all students, not just those with disabilities.

At Mott Haven Academy in New York, teachers and school leaders preemptively deter behavioral issues and incorporate opportunities for intentional reflection. Students learn in a restorative environment that is safe, stable, structured, and understanding — particularly benefiting students with disabilities.

I’ve also seen programs designed to serve students with learning disabilities benefit many students. Why would we restrict these instructional practices to schools specifically designed only for students with dyslexia, for example?

I’m convinced that separating students based on their learning needs stands to do harm to both groups and reinforce pernicious stereotypes that students with disabilities need to be separated from their peers — a practice that does not prepare any students well to exist in a society that ideally embraces, rather than shuns, differences.

If Vitti cannot create the least restrictive settings for these students with autism, dyslexia, and hearing impairments in the desired timeline, I encourage him to consider an explicitly short-term solution — say, one to three years — with a specific phase-out deadline. This will enable students to receive critical supports and services while Vitti strives to ensure that students with disabilities are able to access high-quality programs in more inclusive settings.

In the long term, Vitti should strive to weave educating the full range of students with learning differences into the DNA of Detroit’s schools.

It is refreshing to hear an urban superintendent explicitly prioritizing the educational needs of students with disabilities. Vitti’s concerns should energize efforts to address the limited capacity, resources, and training for the benefit of all students. That would be truly innovative, and Detroit has the potential to emerge as a leader — an effort for which Vitti could be very proud.

Lauren Morando Rhim is the executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.