First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Five tips for identifying a good school

You have been checking the Web sites. Talking to friends. Maybe you have even been on a conga line of parents snaking through a classroom on an overcrowded school tour. This much you know: choosing the right school for your child is an important decision. Read more in the New York Times.

Two very different schools in one building: Does it work?

Denver Public Schools students, parents, teachers and administrators formed a lengthy parade before school board members Thursday night as efforts continued to sway opinion prior to decisive votes slated for next week.

Among the many proposals the board will decide Nov. 17 is a plan to find a home for a new KIPP charter elementary school, which could lead to a second school being located at an already-crowded middle school, which might mean hundreds of those students must be shifted elsewhere. Read more in Education News Colorado.

 

Colorado teacher evaluation rules approved

The State Board of Education approved regulations Wednesday that will govern evaluation of principals and teachers under the landmark 2010 law requiring annual reviews and that at least 50 percent of evaluations be based on student academic growth.

Senate Bill 10-191 sponsorsSenate Bill 10-191 sponsors (from left) Carole Murray, Christine Scanlan, Mike Johnston and Nancy Spence at Wednesday’s meeting. 

But the regulations will not have an immediate impact, given the law’s long implementation timeline, the fact that key parts of the rules remain to be filled in and that the document will be subject to special review by the 2012 legislature. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Goodbye, CSAPs, hello tests of the future

The State Board of Education got a peek Thursday at the brave new world of 21st-century, multi-state testing, a world that could well be coming to Colorado.

Members heard presentations from executives of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC, two organizations that are developing multi-state achievement tests in language arts and math that are aligned to the Common Core Standards. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Target and Heart of America Foundation unveil new school library

Late last month, Lasley Elementary along with Target Corp., The Heart of America Foundation and Target volunteers, revealed the school’s newly renovated library. The unveiling celebration was the first time students and teachers saw the space since the renovation process began four weeks ago. The brand new library features 2,000 books, eco-friendly design elements, a complete technology upgrade including iPads, as well as new furniture, carpet and shelves. As part of the library unveiling event, each student and his or her siblings also received seven new books to keep for their home libraries.

Knowing that hunger greatly affects a child’s ability to learn and focus in the classroom, Target also incorporated a Target Meals for Minds school-based food pantry site as part of the school’s renovation process. The food pantry will allow Lasley Elementary students and their families to choose from a variety of staple foods and fresh produce to take home.

The renovated library is part of the national Target School Library Makeover program through which Target revitalizes local school libraries, with a focus on helping children read proficiently by the end of third grade. Lasley Elementary is one of 42 schools chosen by Target and The Heart of America Foundation to receive a complete library makeover this year.

By the end of 2011, Target will have transformed a total of 118 elementary school libraries through the Target School Library Makeover program, which represents an investment of more than $22 million.

Nixed taxes, state cuts put area districts in tight spot

Schools have cut budgets for several years, and the choices of what goes next are running out. The classroom might be the target. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Loveland house an ‘innovation lab’ for students

The 1910 Victorian house on Third Street in downtown Loveland looks like any other in the neighborhood, except for the sign on the door: “Be you, a quiet revolution.” Read more in this AP story.

Thousands more Denver teachers get new laptops

Thanks to savings from the voter-approved 2008 Bond Program, thousands of Denver Public Schools teachers are receiving new laptops as part of the DPS Teacher Laptop Project, which aims to provide teachers with the tools they need to better implement data-driven instruction and to incorporate technology-based instructional resources more effectively into their classrooms.

In addition to receiving laptops, teachers will also be trained to use Safari Montage, a state-of-the-art digital media streaming resource. DPS recently partnered with Safari Montage for both its streaming media content and digital media management tools. The Safari project will allow teachers to access digital instructional media resources from respected educational publishers, such as PBS and National Geographic. The project will also provide teachers with access to media resources, digital TV, and digital video recording.

During the first round of laptop training and distribution, over 2,000 teachers received new laptops. The second phase of the project is kicking off this week at Smith Renaissance School of the Arts with Superintendent Tom Boasberg, DCTA President Henry Roman and DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes handing out laptops and hearing from teachers how they will utilize the laptops as education tools in the classroom. Laptops act as a portable tool for teachers to access student data and curriculum and lesson planning resources.

Using 2008 Bond savings, DPS is able to cover 70 percent of the cost for a laptop for all district teachers. Schools will need to provide a 30 percent match. In all, an estimated 5,700 laptops are planned for purchase, providing all teachers with new laptops by the end of the three-year project.

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.