Future of Schools

Thursday Churn: Board contribution limits

Updated 1 p.m. – The House State Affairs Committee this afternoon delayed a vote on House Bill 12-1067, which would limit campaign contributions in school board and RTD races.

Chair Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Lakewood, said he wanted to wait until the full committee was present. Only seven members were in the room as the meeting ended over the lunch hour. (See background below.)

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

The first education bill out of the box this session is House Bill 12-1067, which would limit contributions to school board candidates. It’s set for a hearing this morning in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

The measure would set a $500 limit on individual contributions and a $5,000 limit on small donor committees. The bill also would apply to RTD elections.

The background for the bill, of course, is the high spending in recent Denver Public Schools board elections. In 2011, at-large candidate Allegra “Happy” Haynes raised and spent more than $230,000 to win her citywide seat while in 2009, at-large winner Mary Seawell raised more than $240,000  (see story).

Sponsors of the bill are Denver Democrats Reps. Beth McCann and Lois Court and Sen. Irene Aguilar.

McCann got an amended version of a similar bill out of committee last year, but the measure was killed on the House floor.

One education lobbyist, asked about the bill recently, indicated that the measure is a solution in search of a problem for most districts but sighed and said, “When Denver sneezes, other districts reach for the tissues.”

The committee hearing starts this morning after floor adjournment in room 0112 of the Capitol. EdNews will be there.

What’s on tap:

Denver school board members meet at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 900 Grant St. The agenda includes three new innovation school proposals, as well as a possible change to the 2012-13 academic calendar. A public comment session is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

Jeffco school board members meet at 5 p.m. at district headquarters, 1829 Denver West Drive in Golden. The agenda includes the renewal of the contract for Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

Ed research in the news:

Charter lawsColorado ranks seventh in the nation based on the quality of its laws governing charter schools, according to an annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That’s actually down from a previous rank of fourth, a decline the group says is because Colorado “was surpassed by states that made substantial changes to their charter laws.” Recent actions such as the State Board of Education’s approval of new standards for charter school authorizers were not included in new calculations, however. Maine ranks number one with 158 points out of 208; Colorado was given 130 points. The report prompted a response from the Center for Education Reform, which disagrees with the rankings.

Child obesity – An article in this month’s issue of the journal Sociology in Education details a study finding no link between the increase in childhood obesity – at least for middle school students – and the availability of junk food in schools. “We held back from publishing our study for roughly two years because we kept looking for a connection that just wasn’t there,” said the lead author of the study. You can read the New York Daily News report on the study and learn more about the study itself.

Dropout costs – A report analyzing the financial burdens of 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working estimates taxpayers will lost $1.6 trillion over the lifetime of this cohort while the social costs will amount to $4.7 trillion. Researchers at Columbia Teachers College and CUNY’s Queens College looked at the lost earnings, lower economic growth and higher government spending resulting from the estimated 3.4 million Americans in this age bracket, described as “chronic opportunity youth.” They also estimated an additional 3.3 million are “under-attached,” or only partially engaged in work or school. Read more about the study in this Education Week report and see the study.

Value-added – Much has been made of a recent study showing the lasting impact good teachers can have but a New York Times columnist cautions the data precedes the current testing emphasis.

Good reads from elsewhere:

A tense school board meeting turned into a “mini riot,” according to the board president, over a vote to non-renew the contract of superintendent Terry Ebert in Ellicott School District 22. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports stepped-up security at future meetings may be the result.

The dropout rate in Boulder is approaching zero, the Boulder Daily Camera reports ahead of the official statewide release of dropout and graduation rate data. The district’s overall dropout rate has fallen from from 1.5 percent in 2009 to 0.8 percent in 2011.

Sweeping education reforms in Louisiana were forwarded by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is seeking approval of private school vouchers, an easier path for charter school creation and an end to job protections for teachers under the state’s tenure law, according to the Times-Picayune.

The EdNews’ Churn is a daily roundup of briefs, notes and meetings in the world of Colorado education. To submit an item for consideration in this listing, please email us at [email protected]

moving on up

Jeffco on track to move most of next year’s sixth-graders into middle school buildings

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools is moving forward with plans to put the majority of its sixth-graders in middle schools instead of elementary schools starting next fall, a shift district officials say will both better utilize building space and ease what can be a rough transition for kids.

The change, announced more than a year ago, will bring the state’s second largest school district into alignment with how most Colorado districts split up elementary and middle school.

Jeffco will continue to operate models that break that mold, including longstanding K-8 schools and a newer experiment with 7th through 12th grade schools officials say has shown promise.

Some critics continue to voice concerns about the plan, including questioning the cost and comparing that to what they say will result in a questionable benefit for students’ educations. District officials, however, say parents are getting their questions answered and educators are hearing fewer concerns than before.

The issue has come up at forums for school board candidates running this fall, and Jeffco staff last week at a regular board meeting updated the school board.

Marcia Anker, who started in July as the district’s sixth grade transition coordinator, said that some Jeffco schools individually started asking to make the change more than 10 years ago. Some individual middle schools had already been allowed to start enrolling sixth graders.

District officials say they estimate 3,355 students due to be sixth graders next year will be attending a middle school in 2018-19 instead of staying in an elementary school.

Many of the players involved in the initial discussions to move sixth grade out of elementary schools aren’t in the district anymore, including former superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Current district leaders say it was a conversation that began with district officials who oversee use of buildings, but that the decision wasn’t driven by building concerns.

Still, building use is a factor. Tim Reed, executive director of Jeffco facilities said middle school buildings in Jeffco were designed to hold three grade levels and have been underutilized.

“I think the conversation has always been about what’s best for students,” Reed said. “There was a recognition that there was significant underutilization in our middle school buildings. This was a way to accomplish two things including to better utilize middle schools.”

National research on middle school grade configurations has not been keen on sixth through eighth grade models. One study comparing students in sixth through eighth grade schools to students in schools that are K-8 schools found that student test scores weren’t different, but found more negative perceptions among students in traditional middle schools.

Jeffco board members and staff who have touted the benefits that sixth graders will see in a middle school point out that students will get a chance to start exploring their career interests with elective classes and have more time to develop relationships with staff in the middle schools.

Karen Quanbeck, interim chief school effectiveness officer and a previous middle school principal in the district, said at last week’s board meeting that two years with students is not enough.

“It seems like you’re welcoming them and in the blink of an eye you’re sending them off to high school,” Quanbeck said.

But some schools will need to continue with the seventh and eighth grade model for at least one more year. Because the empty middle school seats aren’t evenly spread throughout the district, some schools will require expansions to make room for new sixth graders.

The school board has already approved the funding to build a $10 million addition to Drake Middle School and a $4.5 million addition to Dunstan Middle School to accommodate the changes. Another $2 million in reserves will be used to make minor fixes at five other schools.

Three schools — Ken Caryl, Creighton and Summit Ridge — will delay their transition to the new model because the district estimates it needs to find another $15.5 million to add eight classrooms to each school.

Two years ago, in a bid to help lift student achievement, the district merged some schools to create two seventh-through-12 schools: Alameda and Jefferson junior and senior high schools. Those schools will retain that model.

Principals at those schools say they are seeing small benefits from the change. Though the neighborhoods are traditionally higher in poverty and mobility, Anker said that principals tell her students are staying in the school at a higher rate than before.

Still, Anker said one model is not better than another.

“Matriculation models that offer the fewest transitions are what benefits kids,” Anker said.

While there may be some benefits to having every Jeffco middle school offer the same grades — for instance, so parents choosing different schools across the district have consistency — the cost of doing that would also be prohibitive, Anker said.

“We also value the differences in our communities,” Anker said.

The district in the coming months will need to find a way to fund the remaining middle school expansions. Officials also will help some sought-after schools decide if they will cut down the number of seventh and eighth graders they enroll, or ask for help to build out space as well.

vegetarian options

Want your Brooklyn school to go meatless on Mondays? Here’s your chance.

PHOTO: Helen Richardson, The Denver Post

Goodbye, ground beef and popcorn chicken. Hello, crispy tofu and roasted chickpea tagine.

Starting next spring, 15 Brooklyn schools will begin “meatless Mondays” — an effort to make school lunches and breakfasts a little healthier and friendlier to the environment, officials said Monday.

The city has not yet picked the schools that will participate in the pilot program, and an education spokeswoman said the city will make decisions based on interest and public input. (Whether the city is prepared for a barrage of requests from health-minded Park Slope parents is another matter.)

The announcement comes less than two months after city officials made lunch free for all students regardless of income. Monday’s press conference was held at Brooklyn’s P.S. 1 — one of three district schools that only serves vegetarian fare — and drew Mayor Bill de Blasio, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“Cutting back a little on meat will help make our city healthier and our planet stronger for generations to come,” de Blasio said in a statement, adding that meat will no longer be served at Gracie Mansion on Mondays.

You can read more about the program here.