Who Is In Charge

Board pushes ahead on grad guidelines

The State Board of Education Wednesday unanimously adopted guidelines for high school graduation requirements, but that doesn’t mean current high school students will have to change their class schedules in order to get their diplomas.

Colorado Department of Education
Colorado Department of Education

The guidelines have a long implementation timeline, and the document is expected to be changed more than once over the next two years. That makes its impact on future students hard to predict.

The overall goal of the guidelines is to make high school diplomas represent what students actually know and can do – “competency” in education jargon. Most district graduation requirements now are based on completion of a certain number of classes over a certain number of years. (Education jargon for that is “seat time.”)

The document is “an intentional statement that we are moving from seat time … to proof of competency,” said Scott Stump, a community college system administrator who was a member of the 19-person committee that developed the guidelines for SBE.

The report from the Graduation Guidelines Council sets out another key goal: “A high school diploma should guarantee that students are: 1) prepared to enter credit-bearing courses in postsecondary education institutions; 2) prepared academically to enter military officer training; and 3) prepared to be productive entry-level employees in the
workforce.”

But the details of the document have drawn a lot of questions and some opposition from a variety of education interest groups. Even Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s point man on education issues, told the board he was “neutral” on the guidelines.

Graduation guidelines are a complicated issue for a lot of reasons.

First, the state constitution’s local control provision gives school boards substantial autonomy in curriculum and instruction. So, neither the legislature nor the Department of Education can impose uniform graduation requirements for all students, as is the case in some other states. Rather, the guidelines would set a basic standards that districts would have to “meet or exceed” in setting their own graduation requirements.

Second, the guidelines would have a long rollout period, and the first group of students directly affected by new district requirements will those who graduate from high school in 2021.

Third, and perhaps most important, minimum scores and standards for several of the tests and other measurements suggested in the guidelines haven’t been set. So, students, parents and districts don’t yet know the full menu of choices that can be used to set district requirements. (See below for the full list of suggested measures and cut scores.)

The guidelines also would require districts to include successful student completion of individual career and academic plans (ICAPs) in their graduation requirements and to advise students and families about graduation requirements starting in the 6th grade.

Nearly a dozen witnesses testified during the board’s two-hour hearing on the guidelines.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, was critical, saying, “The council’s proposal leaves little room for local discretion … the guidelines are more like rules.”

Because of that, she suggested to board go through the formal rule-making process, which has specific requirements for public comment. (The board didn’t take up that suggestion – it had a deadline to adopt the guidelines this month.)

Bret Miles, superintendent of the eastern plains district of Holyoke and also representing the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus, sounded a similar note. “We feel like this … oversteps the local boards of education.”

Randy DeHoff, a former SBE member who was representing the Colorado Cyberschool Association, seconded the concerns of the rural caucus.

On the other side, representatives of Stand for Children, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds, A+ Denver and Democrats for Education Reform supported the guidelines. “They’re a huge step in the right direction,” said Van Schoales, speaking for A+ Denver and DFER.

Garcia, who spoke to the board earlier in the day before the hearing, said of the rules, “We’re not just quite there yet” adding it “would be best” if the board waiting to act until after his Department of Higher Education completes work on new admissions and remediation policies later this year.

Some board members were sympathetic to the critics. Deb Scheffel, a Republican who represents the 6th District, wondered, “Why wouldn’t the state board engage in rule making if it’s going to be this detailed?”

Chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from the 5th District, suggested that the grid of tests and cut scores be relegated to an appendix of the guidelines.

But both voted for the guidelines in the end, partly because of the fact that the document will be tweaked in the future.

“This is the beginning of a process,” noted education Commissioner Robert Hammond.

“These guidelines are not static,” said Stump. “At each step of the process there are going to be new tools for measuring student performance.”

It’s a moving target – new science and social studies coming spring of 2014, PARCC tests spring of 2015 and updated higher ed “no remediation” standards fall of 2013.

Creation of the guidelines was required by a 2007. The guidelines council issued an initial report in 2008 but then was dormant until it was revived last year. The guidelines law was overshadowed by a far more comprehensive 2008 education reform law, the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. That set requirements for new state content standards, tests and alignment of K-12 outcome with college admissions standards.

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meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.