Future of Schools

Colorado schools fare about the same year-over-year in accountability rankings

Most of Colorado’s K-12 schools saw little change in their annual rankings by the Colorado Department of Education, and if that trend continues as many as 40 schools and their districts could face consequences from the state’s education department by 2016.

In the classroom BigStock Photo

The results of the annual evaluations, or school performance frameworks, were approved by the State Board of Education and made public Tuesday afternoon.

Seventy percent of schools statewide are performing at the state’s highest level. Nearly 20 percent are ranked at the second level, 7 percent at the third level, and 3 percent at the lowest level.

Those results — which include charter, innovation and online schools — exclude designated alternative education campuses that serve high risk student populations.

Charter schools performed slightly better than the average: 75 percent were ranked in the top category, but about 10 percent were ranked in the bottom two categories, mirroring the statewide performance.

Innovation schools fared worse: 63 percent were classified among the best, while nearly 15 percent were ranked in the bottom two categories.

Online school outcomes were the most mixed and had the largest bloc of schools in the lowest categories: 21 percent were ranked above the rest while nearly half, or 48 percent, ranked in the bottom.

While there was also little year-over-year movement in alternative school rankings, the overall results were more mixed. About 40 percent of alternative education campuses were ranked on top, while nearly 13 percent were ranked at the bottom.

Schools — alternative or not — placed in the bottom two classifications, or “priority improvement” and “turnaround,” are placed on a five year watch, often referred to as the “accountability clock.” Schools must show significant growth or the school’s governing district maybe subject to a series of actions by the state’s school board, including having the district’s accreditation downgraded.

The state board does not accredit individual schools and the law which established the processes, the School Accountablity Act of 2009, restricts the authority of the state education department to mostly the district level.

A total of 190 schools are on the accountability clock. More than 80 found themselves there for the first time, and 40 are entering year four of the five year clock, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen told the state board.

Most of those 40 schools showed no improvement over last year.

“We want to see student outcomes improve quickly,” Owen said in a later interview with EdNews Colorado. “We don’t want them to wait. The hope is the clock puts pressure on these schools and districts. The outcomes that are happening are not acceptable to the state and these communities.”

Of the 40 schools entering year four on July 1, 2014, online schools make up a disproportionate amount of schools. Online schools account for 2 percent of all schools in Colorado, but 12.5 percent of online schools are entering year four.

The state may take action as early as July 1, 2016, if any of those schools don’t improve before then.

At that point a review panel will make recommendations to the state that the school be converted to a charter, awarded innovation status, be closed or managed by some entity other than the district. The state would direct the local district on the recommendations.

Schools and districts are allowed to appeal their ranking. This year 27 schools in 13 districts asked for their status to be upgraded. Thirteen schools appeals were approved, nine were denied and two rescinded their appeal.

Schools and districts that request appeals must provide the state with additional data demonstrating progress toward statewide performance indicators including achievement and college readiness, as well as evidence the institution successfully met its goals agreed to with the state the previous year.

Simultaneously, some districts, including Denver Public Schools, requested the state to lower rankings for 34 schools.

Owen told the board the requests were generally made to reflect the respective district’s own rankings.


Memphis candidate no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s school turnaround district is no longer under consideration.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him with the news that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second time to meet with local stakeholders. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked to be eliminated, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration are Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.