Finally

State board signs off on Colorado bid for flexibility from federal law

After months of on-and-off discussions, the State Board of Education on Wednesday grudgingly voted 5-2 to approve submission of Colorado’s request for flexibility in meeting federal education laws.

That application, originally due March 31, now goes to the U.S. Department of Education for final approval.

Colorado Department of Education staff members have been negotiating the document with federal officials for months, periodically briefing the board on progress. CDE staff and federal bureaucrats reached agreement on the document some time ago, but formal board sign-off was needed.

Although it was clear Wednesday morning that the board would approve the application, members took a few minutes to grouse about what they believe to be federal interference in state control of education.

“The federal intrusion into education is not productive,” said board chairman Steve Durham, a Republican from Colorado Springs. “No Child Left Behind has been a catastrophic failure.”

But Durham said he was supporting the application because the alternative would be a burden for school districts — putting Colorado back under the original accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main education law.

“A good part of this board’s job is not to make life more difficult for local school districts,” Durham said.

A key element of the state’s application seeks to address high testing opt-out rates that drop test participation rates below federal requirements. Several districts fell below that 95 percent threshold last spring, according to a Chalkbeat Colorado analysis.

The application — formally called an ESEA flexibility request and sometimes referred to as a waiver — exempts Colorado from certain provisions of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The federal department created the waivers in 2011 to give states flexibility after congressional efforts to update ESEA stalled. Both the House and Senate passed update bills earlier this year, but prospects for passing a new law are uncertain.

Colorado first received approval of its flexibility plan in 2012 and was due to apply for renewal last March. The state filed an application but then had to modify it because of changes to the state testing system passed by the legislature in early May.

Proposed response to testing refusals

Federal law requires at least 95 percent participation on language arts and math tests in grades 3-8 and once in high school. States are required to choose penalties for districts that miss that goal on two or more tests. Colorado’s penalty, which never has been used, had been a one-step reduction in a district’s state quality rating. However, the state board passed a resolution earlier this year saying low-participation districts shouldn’t be punished.

Colorado’s flexibility request instead proposes these steps in response to low test participation:

  • The state will calculate and report test participation rates for all districts, schools and ethnic and other student groups. The state has committed to this, and the information is expected to be released next month.
  • Districts with substandard test participation rates are required to include steps for increasing participation in their annual improvement plans, which are filed with the state.
  • Participation rates will be a factor considered in the effectiveness reviews conducted with the state’s lowest performing schools.
  • The state will provide low-participation districts and schools with information about state tests, “including reasons for administering the assessments and how the results are used.” That information is supposed to be disseminated to parents and community members.

Other key elements of the application

The flexibility request also substitutes a new college and career readiness test in the 10th grade to meet federal requirements. The PARCC language and math tests will no longer be given in 10th grade but will continue to be given in 9th grade.

A one-year timeout in ratings of schools and districts is also part of the request.

A key element of Colorado’s original flexibility request allowed the state to use its own rating system and not also use the federal adequate yearly progress standard. That would continue under the new waiver.

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.