left behind

What Colorado’s numbers tell us — and don’t tell us — about who needs remedial work in college

D'Evelyn School (Wikipedia)

It’s understandable if you missed the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s latest report on a key measure of how well public high school graduates are prepared for college.

The state’s annual report on remediation rates dropped the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, when folks were thinking more about backyard barbecues than longitudinal trends.

The report warrants attention, however. As Colorado’s state tests have changed over the past decade — making it more difficult to track progress — the remediation report provides consistent data over time.

Not only that, but remediation rates are among the most important measures of how well schools are preparing kids for post-secondary education. This is where falling behind literally costs students — remedial coursework in college isn’t free, and student don’t earn credit for it.

Sure, the remediation data has limitations. The state tracks only students who enroll in Colorado public colleges and universities, meaning students who leave the state or attend private universities in Colorado are not counted.

This year’s report, looking at remediation rates for the high school class of 2014, found that 35.4 percent of graduates needed remedial coursework, up from 34.2 percent the previous year. It was a disappointing step backward following years of positive movement.

The report also underscored longstanding racial disparities. At two-year institutions, 82 percent of black students and almost 70 percent of Hispanic students required remediation. The figures for those racial groups at four-year schools were 52.5 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Here are a few takeaways from this year’s report, which you can read here:

School-level remediation data is incomplete and district-level numbers are nonexistent.

The state’s data set has plenty of blank spaces. No remediation stats are made public for about 200 high schools. That’s because if a cohort of students numbers 16 or below, state officials obscure that data out of concern that students might be personally identifiable.

Schools without enough data to report include many small schools and alternative schools. (The overall statewide remediation rate does take in students from all schools, including these.)

Of schools with large enough cohorts to be included in the report, Greeley’s Jefferson High School, an alternative school, had the highest remediation rate — 88 percent. As school leaders told The Greeley Tribune, the five-year-old high school is showing improvement.

Six of the 10 schools with the highest remediation rates are in Denver Public Schools, which serves a high proportion of students living in poverty and is the state’s largest school district:

 

DPS calculates remediation rates differently than the state.

For one, the district includes all high school graduates and completers in its calculations — starting with measuring where students are at while they are still in high school — not just those who head off to college.

The state defines students as needing remediation based on scores on tools such as the ACT, SAT or Accuplacer; if they enroll in a remedial course; or if they enroll in a Supplemental Academic Instruction Course while enrolled in a related 100-level course.

Along with some measures used by the state, the district relies on other factors the state doesn’t consider, including grades students get in low-level college courses, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores. As a result, under the DPS definition, fewer students are likely to be identified as needing remedial work.

In a February report to the school board, DPS reported that its district-wide remediation rate had declined from 62 percent for the class of 2014 to 50 percent for the class of 2015.

“We know we have made gains in certain areas,” said Kim Poast, executive director of the district’s Office of College and Career Readiness. “There is still work to do compared to the rest of the state.”

Because the state conceals some schools’ numbers to address privacy concerns, the Colorado Department of Higher Education does not release district-level remediation data, leaving no way of knowing how Colorado school districts compare.

Michael Vente, a research and policy officer/analyst with the State Department of Higher Education, acknowledged this is a key missing piece of information. He said the department plans more detailed discussions of its policy of suppressing data, and in the future would like to provide school districts better information on their performance.

One school in Jefferson County had a remediation rate of 0 percent. No other school in Colorado can make that claim. But should it come with an asterisk?

As principal of D’Evelyn Junior Senior High School, Anthony Edwards has plenty to be proud of.

For 12 years running, the school has had the highest ACT test scores among public, non-charter schools in Colorado. Nearly every D’Evelyn graduate enrolls in college.

“We need engagement from everyone,” Edwards said in explaining the school’s success. “Teachers need to be hardworking, parents need to value and support the school, and students have to be engaged. It takes a team to get the results we’ve been getting.”

This year, D’Evelyn stands alone as the only Colorado high school in the state’s remediation report with a 0 percent remediation rates:

 

As a Jeffco “option school,” students who want to attend must enter a lottery (those who attend a feeder school, Dennison Elementary, have a preference). There’s a liberal arts curriculum, a dress code and a closed campus. Students are required to show courtesy and respect for high moral and ethical standards, and patriotism is emphasized.

A statement explaining the school’s philosophy describes a program “based on the belief that all students, not just an elite group, should be held to rigorous academic and behavioral standards, and that all students can achieve in a challenging program.”

D’Evelyn’s student makeup does not, however, represent the increasing diversity of Jefferson County, especially socioeconomically.

Last school year, about 6 percent of D’Evelyn students qualified for a government-subsidized lunch, a proxy for poverty, state data shows. About 31 percent of Jeffco students do. The free and reduced- price lunch population of Dennison Elementary is similarly low.

According to state figures, about 53 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches need remediation, while 31 percent of those who don’t qualify need remediation.

Geography is one reason for D’Evelyn’s school makeup. The school is in the wealthier southwest suburbs. Transportation is likely one hurdle for low-income families, said Edwards, who previously worked at Jefferson High School, which has a high number of poor students.

Edwards was quick to say that D’Evelyn does not prescreen its students, a claim from those skeptical about its impressive track record. The school does no marketing or recruitment.

A couple of years ago, Jeffco staff asked whether the school would participate in an event showcasing options in the district. Edwards said the school chose not to send a representative.

Asked whether the school’s small number of students living in poverty is a concern, Edwards said he expects the ranks of those students to grow as the county changes. The school, he said, has taken steps to prepare, including creating a peer mentoring program and tutoring.

“Some of the discussions we’ve had is, ‘How do we maintain our expectations as our populations and demographics switch?’” he said.

As is the case with traditional district-run schools, charter schools run the spectrum.

DSST, the Denver-grown charter network that is poised for a big expansion, had the lowest remediation rates in the city and the 13th lowest in the state: about 15 percent, according to the state report. That falls short of the state’s DSST numbers for the class of 2013 (7.5 percent) and 2012 (11 percent).

More striking were the poor results for KIPP, part of a national network of high-performing charter schools founded in the mid-1990s by two Teach for America corps members. State data showed 70 percent of 2014 KIPP Denver Collegiate High School graduates (or 21 of 30 students) required remediation.

Kimberlee Sia
Kimberlee Sia

Kimberlee Sia, executive director of KIPP Colorado Schools, said school officials were taken aback by the dip because of progress in other measures such as dropout, graduation and its internal remediation rates, which like DPS numbers are calculated differently.

Some KIPP graduates — including those who enrolled in the Community College of Denver — and others enrolled in technical colleges weren’t included in the state tally, Sia said.

KIPP has taken a number of steps to address remediation rates, she said, including tutoring, a greater focus on citing evidence in writing and interim assessments starting in ninth grade.

Schools under the state Charter School Institute — which has authority over charter schools not overseen by districts — could be found on both ends of the remediation spectrum.

Colorado Springs Early Colleges’ remediation rate was just 8 percent – the fifth best rate in the state. The school has a free-and-reduced-price-lunch student population of about 30 percent. Pinnacle Charter School, which has been operating nearly two decades in north Denver, had a rate of 67 percent. About 60 percent of students there qualify for subsidized lunches.

hands on

Apprenticeships are now open for the second round of CareerWise high school students

PHOTO: Denver Public Schools
Denver student Quang Nguyen works at an internship this past summer.

More than half the companies that signed on for the launch of Colorado’s apprenticeship program CareerWise have renewed and plan to take on a second group of apprentices this fall, while a number of new companies have added programs.

That means there are 160 new openings for Colorado high school students in fields ranging from manufacturing to information technology to healthcare, a 33 percent increase from the 120 positions available to the first group of students last year.

CareerWise offers three-year apprenticeships to students starting in their junior year of high school. It’s based on the Swiss apprenticeship model and was conceived by Gov. John Hickenlooper and businessman Noel Ginsburg, who is himself now a candidate for governor, after a trip to Switzerland in 2015. The first apprentices started in 2017.

Brad Revare, CareerWise’s director of business partnerships, said most of the companies that didn’t renew are small firms that don’t feel like they have the capacity to take on a second apprentice right now. Some are still deciding if they’ll renew — this recruitment cycle hasn’t closed — and some companies have said they plan to take a second apprentice when the first apprentice is in his or her third year so that the older student can serve as a mentor.

Revare said the renewal rate has been a pleasant surprise.

“We didn’t anticipate this high of a renewal rate,” he said. “We believe that demonstrates that partnerships aren’t just a good corporate citizen thing, but a good return-on-investment business decision. To sign up for a second cohort when the first cohort is only on the job for six months speaks to the value of this program.”

There’s still a lot of work to be done for the program to achieve its goals, though. The charge from the governor, who has made workforce training and apprenticeships one of his priorities, is to have 20,000 high school students in apprenticeship programs within 10 years. He reiterated that goal in his State of the State address Thursday.

The renewing companies include Arrow Electronics, the city of Grand Junction, University of Colorado Denver, DaVita, DH Wholesale Signs, DT Swiss, EKS&H, Geotech Environmental, Gordon Sign, HomeAdvisor, Intertech Medical, Intertech Plastics, Mesa 51, Mile High United Way, Monument Health, Nordson Medical, Prostar Geocorp, Research Electro-Optics, SAS Manufacturing, Skillful, Stonebridge, Swiftpage, TeleTech, and Western States Fire Protection

New participating businesses for 2018 include Janus Henderson Investors, Otter Products, SAVA Senior Care, the city of Aurora, and the governor’s Office of Information Technology.

CareerWise is still recruiting more businesses for 2018.

To find an apprenticeship, check out CareerWise’s Marketplace.

Business of education

Memphis leaders say diversifying school business contracts will help in the classroom, too

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Winston Gipson confers with his wife and daughter, who help run Gipson Mechanical Contractors, a family-owned business in Memphis for 35 years.

Winston Gipson used to do up to $10 million of work annually for Memphis City Schools. The construction and mechanical contracts were so steady, he recalls, that his minority-owned family business employed up to 200 people at its peak in the early 2000s.

Looking back, Gipson says being able to build schools was key to breaking through in the private sector.

“When we got contracts in the private sector, it’s because we did the projects in the public sector,” said Gipson, who started Gipson Mechanical Contractors with his wife in 1983. “That allowed us to go to the private sector and say ‘Look what we’ve done.’”

But that work has become increasingly scarce over the years for him and many other minorities and women. The program designed to address contract disparities in Memphis City Schools was cut during its 2013 merger with Shelby County Schools.

A recent study found that a third of qualified local companies are owned by white women and people of color, but such businesses were awarded just 15 percent of the contracts for Shelby County Schools in the last five years.

It was even worse for black-owned construction companies, like Gipson’s, which make up more than a third of the local industry but were awarded less than 1 percent of contracts.

The disparity is being spotlighted as the city prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in Memphis while trying to fight for the rights of minority workers in 1968.

On Jan. 25, Chalkbeat will co-host a panel discussion on how Shelby County Schools, as one of the city’s largest employers, can be an economic driver for women- and black-owned businesses. Called “Show Me The Money: The Education Edition,” the evening event will be held at Freedom Preparatory Academy’s new Whitehaven campus in conjunction with MLK50 Justice Through Journalism and High Ground News.

Community leaders say school-related business contracts are a matter of equity, but also an education strategy. Since poverty is a crucial factor in why many Memphis students fall behind in school, the lack of job opportunities for their parents must be part of the discussion, they say.

The district already is taking steps to improve its record on minority contracting, starting with setting new goals and resurrecting the city district’s hiring program.

Big district, big opportunity

Shelby County Schools is Tennessee’s largest district. With an annual budget of more than $1 billion, it awards $314 million in business contracts.   

An otherwise dismal 1994 study of local government contract spending highlighted Memphis City Schools’ program to increase participation of historically marginalized businesses as one of the county’s most diverse, though some areas were cited as needing improvement. The same study criticized the former county school system, which lacked such a program, for its dearth of contracts with Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBEs).

But when the two districts merged in 2013, the program in Memphis City Schools disappeared.

“We had to cut, cut, cut,” said school board member Teresa Jones. “We were trying to stay alive as a district. We did not focus as we should have.”

Jones, a former school board chairwoman, said it’s time to revisit the things that were working before the merger. “We have to get back,” she said, “to make sure there’s equity, opportunity, access, and an atmosphere that promotes business with Shelby County Schools.”

District and community leaders say the consolidated district has lost its ability to develop relationships with qualified minority-owned businesses.

“There was an infrastructure where African-Americans felt comfortable enough approaching the school system” for work, said Melvin Jones, CEO of Memphis Business Contracting Consortium, a black business advocacy group formed in 2015. “There was trust. During the merger, they dropped the infrastructure.”

Brenda Allen

Without the outreach, “we’re seeing the same vendors,” said Brenda Allen, hired last summer as procurement director for Shelby County Schools after working in Maryland’s Prince George County Public Schools, where she oversaw a diversity contracting program.

“We’re not marketing the district like we should,” she told school board members in November.  

Shelby County Schools is not alone in disproportionately hiring white and male-owned companies for public business. Just 3 percent of all revenue generated in Memphis goes to firms owned by non-white people, even though people of color make up 72 percent of the city’s population, according to a 2016 report by the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum.

Not coincidentally, district and community leaders say, Memphis has the highest rate of young adults who aren’t working or in college, and the highest poverty rate among the nation’s major metropolitan areas. About 60 percent of students in Shelby County Schools live in poverty and all but three of the district’s schools qualify for federal funding for schools serving high-poverty neighborhoods.

Jozelle Luster Booker, the CEO of the MMBC Continuum, developed an equity contracting program for the city utility company following the 1994 study that was so critical of the city. The program funneled half a billion dollars to minority-owned businesses — an example of how government policies can promote equitable contracting, and grow businesses too.

“When that happens, you could basically change the socioeconomic conditions of that community, which impacts learning,” Booker said. “They’re ready to learn when they come to school.”

Shelby County Schools plans to hire a consulting firm to help develop a procurement outreach program and set diversity goals for its contractors and subcontractors. The program will launch in July, and Allen plans to hire three people to oversee it.

PHOTO: Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal
Bricklayers from TopCat Masonry Contractors LLC work on an apartment complex in downtown Memphis in 2014.

The district also is part of a city-led group that provides a common certification process for businesses seeking contracts with city and county governments, the airport, the transit authority, and Memphis Light Gas & Water. The city’s office of business diversity and compliance also has a list of qualified minority businesses, offers free business development courses, and accepts referrals from other government entities to reduce redundancy.

“As you spend public dollars, you always want those dollars to be spent in your neighborhoods because that money comes back into your economy,” Allen said. “When people have jobs, you should see crime go down. You should see more people wanting to do business in the community if you have a good program.”

Leveling the playing field

In order for it to work, there has to be consistent reports, measures and, most of all,  accountability, according to Janice Banks, CEO of Small Planet Works, who helped the district with its disparity study.

Gipson agrees.

A wall of his second-floor Memphis office is lined with photos of some of his most significant projects during his 35 years of business, including a multimillion-dollar mechanical contract with AutoZone when the Memphis-based car part company moved its headquarters downtown in the early 2000s.

The work was made possible, he said, because of public sector jobs like constructing nine schools under Memphis City Schools. But that work evaporated after the merger. “It’s mostly been Caucasian companies that do the work (now),” he said. “It’d be one thing if you didn’t have anyone qualified to do it.”

Shelby County Schools will have to show commitment, he said, if it wants to level the playing field.

“You have the mechanism in place to make a difference,” he said. “Now do you make a difference with that mechanism or do you just walk around, beat your chest, and say we have a disparity study and let things run the way they’ve been running?”

“If you don’t make it happen, it will not happen,” he said.