Volume 3 Issue 1

What's the Noise about LoudCloud?

by Dan Lacey

In the fall of 2013, concern exploded in Jeffco over the Gates Foundation-funded database inBloom, particularly the implications for data security. The project incorporated an Innovative Instructional System (IIS)—essentially a system bordering on artificial intelligence that would evaluate a number of variables and prescribe curriculum and instruction for each student—with a dashboard to provide a front-end technology system to simplify teacher data entry work, and a database. The IIS and dashboard were to be provided by a vendor called LoudCloud. While the inBloom database was terminated amidst the pushback from parents concerned about their children’s data security, the LoudCloud project continues to this day. 

The inception of the programs goes all the way back to 2010 when the school district identified the need for Innovative Instructional System technology. In 2011 a request for proposal was sent out to identify vendors for the system. LoudCloud appears to have been selected 

because they offered to complete the first phase free of charge while competitors' proposals to complete the first phase were around $250,000. 

The former superintendent selected LoudCloud without consent from the board, because no dollars needed to be allocated for the proof of concept phase. The selection of LoudCloud also appeared to be tied to the possible inBloom project because its systems would be compatible with the controversial database.

In March 2013, the district transferred $3 million of 3A mill levy override money to the technology fund to support the development of new software systems. Spending logs obtained from the district indicate that the district spent $119,500 on LoudCloud in April 2013. (The figure is lower than the threshold requiring formal board approval.) The April board meeting was the first time the board was made aware of LoudCloud. 

Two months later, the district requested an allocation of $2 million to be spent on LoudCloud to develop an Innovative Instructional System. The June 2013 school board meeting was the first time the board was asked to approve any funding for the project. (The motion passed on a 4-1 vote.) 

The approved contract was to develop an Innovative Instructional System designed to transform instruction. 

Information regarding the connection between inBloom and LoudCloud came to light after the district requested permission to apply for a $500,000 grant from the Gates Foundation. 

This revelation prompted many community members to come forward requesting more information on security and privacy of data. Community members expressed concerns that outside organizations would be able to obtain access to staff and student data. Rumors swirled that lesson plans would be created and delivered by outside organizations as teachers accessed a national curriculum database. 

The scope of the LoudCloud project remained unclear. An understanding of what inBloom and LoudCloud each respectively would deliver was murky at best. After extensive discussions, comments, and debate, the board voted to sever the relationship with inBloom on November 7, 2013, at the last meeting of the previous board. However, the relationship with LoudCloud continues.

The former superintendent created a Data Management Advisory Committee (DMAC) in June 2013, the purpose of which was to make a recommendation on the advisability of proceeding with the Classroom Dashboard project. Somehow the LoudCloud project went from developing an Innovative Instructional System (IIS) to development of a Classroom Dashboard system. 

Those two projects sound very different in scope. A dashboard should tie together the half-dozen or so systems that teachers currently use so they no longer would have to log in and out of different systems nor reenter data, improving their productivity. As stated in the executive summary presented with the June 2013 school board motion to approve the $2 million expenditure with LoudCloud: “The [Innovative Instruction System] uses this detailed student information to guide instructors with intelligent recommendations for instructional resources in order to improve student achievement. The ‘recommendation engine’ goes a step further, and also recommends professional learning for teachers based upon relevant situations from classroom data and administrative observations.” 

In their final report, submitted in November 2013, the DMAC recommended proceeding with the Classroom Dashboard project, the description of which included words eerily similar to the IIS. The “Classroom Dashboard Built by LoudCloud” chart in the final DMAC proposal says, “It will recommend supports for teaching our students…It will continuously analyze student data…” 

This description is particularly troubling, as the Board of Education voted to withdraw from the inBloom project that same month. 

In March 2014, during the budget development cycle, the district requested an additional $1 million for the Classroom Dashboard 

 

Coin Flips and Other Silly Contract Provisions

by Karen Shotz

Union contract talks are set to begin soon. Board member John Newkirk proposed a “Declaration of Intent to Negotiate” resolution which passed with a 5-0 vote at the January 15 board meeting, indicating a desire to negotiate with the union. 

Last year, the board approved conducting open negotiations about teacher pay, teacher workload, class size, and other contract provisions. After a few open meetings, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) staged an impasse and walked out, sending talks behind closed doors.

In 2015, the entire contract is up for discussion. Last year’s Proposition 104, approved by 70 percent of voters in Jeffco and statewide, has guaranteed that negotiations will be fully open to the public. Combined with the fact JCEA has been making a lot of noise about the upcoming negotiations, set to begin by March 1, many community members soon may be wondering what some of the disputes are all about.

Colorado law neither requires nor prohibits school boards from creating binding contracts with local employee unions. Roughly 40 of the state’s 178 school districts, including Jeffco, currently engage in what is often referred to as collective bargaining. 

Until now most of Colorado’s union negotiation sessions have been held in secret. But a 2001 state law has required school districts to post the completed bargaining agreements online. Anyone can go on the Jeffco Public Schools website and read a nearly updated version of the current 110-page agreement. 

Observer readers don’t have time to trudge through all the thick legal language. To get the flavor of the JCEA agreement for yourself, here are seven of the most absurd provisions to which past district and union negotiators have agreed (references are from the 2012 contract pdf posted on the Jeffco web site): 

1. “Heads or Tails?” (Article 34-2-5): If the district has to displace a teacher due to another teacher returning, a school closure, or a change in enrollment, the least senior teacher loses out, regardless of how effective a job they do in the classroom. But it gets worse. Believe it or not, this provision says a coin flip must be used to break a tie for teachers with equal seniority. In this scenario, would your child get to keep his great teacher? “Heads, you get to stay. Tails, you have to go.”

2. A Little Extra Tenure (Article 14-4): Following a 2010 law, teachers in Colorado gain non-probationary status after three years of effective evaluations. (It used to come automatically after three years.) This status affords tenure-like protections that can make it costly and time-intensive to remove a poorly performing teacher. But Jeffco goes a step further with this unique provision, granting a guaranteed grievance process to probationary teachers who are not renewed. Tenure defenders say the probationary period weeds out those who don’t belong. But what if a district can’t even do that?

3. “Our Way or the Highway” (Article 7-5-2): If a teacher has a workplace grievance and wants to be accompanied by professional help, she “may not be represented by anyone other than a representative designated by [JCEA].” A majority of teachers have opted to belong to JCEA (which includes a membership in the state and national unions). A sizable number of teachers may think someone could represent them better, but JCEA has decided that doesn’t matter. It’s their way or the highway. In fact, other union rules make it difficult for teachers to even learn about alternatives to JCEA representation (see number 5).

4. Union-Excused Absences (Article 35-6-2): Each year the JCEA gets 275 free “release days” to excuse teachers from classrooms to do business for the organization. Though minor changes were made in 2014, the district pays the released teacher’s salary as well as the cost of the substitute, while students’ instruction is disrupted. There is little accountability for how the days are used. The 275 annual days may include JCEA or CEA meetings, union-sponsored political activities, or as in the past, going to the State Capitol to lobby on legislation. 

5. Special Perks (Article 24): This article in the agreement grants JCEA special privileges for using taxpayer-funded district property, privileges offered to no other group. Examples: A) JCEA is guaranteed the right to use “facilities, equipment, district-wide communication systems, expendable materials without cost,” unless the principal has “good cause” to deny the request. B) JCEA “has the right to place notices, circulars, and other materials on school bulletin boards…and in teacher mailboxes.” Out of courtesy, a copy of the materials needs to be shared with the principal. 

6. You Can’t Change That! (Article 43) Parents, teachers, and principals at a school may get together and opt for a plan that requires going outside the contract’s rules (e.g., different teacher schedules). Any such site-level plan must be submitted to a 10-member “variance review committee.” Half of the committee members are appointed by the district, and half are composed of JCEA appointees. Even after gaining committee approval, either district administrators or JCEA leaders still can squash the plan by withholding “mutual agreement.” So much for teacher self-determination or serious efforts to innovate at the school level to serve the needs of that community of students. 

7. “I’m Not Sure That Word Means What You Think It Means” (Article 5-3-5): For years the agreement has contained the provision: “Negotiations shall be conducted in open sessions, unless both parties agree to the contrary.” Except that until 2014, open negotiations never happened. Nor apparently did previous school boards vote publicly to close negotiations, which would have honored contract language. When a dissenting board member raised that point in 2011, JCEA chose to lash out at the board member rather than address the concern.

The seven preceding parts of the agreement represent some of the more egregious language in the current JCEA agreement. Other provisions can be equally concerning, including the increased class size provision and the constraints on planning time. 

While teachers have a right to bargain collectively, don’t we want an agreement that is easy to understand, free of legalese, and provides the flexibility for each community to meet the needs of its staff and students? Teachers and taxpayers alike have every reason to ask what kind of priority the agreement places on improving achievement and doing what’s right by students.

 

Who is Running Our School: Leslie Dahlkemper Employed at the Gates-Funded Colorado Education Institute

by John Rofer

A number of times at a recent school board meeting, Board Member Lesley Dahlkemper asked, “Who is running our schools?” Answering her own question, she stated that it should be the elected officials to whom the voters entrusted the governance of the school district. 

Later at the same board meeting, neither Ms. Dahlkemper nor her colleague Jill Fellman voted to apply for a waiver from the performance-based PARCC assessments, despite repeated calls from teachers and parents to roll back the amount of standardized testing. Why might this be?

The Jeffco community has fought hard to maintain local control of our schools. When former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson revealed her plan to partner with inBloom to turn over staff and student data and allow the Gates Foundation initiative to deliver lesson plans into Jeffco classrooms, the community outcry was overwhelming. Despite the PTA’s lack of willingness to help, parents organized, spoke up, and told their friends. Just after the November 2013 elections, the community had applied so much pressure that Jeffco leaders opted to withdraw from the inBloom project. That may not be the end of the story. Shortly after November 2013, Ms. Dahlkemper was hired by the Colorado Legacy Foundation, now called the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Communications. One of CEI’s major funders is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to a video on the CEI website, narrated by Ms. Dahlkemper, CEI is “using data to improve both teaching and learning,” and “providing curriculum aligned to state standards.”  

The Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars into advocacy and support groups promoting the adoption of Common Core-aligned curricula and the tests to measure students’ knowledge of those curricula.

Is that why Ms. Dahlkemper did not vote to apply for a waiver from the PARCC performance-based assessments? 

In January 2015, the State Board of Education opened the door for districts to apply for waivers from the first round of the PARCC tests, which are scheduled to be given next month.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee shared that between 6.7 and 8.3 hours of instruction time per student would be recovered if students didn’t have to take that first round of tests. In Jeffco that equates to at least 380,000 hours of instruction. 

While it is unclear if those waivers can be legally granted, it is clear the instruction time regained would be significant. Even if the Attorney General deems that the State Board overstepped its authority in offering the waiver, the resolutions adopted by Jeffco and other school boards sends a powerful message to state lawmakers who are currently weighing how to address the state’s testing system.

Wouldn’t every local school board member want that instruction time back when the results of the  performance-based assessments will not be back in educators’ hands until the fall of 2015, providing no useful information to teachers for this year? Growth scores reportedly won’t be available until early 2016, and there is a one year timeout from using the data in teacher evaluations. 

If CEI is using data and providing curriculum, who is providing the data to CEI? Will CEI have access to the PARCC data? How much has the Gates Foundation spent on the PARCC tests? Who is providing the curriculum that our teachers are using to teach? 

In short, who is running our schools?

Community Voice

Behind the Teaching Curtain at a Strategic Compensation School
by Guy Nahmiach

There are four critical questions that our schools ask when setting goals for our students:

1. What do we expect our students to learn? 
2. How will we know when they have learned it? 
3. What will we do when some students do not learn?
4. What will we do when some students already know it? 

Each question is a door that opens to a multitude of answers, describing situations and including opinions, but as parents it's reassuring to know that these questions are being asked from the highest level right down to the classrooms…or are they?

Every month I use my column to celebrate and often question the value of the education students are getting in our local schools. I usually receive feedback from readers who have been asking the very same questions and some from the readers that disagree with my observations. These are generally emails, phone calls, and of course, social media. Last week however, a Jeffco teacher residing in Wheat Ridge, accepted my invitation to meet face to face for an honest conversation about the situation in our schools. Anne (not her real name) is in good but slim company. I have found very few people willing to ask simple, system-reflective questions. 

It took two meetings and a slew of emails with Anne to exchange frustrations and explanations. What started as loud accusations, finger pointing, and quoting studies and facts that supported each point of view resulted in my having a deeper understanding for the systems already in place—a process built to evaluate and improve the performance of all our teachers; a realization that teachers ranked "less than effective" do get organized help from experienced teachers. I was also reminded that even "highly effective" teachers are constantly looking to improve their skills. 

Teachers are now regularly evaluated. In some schools they even use outside professionals who have been trained to look for certain functions and results. Evaluator training includes a calibration of expectations and judgment so you end up with very close results no matter who the evaluator is. The evaluators in Jeffco use a rubric with 23 indicators attached to expected behaviors with specific results. 

Teachers who are evaluated as "not effective" are put on "a letter"—an 8-week program with specific goals and in-class assistance to turn their performance around. Teachers who are still struggling after that period are then moved to a "plan"—an intense 6-week "intervention" style program to help the teacher become "effective." Failing the "plan" results in termination.

This level of accountability seems to have gone unnoticed. Another example of good things not being talked about. Now if I'm off by a week or two, please don't be upset. I'm simply trying to say that there is a process.

Of course the conversation with Anne did include finances. Compensation, or lack thereof, for our "effective" and "highly effective" teachers. While I do support paying for performance, I realize that a collaborative environment where teachers share best practices benefiting all students is certainly better than "very effective" teachers not sharing ideas with others who might need the help, especially with newly out-of-school teachers.

Do I want effective teachers to be well paid? Absolutely! Doctors who heal our children are well paid; so should teachers be who provide an education and prepare our students for their careers and futures. What bigger influence will any other profession have on our children? 

I want these "very effective" teachers to make six-digit salaries. That's how teaching can become a viable profession once again. Attract and hold onto caring, brilliant professionals who will be able to support a family on a good income. I'm not proposing huge dollars across the board. I am confident that if we reward teachers as they are being compensated in the Strategic Compensation program, more teachers will continue to achieve excellence and deserve such salaries.

Anne did agree that not all teachers are the same, and some in fact, are "not effective" and are asked to leave. But what is more important is that some amazing and "highly effective" teachers are leaving on their own for better opportunities outside of Jeffco. I am increasingly concerned that my kids and future students will not be taught by the very best.

Meeting Anne made me realize just how much the teachers were being misrepresented. How could all of these good things be going on without any media attention? Why are we only seeing them on the street holding picket signs? Why aren't the cameras focused on teachers inside the classrooms or up late reviewing lessons for the next day? Who is shaping their public image? I've talked about teachers being lumped into one group without accounting for quality and yet this evaluation rubric has been used for three years already. Parents have been advocates for their own kids since birth. Who is actually representing our great teachers? 

I did borrow a book from Anne called Visible Learning For Teachers. It's been called the "holy grail book for educators," for me, simply an eye opener. I found lists of influences on achievements based on thousands of studies that highlight the correlation of low birth weight and economic factors on negative academic performance. It showed the low impact that homework and class size actually have on students’ education. Great but controversial topics for future columns. I'm sure you're already squirming....who will be the next Anne to actually meet me in person to discuss getting great answers to our four key questions? 

Thank you Anne, I look forward to more conversations; working together we can make a difference.

This letter was edited and reprinted with permission from The Neighborhood Gazette. You can reach Guy Nahmiach at 303-999-5789 or email him at guy@NostalgicHomes.com


Low Pay for substitute teachers
by Thelma Jean Shaeffer

I read the article about salaries in The Jeffco Observer with interest, and I noticed one integral group for student instruction and learning was left out. That group of teachers was the substitute pool. Teachers are out of the classroom periodically for a number of reasons, but student quality instruction and learning has to continue in the teachers’ absences. The District can attract the quality of substitutes to maintain that level of instruction by paying at or above what other districts are paying for its substitutes.

Several years ago substitutes in Jeffco took a pay cut because of the budget restraints. But substitute teachers have not benefitted in the money Jefferson County Schools gained from the taxpayers’ vote. Besides receiving lower substitute pay in Jeffco, retired substitute 
teachers additionally pay 8% to PERA for the opportunity to work in the public schools after retirement. Any school knows that their best substitutes are the retired teachers with years of experience to field the many problems that can arise in a situation when the classroom teacher is absent.

I live in Jefferson County and am one of those voters; I am one of your retired teacher substitutes and have been for seven years with 44 years of teaching experience. Schools request me, and I am on priority lists because I am good at what I do. When I am in the classroom, I can follow the lesson plans, can maintain a good learning environment, and can make instruction happen. There are days when I have two and three requests for the same day because schools and teachers call me directly requesting availability. I know some schools have assignments not covered by available substitutes on various days, and those situations compromise instruction and learning for affected students.

Substitutes work where the money is; I work for another school district as well as Jeffco because the pay is superior; I work for a non-PERA employer as well because of the 8% deduction. I hope the Jefferson County School Board and its Administration will look at the budget and put the compensation for the substitute teacher pool in line with other metro districts to help keep progress for students on track.


Who is Taking Money from our Schools?
by Bruce Baker

Did you know your local city council could take a tract of land, make it subject to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and essentially redirect the property taxes from schools, special districts and county governments and never even ask the voters? Most people are not aware this is happening because we think TABOR requires elected officials to honor their votes on taxes. 

If you vote to increase taxes to send additional dollars to your schools, you would expect that is where they would go. Such is not always the case. The same quiet tax redirection, the same lessening of local control is happening in many school districts, including Jeffco.

TIF was originally designed to help a city deal with a blighted area. It allows a city to help finance the renewal of an area by paying off the debt they acquire in the process with the increase in taxes that a renewed area generates. This happens without the consent of the voters. 

Cities are operators and beneficiaries in TIF; they collect the increased taxes but because the new income is needed to pay off the debt, counties and school districts do not see the additional revenue. This is in spite of the fact that the school district and county will provide services to the newly developed area. TIF tax money is diverted tax money. Cities are diverting property taxes from their original, intended use. 

Here is an example: For the year 2012 the Target store at 144th and Huron paid $230,000 in taxes that should have gone to Adams 12 school district because of the mill levy; Adams 12 schools saw less than $10,000. The remaining $220,000 was diverted to The Westminster North Huron Urban Renewal Authority. The county also loses the mill they should be getting, and neither the county nor the school district has any say in the matter. The Urban Renewal Authority gets the tax dollars that voters approved going to other entities.

While the state does backfill revenue to school districts, counties and other local districts aren’t so lucky. Any money the state spends to backfill school districts with TIF areas is money not available for other districts. 

Jeffco is about to have a similar experience. The Westminster City Council intends to use TIF to finance the redevelopment at Westminster Mall. The plan calls for 2,000 new residences and hundreds of thousands of new retail square footage. The additional housing will mean hundreds of children entering Jeffco chools. The money from the increased taxes will not go to the school district or the county despite the fact that the new families will need to enroll their children in Jeffco schools. 

If this doesn’t sound fair to you, call my colleagues on the Westminster City Council and ask them not to divert your tax money. There are other ways to pay for the infrastructure. The general number for the city is 303-658-2400. 

Bruce Baker serves on the Westminster City Council and is concerned about how much money our schools will lose if this TIF goes forward and how the district will afford the new school needed to serve the students. Bruce’s email: bbaker@cityofwestminster.us

The History of Jeffco Teacher Compensation

by Sheila Atwell

There are many factors that make an employer attractive. Working conditions, organizational culture, and intangible benefits are all components of a decision to choose one employer over another. Another key factor is compensation, which includes a number of things in addition to base salary: time off, insurance coverage and prices, and retirement plans. 

Teachers, of course, are not 9-to-5 employees; many spend hours at home correcting tests and creating lesson plans. But they typically have summers off, which can be an incredibly attractive benefit. 

Jeffco teacher compensation increases have historically come in the form of “steps” and “levels.” Think of the blinds on a window with many rows and four or five columns. The steps equate to the rows and the levels equate to the columns. 

Traditionally, a teacher in Jeffco receives a “step” raise for staying in the district another year and gains a “level” increase after completing varying amounts of additional education. Many transition points along the pay scale provide no raise at all—sometimes for several years.  

Another type of increase that could be negotiated is a Cost of Living Allocation (COLA), which raises the amount of money given in each cell of the chart. So in order for every teacher to receive a raise, the district and the association mutually would need to agree upon a COLA amount.  

The chart in the hard copy or pdf of the newspaper provides a summary of the base salary changes (Steps, Levels and COLA’s – as well as increases to PERA contributions) over the last seven years.  The chart above shows the change in the ranges of teacher salaries over the past decade, including a line for the average Jeffco teacher salary. 

As the chart shows, in addition to the district increasing the amount put into retirement accounts, teachers received steps and levels, as well as COLA raises, in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10. The raises for these three years respectively equate to increases of 7.5, 6.2, and 6.5 percent. 

In 2010-11 teachers received steps and levels raises, in addition to the district picking up an additional 0.5% in increased retirement costs; this equated to a 3.5 percent total increase. 

In 2011-12 teachers took a 3 percent salary reduction and worked 6 fewer days. As an exception, teachers who qualified for a level increase were eligible if they completed their coursework before the end of September 2012. No step increase occurred, however. The district picked up all retirement increases (an additional 0.5 percent). 

In 2012-13, after the passage of the 3A local mill levy override, the district immediately eliminated the remaining furlough days and adjusted compensation up 1 percent plus an additional half a percent for PERA. Step and level increases were frozen. 

In 2013-14, the district raised work days back to 187, and increased compensation by 2 percent, returning to the pre-reduction rates. In both years, the district picked up the increased retirement contributions, but still did not reinstate steps and levels. 

The results of the 2013 summit recommended that the district allocate $11.7 million for 2014-15 compensation increases. This amount would not have been enough to pay for a “step” and “level” increase, as well as the increase in PERA retirement plan costs. With the benefit of a larger budget, the new board voted to increase the amount allocated to pay increases by more than 50 percent, providing a total increase of $18.2 million.  

Breaking with tradition, the board decided to allocate raises based on teacher effectiveness rather than tenure (a step). They also increased starting teachers’ ongoing salaries by an even larger percentage to make them more competitive with neighboring school districts.  The board raised compensation for new teachers to $38,000 (up to a 13 percent increase), and gave ongoing raises of 2.4 percent to effective teachers and 4.2 percent to highly effect teachers. 

These raises included increases for 450 teachers who would not have received any increase under the traditional model because their “step” happened to be empty, including teachers at the very top end of the pay scale. The traditional pay scale guaranteed no increases for teacher with 28 or more years of service, unless a COLA were negotiated – something that has not occurred since 2010.  This year teachers at the very top of the pay scale were awarded one-time stipends.  Once again, the district paid the entire PERA increase.

As the chart in the hard copy or the pdf of the newspaper shows, teacher compensation continued to increase from 2008 to 2011 while the economy slowed. Inflation rose 14.5 percent, while average take-home pay increased 21.2 percent. Jeffco teacher salaries peaked in 2011 when the federal government provided additional dollars through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the Education Jobs Fund.  

As part of compensation, Jeffco also allocates $585.00 a month to cover health insurance. Employees pay any extra balance for the plan they chose. This allocation has not increased despite increases in healthcare plan costs. 

For the past eight years the district has picked up all increases in retirement contributions, both the 4.2 percent to be picked up by the employer (AED), and the extra 4.0 percent to be considered compensation increases (SAED). 

Over the same eight years, inflation has risen a full 17.4 percent. Meanwhile, teacher base salaries have risen 21.1 percent, because of the effects of COLA increases plus steps and levels. Factoring in the SAED retirement increases picked up by the district, total average teacher compensation has increased by 27.6 percent over the last eight years. 

While teachers may think that negotiated pay scales guarantee a specific pay level five, 10, or 15 years into the future, three years of step freezes indicate that it just isn’t so.  Perhaps it is time for all of us to think of teachers like any other professional, where the quality of their work influences their pay and there is no ceiling. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if our best teachers made six figures a year?  Our students deserve to have a great teacher every single year of their educational journey. 

1. The average salary includes teachers, library media specialists, counselors, psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists and other specialists.

2. The cumulative PERA increases since the passage of SB-1 in 2010 equate to a 8.2% increase in expenses to the district, 4.2% of which is paid by employer, and 4.0% paid for with monies otherwise available for raises. 

Shades of Blue Coming to Wheat Ridge High School: STEM Program Focused on Aviation

by Vicki Ottoson

The Wheat Ridge Community Foundation (WRCF), under the leadership of Board Member Arthur Bushell, is working with staff at Wheat Ridge High School to launch a new chapter of Shades of Blue, Inc. 

Founded in 1999 to help address growing shortages in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical (STEM) workforce, Shades of Blue is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to mentoring, tutoring, counseling, and arranging internship and employment referrals for young people who desire to pursue STEM careers. 

Through the efforts of 70+ volunteers, Shades of Blue is currently assisting over 1,250 U.S. and International students who have become interested in pursuing careers in aviation and aerospace.  The program at Wheat Ridge High School will be the first project in Jeffco. 

Shades of Blue is committed to fostering STEM careers for all interested students.

Professionals within the organization provide a support system for mentoring and job placement that will maximize the probability of success for the students who desire a career in STEM. Partnerships within STEM-oriented employers provide graduates with potential future employment and/or educational opportunities. 

Although Shades of Blue focuses primarily on aviation and aerospace, assistance with other STEM vocations is available to student members. Interested students can sign up to become members by clicking  “Student Sign Up” on the OurShadesofBlue.org home page. 

Each year Shades of Blue conducts more than 50 school visits targeting students Grade K through college, encouraging them to pursue STEM careers. Locally, Aero Clubs have been established at Metro State College of Denver and the United States Air Force Academy. 

During the summer months, Shades of Blue hosts aviation and aerospace camps focusing on STEM education for student members. In 2014, Metro State and the Denver Housing Authority hosted the first Denver Area Summer Science Camp. This past fall, Littleton Public Schools held Engineering and Aviation Enhancement Courses. Students of all ages are encouraged to attend the Shades of Blue annual “Fly Day” to experience the thrill of actual flight.  

Shades of Blue was founded by United Captain Willie Daniels. The organization’s board of directors is a mini-“Who’s Who” of aviation and aerospace science and education professionals. Over the past few years, Shades of Blue has established working relationships with leading aerospace companies and programs in the Denver Metro Area, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Jeppesen, United Airlines, the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at Metro State College of Denver, the United States Air Force Academy and the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. These important industry contacts keep Shades of Blue abreast of the changing employment needs and trends throughout the aviation and aerospace industries.

Distinguished individuals such as Ralph Dergance, a former Lockheed Martin executive, teach Shades of Blue classes. Ralph started his career at The Martin Company as a propulsion engineer on the venerable Titan programs, and moved through the ranks across the entire spectrum of responsibilities from launch vehicle and space programs to management. Ralph served as Director of Acquisition Management for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company at the time of his retirement 41 years later.

Other distinguished volunteers include Mr. Peter Teets, who served as Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Under Secretary of the Air Force, and head of Lockheed Martin from 1995 to 1999.  Mr. Teets joins 25 distinguished Shades of Blue Award recipients, including Maj. James Harrison, USAF, Tuskegee Airman; Lt. Victor Glover, USAF, Test Pilot, Edwards Air Force Base; Mr. Barrington Irving, Round-the-World Soloist; and Dr. Edward Tunstel, Space Department, John Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory.

The 9-week Wheat Ridge High Ground School Class is set to launch on Saturday, February 21, and will be open to 30 students.   At the conclusion of the class, graduates will have the opportunity to experience flight firsthand in a cockpit setting. 

The program is free of charge. Students wishing to enroll should contact Wheat Ridge High School Counselor Gina Writz. Parents who have questions can call Gina at 303-982-5214. Volunteers interested in working with Shades of Blue, please contact WRCF and Shades of Blue Board Member Arthur Bushell, 303-810-3087. 

 

Jeffco Superstars

Congratulations, Rocky Mountain Deaf School, on your new home! The charter school moved into its new home on South Kipling near D’Evelyn High School on December 3, 2014. 

Two Jeffco students earned a perfect score of 36 on the ACT in the school year 2013–2014: Ryan Blay, Jefferson Academy Sr. High School, and Tara Santi, Lakewood High School. Congrats to Ryan and Tara!

Jeffco students help Jeffco Action Center! Students at Alameda International High School collected over 1,500 items for Jeffco Action Center in less than two hours. Rooney Ranch Elementary School students worked with Cardel Homes and collected 3,300 canned and boxed food items in eight days.

Shelton Elementary School students wrote hundreds of thank you cards to U.S. military service men and women in honor of Veterans Day. Students collected names and addresses of veterans and active military from the Jeffco community and partnered with Jeffco’s Salute to America campaign. They wrote wonderful tribute cards to thank our military families for their service.  

Bell Middle School has invited parents to monthly parent information workshops for families with language and cultural differences. Topics for the meetings have often been suggested by parents and driven by their needs.

Congratulations to Lakewood High School science teacher, Suzanne McClung! She was one of only nine teachers nationwide to win the Amgen Science Teaching Excellence Award.

 Congratulations to Lakewood High School social studies teacher, Sara Shackett! She was named the 2014 Outstanding Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the National Council of Social Studies Teachers.

New Board Focus on Improving Student Achievement, Making a Difference

At their first retreat in December 2013, current members of the school board unanimously approved higher student achievement goals and publicly committed to a guarantee that resources will be allocated to programs that work. They set measurable, timed targets in order to make certain students all across the district have access to a great education. 
The new student achievement goals drove key decisions to allocate resources for the current school year.

First, the board increased the planned compensation increases by 50 percent, raising the amount of compensation increases for effective staff from $11.7 million to $18.2 million.

The board also allocated millions of additional dollars for a new math curriculum, Math Expressions. Schools are not required to switch to the new curriculum unless they think it will help their students. Math Investigations, which was selected when current board member Jill Fellman ran the district math department, has not raised achievement in this area as expected. 

They approved new literacy interventions, allocating 2 million additional dollars to be invested in programs designed to help an additional 300 third graders to read at grade level. 

The board also denied a request to expand free full-day kindergarten after achievement data showed that more than half of the programs did not have any lasting effect. They chose instead to continue the program at current funding levels while district staff conducts further research into which programs are most effective. 

The board also compared how other local districts fund their full-day kindergarten programs, and found that some districts provide more access by using a sliding scale of each family’s ability to pay. Some can enroll at no charge, and others at reduced cost, based on family income. Jeffco, however, does not provide funding for each family in need. Rather, the district currently supports programs that create unequal access. The board requested a program review to confirm that resources are allocated fairly as well as to programming that improves student achievement. 

The new allocation of resources and laser-like focus on asking about the effectiveness of investments in moving student achievement in a positive direction is starting to make a difference. While seven of the 10 goals the board set moved in the wrong direction last year, things are starting to look up. 

Graduation and dropout rates just published show that in 2014, Jeffco graduation rates improved and dropouts declined. Literacy interventions show three out of four students being served increased their reading skills by one level, while nearly half have increased two or more levels. 

Principals are coming together and asking what it takes to improve achievement systemically throughout their articulation areas. These conversations have led to proposed changes in both the Jefferson and Alameda areas that promise to significantly improve achievement. Teachers’ professional development is more focused on implementing best practices, as the district looks across the nation for programs that create exponential changes. 

In order to help supercharge local efforts to improve achievement, the board has approved moving to student-based budgeting. This process is designed to break the one-size-fits-all, top-down funding and decision-making which has inhibited flexibility in local communities. 

Student-based budgeting localizes control of more dollars, allowing each school’s parents, staff, and community members to make more decisions that are best for their students. These decisions will be driven by the school accountability committees, which are best positioned to observe the needs of their student populations.

All of these investments and changes have been made in an attempt to raise the number of students who perform at or above grade level. 

Should Jeffco Build More Schools: Facilities and Enrollment Facts

by Ann Randall

Despite past promises, Jeffco Public Schools asked voters in 2008 to approve $350 million in bond funds. Then-superintendent Cindy Stevenson had said that the district would not need more funds for five years after the successful 2004 passage of a $200 million bond issue. The 2008 proposal asked the taxpayers to approve new debt, which could have cost them up to $754 million in repayments over 20 to 30 years.

The 3B bond proposal campaign was led by then Arvada Mayor, Ken Fellman, husband of current board member Jill Fellman, and supported by Citizens for Jeffco Schools, which was co-chaired by Lesley Dahlkemper. The campaign failed to convince voters, and the measure was unsuccessful at the ballot box. 

The 2008 proposal included funds to build two new schools even though student enrollment had declined by 2 percent between 1999 and 2007. Jeffco enrollment peaked in 2000, at about 89,000 students, before declining by more than 3,500 students. Only in the past couple years has enrollment ticked up again. 

In 2009, following the defeat of 3B, the district convened a Facility Usage Committee to study capacity needs and projections. The committee also evaluated program effectiveness and recommended the closure of a number of school buildings, because the district had excess classroom capacity. At the time, Jeffco’s elementary schools were at 91 percent capacity, with middle schools at 72 percent and high schools at 88 percent. 

The school board closed and sold Russell Elementary, moving those students into Arvada K-8. They also closed and mothballed Zerger Elementary (500 student capacity) in Westminster and Martensen Elementary (300 student capacity) in Wheat Ridge; both schools still sit empty. The closing of these three schools took more than 1,200 classroom seats out of use. While Russell had space for 434 students, it is the only permanent building capacity that is no longer counted in the district inventory.

Despite the failed 2008 bond issue, Jeffco building capacity expanded by over 1.2 million square feet of classroom space due to the renovations approved in the 2004 bond issue. Program capacity grew from nearly 10 million square feet to over 11.2 million square feet today. 

Since the election of the new school board, enrollment in Jeffco has begun to grow. In 2013–14 Jeffco enrollment was up 450 students and in 2014–15 enrollment grew again by 550 students bringing Jeffco’s enrollment to 86,500 students. This figure is still 2,500 students under Jeffco’s 2000 peak enrollment. Still, as previously mentioned, Jeffco’s classroom capacity has increased by over 1.2 million square feet. 

These pertinent facts beg the question: why did two Jeffco school members propose committing the district to additional debt to build two new schools? The taxpayers said no in 2008, and yes in 2012, but only for $99 million in bonds, approved for upgrades to existing facilities. Yet recently Ms. Dahlkemper and Ms. Fellman supported a motion to issue Certificates of Participation (COPs) for over $80 million. 

This form of financing does not require asking voters to approve the debt as called for in the state constitution. The payments are accounted for as lease payments, renewable each year. However, in order to keep using the facilities, payments must be maintained. So the debt is, in fact, as permanent as bond debt. The $80 million debt increase would be used to build an additional stadium, make renovations to Sierra Elementary, and construct two brand new schools. 

This proposal would have required $5 to $6 million a year out of the district’s general fund to repay the debt. That money would otherwise be available for compensation increases, to support technology, to keep class sizes low, or to cover other operating expenses. 

The district projects further enrollment growth, which has spurred the latest facilities conversation. The largest new development, Candelas, is being built in Arvada at the intersection of highways 93 and 72. Enrollment increases are also anticipated as the development of Solterra in Lakewood continues to build out. Additionally, new development is planned at the old Green Gables golf course at Jewell and Wadsworth, in Westminster at the old mall location, and along I-70 in Wheat Ridge. 

Because a few schools are experiencing significant enrollment growth, the board has been discussing possible solutions to house the new students. To date the proposal presented by Chief Operating Officer Steve Bell, a former bond salesman, has not included a plan to use the existing empty schools or to adjust school boundaries to accommodate the concentrated enrollment growth. 

Ms. Fellman’s motion proposed building one of the two new schools nearly 5 miles south of the high-growth area it was meant to cover, the new Candelas development. The Lakewood school was proposed for a site on the west side, which would not accommodate any of the Green Gables development. 

Neither of these schools would be finished until 2017, so they would not provide capacity relief for at least the next two school years. Clearly more work needs to be done.

It is certainly important for the district to anticipate and plan for growing enrollment; however, it should be done in as fiscally prudent a fashion as possible. Additionally, the board needs to be certain that the growth from all of the new developments can be accommodated. Issuing more debt should be a last resort after all options have been explored.

Who is In Charge of Colorado Education Policy?

by Dr. Paula Noonan

It’s no secret that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), aka Colorado Legacy Foundation. The Gates Foundation has given over $22 million to CEI to make sure its mission to implement Common Core standards, teacher accountability, and annual standardized testing is fulfilled.

It’s also no secret that CEI has a two-way entrée into the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). CDE passes projects to CEI to fund with “gifts, grants, and donations” and CEI passes “gifts, grants, and donations” to CDE.

What was a secret, until a Joint Budget Committee meeting in December 2014, is that the Colorado Education Initiative has one of its paid employees managing CDE’s most important—and controversial—initiative: the implementation of Common Core standards and instruction. Brian Sevier, a CEI paid staffer, was “loaned” to CDE in 2012 as Standards and Instruction Project Director. Since then he’s supervised CDE’s employees responsible for implementing Common Core across the state. He even writes their performance appraisals.

CDE Commissioner Robert Hammond said he thought taxpayers would appreciate saving their money and that he was being “creative.” Legislators on both sides of the aisle aren’t buying it.

Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) said at the JBC hearing, “I’m concerned about the precedent here. It’s the idea of treating loaned labor as a donation…There are other non profits out there who would like to influence outcomes with donated labor.”

Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) expressed his exasperation: “When people are funded completely off budget by a non-government entity, where’s the transparency to the public and the general assembly?”

Newly elected state Senator Chris Holbert (R-Highlands Ranch) asked State Board of Education directors Marcia Neal and Jane Goff if they knew what was going on. “It’s something we haven’t talked about,” said Neal. “We need to bring things out into the open and talk about it,” said Goff.

Commissioner Hammond said, “There was no intent to hide anything.”

State Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City) observed, “It’s odd and concerning when those acting as our employees really aren’t our employees. Who’s paying the bills and where do loyalties lie?”

CEI paid the bills… and for four other CEI employees at CDE as well.

Especially galling to legislators is that the CEI “loaner” has oversight of policy that’s come under increasing criticism from the public, despite efforts by Bill Gates and the Colorado Education Initiative to laud Common Core’s virtues.

Parents, students, and teachers now object to the whole Common Core/SB-191 teacher performance evaluation and accountability package attached to state testing.

State Senator Michael Johnston, a Democrat for Education Reform (DFER), crammed SB-191 through the 2010 legislature in cahoots with CDE and CEI. He concocted the strategies described in Scott Laband’s essay, “Creating a Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story” written up as a case study for future DFERs. Scott Laband, Johnston’s former staffer and now president of Colorado Succeeds, described their take-no-prisoners legislative blitzkrieg rolling over dissenting Democrats, teachers, and the Colorado Education Association. His analysis is a real eye-opener, a must-read for legislators who want to be their own person.

The 2014 General Assembly set up the HB14-1202 Task Force on Standards and Assessments, Brian Sevier’s area of supervision at CDE, and that committee has also been compromised. A Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) executive is a voting member of that 15-person committee. Susan Van Gundy, paid by PARCC, may be the tie-breaking vote on any HB-1202 recommendations to the 2015 legislature.

Meanwhile, parents along with their children are experiencing the mess of our current education system based on poor standards implementation and unrelenting student testing. Middle schoolers will be at a particular disadvantage in spring 2015 when the new PARCC tests unfold twice, once in March and again in April/May. They are trying to learn math, tested the PARCC way, without textbooks because Common Core-compliant texts aren’t ready yet.

Republican legislators, who unanimously voted for SB10-191, have done an about face to address the clamor against Common Core. Democratic legislators against the industrial strength testing and teacher accountability agenda enforced by CDE with Gates and CEI handholding are finally getting some traction against the DFER cahooters.

The testing stand-off that occurred in the fall, with thousands of high school seniors refusing to sit for CMAS exams, will certainly get bigger if everything stays the same. When the people’s voices roar really loud, legislators’ ears perk up. It looks like education reform reformers—parents, students, and teachers—are about to be heard, finally.

Reprinted with permission from blogger: Noparccingzone.org  - Paula Noonan 

Measuring How Well Jeffco Schools Improve Student Achievement

by Tom Coyne

There are a number of different tests which measure student achievement. Two main criteria can help you determine how well schools improve student achievement. The first is absolute achievement, as measured by the percent of students who score in the proficient or advanced category compared against state grade level standards. Students take the tests in grades 3 through 10 in reading, writing, and math; they are tested in science and social studies only once in elementary, middle, and high school. For example, the state’s John Irwin Awards are based on the percent of students at a school that are proficient or advanced in reading, writing, math, and science.

One issue with absolute proficiency is that students may have arrived at the school significantly behind, so just measuring absolute proficiency might not reflect the work this year’s team has accomplished. For that reason, Senate Bill 10-191, Colorado’s framework for evaluating teachers and principals, does not use absolute achievement as a criteria, because it would unfairly benefit those educators who are based at schools were children are already at grade level. It also runs the risk of committing the error that was so colorfully described by Barry Switzer, Oklahoma’s legendary football coach: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.”

Instead, SB 191 uses a different criteria that aims to capture the value added by a teacher and school. This criteria is called “Median Growth Percentile.” A student’s growth percentile is a relative, rather than an absolute, metric. Essentially, it is calculated by subtracting his or her previous year’s TCAP scale score from this year’s score, and dividing the result by the starting score to standardize the change from one year to the next. These standardized scores are then further classified into percentiles that range from 0 to 99. The Median Growth Percentile is simply the midpoint growth percentile in any grouping of students.

Because it is a relative measure, MGP makes it easier to compare value added across schools. For example, the Median Growth Percentile for math at Evergreen and Jefferson high schools could in theory be exactly the same, even though the students had very different starting and ending TCAP scale scores. In this example, both schools could be said to have added the same amount of value to their students’ math achievement over the previous year.

I like to use a running race analogy to explain the difference between absolute and relative achievement metrics. Suppose your child comes home and tells you that she or he finished in the 90th percentile in a running race at school. This tells you that, compared to the other students who were on the same starting line as your child, he or she was relatively fast. But does that tell you that you should start thinking about college track scholarships? No, it does not. For that, you need to know your child’s absolute time in the race. 

Both metrics are important. But because a school cannot control the previous educational experience of the students who walk in the door, it makes more sense to use a relative metric like Median Growth Percentile to measure the effectiveness of schools.

On the K12 Accountability web site (www.k12accountability.org),  I have listed the top 10 highest performing schools, as measured by their three-year average MGPs in math, reading, and writing for students in the following categories: 

1. Non Low-Income General Ed: Students who are not eligible for free and reduced meals, and do not have either an Advanced Learning Plan or Individualized Education Plan (ALP/Gifted Education or IEP/Special Education) 

2. Low-Income General Ed: Students who are eligible for free and reduced meals, and do not have either an ALP or IEP

3. Non-Native Speakers: Students who are English Language Learners 

4. Non Low-Income Gifted: Students who are not eligible for free and reduced meals, and have and ALP but not an IEP.

Other groups of students had too few students at a school level to allow for meaningful analysis. Charter, Option and District run schools are all included. 

Listed in the chart are the math and reading results for Students Not Eligible for Free and Reduced Meals, Who Have Neither an ALP nor IEP.

Jeffco’s choice enrollment program offers parents a wide range of options for finding a good fit between what their child needs and what various schools have to offer. Nonetheless, the district has always been stingy when it comes to providing parents with the information they need to easily compare schools and make good decisions. To be sure, there are state-level resources like Colorado School Grades (http://www.coloradoschoolgrades.com), and the Colorado Department of Education’s School View website (http://www.cde.state.co.us/schoolview). 

However, as I have noted above, their methodologies have some important limitations, particularly if a parent is trying to identify those schools that add the most value to student achievement, and not just schools that are located in the most affluent ZIP codes. Hopefully, this analysis will help Jeffco parents make better school choice decisions for their children.

Another point that is sure to strike a lot of people, particularly after they have reviewed the data for all schools on the downloadable Excel spreadsheet at k12accountability.org, is that Jeffco has both very strong and very weak schools (including some whose reputations substantially exceed their results).

One of my great frustrations with the way Jeffco was run for over a decade under former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson was that there seemed to be a great reluctance to publicly compare schools’ performance. The district also lacked strong management processes for learning lessons from the best performers and systematically transferring them to other schools. 

Coyne chart.jpg

Just ask any of the teachers and principals at the schools listed here with MGPs of 60 or higher how often they received visits from the head office or from principals and teachers at other schools seeking to learn how they achieved their impressive results. And if your school has MGPs below 60, ask your principal and teachers how often they reached out to these high performing schools to solicit improvement ideas and coaching. Sadly, you won’t hear many positive responses.

And that’s the point. If we want to improve student achievement in Jeffco, this practice needs to change, even if increased use of school performance comparisons ruffles some feathers and produces more conflict. The inescapable truth is that substantial performance improvement requires substantial change, which inevitably produces conflict. If Jeffco’s primary goal is to avoid that conflict, then our student achievement performance will never improve, and we’ll continue to pay a billion dollars a year for mediocre results.

The entire data set, as well as results and rankings for all Jeffco schools can be downloaded as an Excel (.xlsx) file from K12accountability.org.

Tom Coyne is a political Independent. He chairs the Wheat Ridge High School Accountability Committee, is a member of Jeffco’s District Accountability Committee, and has worked on corporate performance improvement issues for more than 30 years.

Ask the Moms

How to Get More Textbooks

I wanted to check out a math book to help my son with his homework; his teacher said there are not enough books I find it really difficult to use the online version.  What should I do next?

If you are having a hard time getting books to take home to help your child with homework we have four recommendations for you. 

First, have another conversation with the teacher and let her know you really want the book. You may have caught her at an inopportune time when you asked before. Kindly tell her if there really is a lack of books then you will take this to the principal as parents must be able to have the resources to help their children.

Second, for your conversation with the principal—again reiterate that you are looking for resources to help your child with his homework and ask if there is a book at the school or maybe one at the district level that you could borrow.

Third, if those conversations don’t result in getting the resources you need, attend the next accountability committee meeting at your school. This committee is responsible for assisting with the allocation of resources and is the perfect place to get other parents to help ensure there are enough resources to help your child.

Although the school should have enough resources to purchase books for parents to check out so they can help their children, you can work with your PTA or PTO to help raise the funds and acquire the books needed.

If you still have no luck, you might want to call the publisher; often they will send you a sample of the textbook. 

Finally, you can keep moving up the chain and ask the principal’s boss—the achievement director, who also has a boss, who has a boss, who reports to a board of education. If all else fails, contact your local board of education representative.

Colleges Vary on Credit for AP, IB, Dual Classes

At Minnetonka High School, students take advanced courses to bolster their chances of getting into a selective college or because they hope to get credit for a college class. Others sign up because of a must-have teacher or to be with high-achieving students.

These may be the reasons that students are increasingly taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, according to Phil Trout, a school counselor at the suburban Minneapolis school, but parents increasingly hope the practice will save them money, too. "There is an antsiness to get going, and the undercurrent is largely financial," he said.

But colleges don't always see the trend the same way. And state lawmakers are entering the debate by passing laws requiring public colleges and universities to set uniform policies for recognizing AP, IB, and dual-enrollment courses that students take in high school.

"Colleges and universities are reluctant to give away the farm because in doing so, you give up valuable tuition revenues," said Mr. Trout, who also is the president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Some top selective institutions, where high-achieving students can enter with years of college-level coursework from high school, are becoming stricter in the awarding of credit. Not facing the same volume of incoming credits, public institutions generally are more accepting. The patchwork of increasingly fluid policies, often varying within departments in a college, leaves many students and parents uncertain about how advanced coursework will pay off and pushing for greater transparency.

For example, according to a 2013 survey by the College Board, of 1,380 institutions with a total of 39,000 policies, 68 percent of policies give AP credit for a score of 3 or better on a scale of 1 to 5; another 30 percent for a score of 4; and 2 percent require a score of 5. Eight institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, refuse to use AP for credit or placement, according to the Board, the New York City-based organization that runs that program.

Advantage Is Uncertain
Twenty-two states have adopted policies guaranteeing that dual-enrollment credits be accepted by colleges, up from 15 in 2008. With dual credit, high school students are taking college-level courses either at a nearby college campus or in their own high school with credentialed instructors.

The Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board reported that high school students in the study who took dual-enrollment courses completed college degrees in 4.6 years, compared with five years for their peers who did not take college courses in high school.
Likewise, a study released by the College Board in January found that AP exam-takers were more likely than their demographically and academically matched peers to graduate on time in four years.

"We do see cost savings as an incredible value and benefit of AP," said Trevor Packer, the senior vice president of AP and instruction at the College Board. "But the cost savings may come from earning your degree in four years, rather than four-and-a-half or five."

Earlier research by Kristin Klopfenstein, the executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley, reported that with the exception of students who take a very large number of AP courses, the probability that an AP student will graduate from college in less than four years or exactly four years is indistinguishable from that of a similar student who does not take AP.

The College Board does not "trumpet" the message that AP equals early graduation, but the experience can allow students to take more advanced coursework, pursue a double major, add a minor, or have the flexibility to study abroad, Mr. Packer said.

The International Baccalaureate, with U.S. regional offices in Bethesda, Md., and programs in 830 U.S. high schools, doesn't exist for the purpose of getting students college credit, said Drew Deutsch, the IB regional director for the Americas, although many colleges do award it. The IB experience, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is about better preparing students for college work and setting them apart in admissions, he said.

"For a student who is experiencing the educational and social benefits of college life," said Mr. Deutsch, "who would want to depart early if they can financially afford it?"

Policies around the granting of college credit for AP coursework have fluctuated more as the total number of students taking AP exams has doubled over the past decade, growing from 846,000 in 2005 to 1.5 million today. Each year, 6 percent of AP credit policies are modified, balancing between allowing for more credit or less, according to the College Board.

In general, Mr. Packer said, those institutions that are open to accepting credit are trying to attract students, while the more-restrictive ones want students to have most of their academic experience on campus.

Last year, Dartmouth College announced it would no longer award credit for AP, saying it wanted students to take courses with its faculty on campus to the greatest extent possible. The policy change has not hurt application volume, and it will be formally reviewed in three years.

About half the AP students surveyed this year by the College Board said they'd be less likely to apply to a college or university that didn't give credit for AP exam scores. About 70 percent of respondents said that earning college credit while in high school was the main reason to take an AP course. Other factors were to "increase my chances of college admission" (62 percent) and to build skills needed in college (54 percent).

It falls on the shoulders of students to figure out colleges' credit-granting policies, said Ms. Klopfenstein of the University of Northern Colorado.

"I don't think schools are trying not to be transparent. There just is no clearinghouse or central place," she said. "Even within a university, you have to go to every department. That's the real challenge—portability."

This is an abridged version of an article originally published by Education Week on December 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission from Editorial Projects in Education.

Working Together to Improve Student Achievement: The Jefferson Area Plan

by Jenna Schmidt

The energy around the kid-sized tables in the school gym was cautious and curious. Parents and teachers quietly filled the room before the first community meeting to discuss and hear feedback on the Jefferson Area Plan, while Spanish translators handed out wireless headsets so that everyone could understand and participate. Meetings were convened to gather teacher, parent, and community feedback on the ideas to improve student achievement in area schools.

Any plans for the Jefferson Articulation Area will need to garner school board approval for action. The area encompasses Edgewater and parts of Lakewood and Wheat Ridge along the corridor between Wadsworth and Sheridan boulevards.   

The proposed plan was created by area principals to address low student achievement in local schools. Currently, less than 3 percent of Jefferson High School 10th grade students rate “proficient” or “advanced” in math, according to the 2014 TCAP scores shown at the beginning of each presentation. With a full third of Jefferson High School students failing to graduate on time, and with an average ACT score of 16.1, a full eight points below the typical score of a University of Colorado at Boulder freshman, significant improvements are critical.  
Wheat Ridge 5-8, an unusual grade configuration created in 2010 to improve student achievement, has consistently had the lowest middle school scores in the district.  The school is one of 55 in Colorado to receive the state’s lowest accreditation rating of “Turnaround.”
School administrators developed ideas to help students build better futures. One of the primary changes proposed involves eliminating some of the difficult transitions students must make between elementary, middle, and high school (and sometimes even more frequently).

The suggested adjustments to the school system include closing Wheat Ridge 5-8 and moving Stevens Elementary students onto that campus to establish a preschool-through-sixth grade program. 

Similarly, Jefferson High School would become a pre-college and career academy educating students from grades seven through 12. The proposal also suggests moving Sobesky, a school for students with identified emotional disabilities, into the vacated Stevens building.  

Adding seventh and eighth graders to the Jefferson High School campus elicited a lot of feedback from parents at all three community meetings. “[My sixth grader] told me, ‘I hear bad words at school’ and I think, ‘just wait until you get to high school.’ That makes high school coming down to him a little bit scarier,” offered one parent at the January 6 community meeting held at Edgewater Elementary. “To me, that’s a concern.” 

Another parent, though, shared that she thought her middle school students would behave better because their older cousins would be in the same building. School administrators assured the community that the safety and security of their students is their first priority. 

The plan also involves the possibility of expanding dual language programs, and offering Problem Based Learning for seventh through 12th graders. In addition, discussions have included creating professional learning communities across all Jefferson area schools, and applying for Innovation Status if necessary.  

The 2008 Innovation Schools Act, adopted by the Colorado General Assembly, created a framework for schools, groups of schools, or districts to craft a plan for success free from burdensome laws and policies. Teachers are empowered to vote on changes needed to bypass union contract rules. The State Board of Education decides whether to offer waivers from specified state laws that school leaders can seek as a means to reconfigure the educational program and meet performance targets.

District leaders and area principals provided more research and answers at each meeting, actively adapting the discussion based on the concerns that emerged in feedback. In fact, by the final meeting at Lumberg Elementary on January 15, Chief School Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliot preemptively asked the school gym, “How many of your tables had discussions about concerns of seventh graders with twelfth graders?”  Almost all of the roughly 60 attendees raised their hands.

Based on feedback from each meeting, the subsequent gatherings incorporated answers to parent questions, especially regarding combining grades. Mr. Elliot explained that Jeffco leaders have researched other districts across the country that have successfully minimized school transitions, and increased student achievement.  The research has been posted on the district’s website. 

Principals discussed the many ways they would handle seventh graders and high school seniors being on the same campus to assure safety. They discussed the possibility of different starting and lunch times or different class period breaks for different grades, and how to keep students in different parts of the building.

By the end of the meeting, parents  had the opportunity to provide feedback and to have their questions answered. The process confirmed for parents that district administrators and teachers are passionately committed to helping their students succeed, like so many students’ family members who showed up to participate. In each of the three meetings, attendance increased but the process remained similar. Parents gladly engaged with each other and with the school faculty and staff to brainstorm how the Jefferson Area Plan could best improve student achievement.

District leaders hope to have the plan implemented for next school year: 2015–16.
“The next step is us coming together and deciding what a plan looks like, that brings us forward together,” Jefferson High School Principal Michael James said. “It’s not about seven principals coming together and saying,  ‘this is what we’re going to do’…It’s creatively coming together, deciding some things that need to be the framework of a plan, and then getting all of you involved in that plan, and that’s what we’re here to do tonight.”

Next steps include having staff further define the plan, hosting more community meetings, and presenting the plan to the Jeffco Board of Education, who will make the final decisions. 

 

The State Board of Education Offers PARCC Waivers

At the Colorado State Board of Education’s January 2015 meeting, a bipartisan group of members voted to give local districts more flexibility surrounding the state’s new testing system.

By a 4-3 margin, the Board adopted a motion made by new member Steve Durham to allow districts to apply for waivers from the performance-based PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments. Colorado is transitioning from TCAP tests in 2015 to PARCC assessments. 

In 2012 the Colorado legislature failed to provide funding for Colorado to develop its own tests and required the State instead to join one of two testing consortiums, either PARCC or Smarter Balance. The State Board of Education chose to join the PARCC consortium. PARCC has two rounds of tests planned for students in 2015; some in March and again at the end of year in late April thru the end of May. 

The State Board of Education, recognizing how over-tested our students have become, voted to allow districts to request not to take the March performance-based assessments. Estimates are that Colorado students will lose more than 2,000,000 (two million) hours of instruction just to take the PARCC performance-based assessments. 

At press time, a half-dozen districts, including Jeffco (on a 3-1-1 vote), have passed motions to apply for the waivers, although it is unclear if the waivers legally can be granted. The State Board is awaiting a formal legal opinion they have requested from the Attorney General’s office. 

 

Attracting and Retaining Great Teachers: Jeffco Teachers See Larger Checks

By Cindy Johnson

Last November, more than 5,300 Jeffco licensed staff members finally received larger paychecks for the first time in recent years. To keep funding decreases out of classrooms, Jeffco staff took a 3 percent pay reduction in the 2011–12 school year.  

Previous school boards allocated additional funds to employee retirement accounts over the past three years (plus  a 1 percent increase in 2012–13 and another 2 percent in 2013–14 to make up for the prior 3 percent reduction), but Jeffco staff members did not see any take-home increase during that time. 

With the approval of the current school board’s plan, 5,200 Jeffco teachers and other licensed professionals have received ongoing raises that vary in size from 2.4  to 13 percent. Teachers new to Jeffco received the largest raises, as the salary floor was increased to $38,000. 

Teachers who work in the 20 schools participating in the federal Teacher Incentive Fund program had their salaries raised to at least $40,000 in 2010 at the start of the program. Raising salaries for the rest of Jeffco’s new teachers will help ensure that Jeffco is a competitive and attractive district for those looking to start a teaching career. 

Raises for all other teachers were dependent upon the evaluation rating they received the previous year. Those evaluations were based on classroom practices, but not student achievement measures or test scores. The evaluations were conducted using a rubric jointly developed by the district and the Jefferson County Educators Association (JCEA) in 2008. Teachers rated ”Effective” received a 2.4 percent permanent raise, while “Highly Effective” teacher raises exceeded 4 percent.

Breaking with the tradition of not giving raises to teachers on the highest end of the salary scale, this year the board gave one-time raises to 118 teachers who otherwise would not have received increases under the traditional “step” scenario. Those stipends total over $190,000. 

While teachers are often quoted as saying they don’t go into the profession to make money, we certainly know that salaries must be competitive in order to attract and retain great teachers. As college students graduate with more debt, they are becoming more sensitive to choosing professions that allow them to repay their student loans. 

According to a study by Michigan State University, the average starting salary for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree across the country is $39,045. The National Education Association (NEA) reports that the average starting teacher salary across the US is $36,141, while Colorado’s average starting teacher salary is $32,126.   Raising the entry level salary from $33,616 to $38,000 does make Jeffco more competitive for graduates with teaching degrees. 

However, attracting graduates with majors in fields other than education may be more difficult. Graduates of UCD’s business administration program have average starting salaries of $43,518, while graduates from the School of Mines receive around $56,671 on average. 

According to the last JCEA contract pay schedule, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to complete 19 years in the classroom before topping $43,000. Without further education credits, they also  would have retired never having made over $50,000. Even upon getting a master’s degree, a teacher would have had to work 10 years before making what the average Mines graduate made in their first year. 

Changing teacher compensation to correlate with achievement means that every effective teacher is eligible for a salary increase.  According to the previous JCEA Salary Schedule, a “Level 1” teacher would work for more than a decade (from their 7th year until their 19th year) without any increase; a “Level 2” teacher would work 8 years (from their 10th year until the 19th) at the same pay level. 

The new approach to teacher compensation provides graduates and career-changers considering teaching as a profession a level of confidence that they will get compensation increases commensurate with other professions.   

The New Teacher Project reports that first-year teacher performance is more indicative of long-term effectiveness than academic credentials or typical pathways into the profession. This fact makes it imperative that Jeffco attract the highest quality candidates possible and provide the support needed for new teachers. According to studies conducted by McKinsey, what matters most to  successful school systems is getting the right people into teaching, developing them as effective teachers, and ensuring that all learners are supported.

The current JCEA contract contains a provision which limits the amount of experience allocated to teachers who transfer into Jeffco, which in turn limits their initial Jeffco earnings. Teachers coming from other districts get only seven years of experience (10, if they are going to fill a hard-to-recruit-for position). 

If a Denver teacher with 16 years of experience wanted to teach in Jeffco, they could only earn what a seven-year teacher was scheduled to earn. In addition, the contract has no provisions for recognizing relevant experience in other professions, making it financially difficult for those who may be changing careers to become a Jeffco teacher. 

Jeffco must have a thoughtful and competitive compensation system to attract and retain great teachers, it is the most critical factor for improving student success in Jeffco.