First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Dropout prevention summit to be held Friday

The Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement and ScholarCentric will co-sponsor a Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement Summit on Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. The summit will bring together more than 200 Colorado school district education leaders to discuss strategies to keep students in school and on-track toward graduation. The summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Adams 12 Five Star Schools, 1500 E. 128th Ave., in Thornton. For a complete agenda or for more details about the summit, contact Peter Fritz, 303-866-6601 or [email protected]

Denver mayoral candidates on education

They’re not eager to take over Denver Public Schools and they give mixed marks to recent DPS reforms, such as the turnaround plan in Far Northeast Denver. But with one eloquent exception, they raise a thumbs-up to Senate Bill 191, the educator effectiveness law that will link student achievement to teacher and principal evaluations. Watch the video at Education News Colorado.

K-12 would take $332 million hit

State support of school districts would drop $332 million compared to current levels under a 2011-12 budget proposal announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday afternoon. Funding of state colleges and universities would drop to only $519 million, compared to the $555 million originally requested for next year. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Teachers, school leaders from all over U.S. meet in Denver

A first-of-its-kind summit among teachers and their bosses — school board members and administrators — kicks off in Denver Tuesday. The Obama administration calls it a watershed moment in collaboration for school improvement. Read this KDVR report.

1-year-old high school’s senior class

It is a state-of-the-art learning facility. When Mead High School opened a year ago, brand new classrooms and athletic facilities greeted students. Because they opened with only a freshman and sophomore class, and this year added juniors, they are a school without a senior class. But in the hallways of this new school, you do see the faces of seniors. Watch this 9News report.

Bond savings fund new laptops for thousands of Denver teachers

Thanks to savings from the voter-approved 2008 Bond Program, thousands of Denver Public Schools teachers will receive new laptops as part of the DPS Teacher Laptop Project, which aims to provide teachers with the tools they need to better implement data driven instruction and to more effectively incorporate technology-based instructional resources into their classrooms.

Cherry Creek looking for right balance to teach special needs students

Special education teachers in the Cherry Creek School District have to create a constant balance between independent learning and individual attention for students, district staff said Monday. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Researchers fault L.A. Times methods in analysis of California teachers

University of Colorado researchers reported Monday that there were potential weaknesses in methods the Los Angeles Times used last year to rate elementary school teachers for a series that stoked national debate in a key arena of education reform. Read more in the Washington Post.

“Race to Nowhere” parent meeting rescheduled for Feb. 28

A networking event open to the public will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, at Fairview High School, 1515 Greenbriar Blvd. in Boulder, withRace to Nowhere poster further discussion from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  The event is sponsored by the Parent Engagement Network in Boulder Valley schools. The movie will not be shown. Participants will engage in an interactive format designed to allow each person to be heard. Adults and youth are invited. Register on-line.

Increasingly, male teachers found at head of elementary class

Each weekday, students filing into Denver’s Ashley Elementary School come face to face with a relatively rare educational experience. Read more in the Denver Post.

HB 11-1055 would give charter schools access to district facilities

A bill in the Colorado House would give charter schools the right to request access to unused facilities from their schools districts.  The districts would not be required to give the the facility to the charter school, but would have 30 days to come up with a response to the request. Read more in the Examiner.

Aurora Public Schools considers cuts for projected $25 million shortfall

Aurora Public Schools is considering furlough days, pay cuts and larger class sizes to help offset a projected budget shortfall of at least $25 million for the 2011-12 school year. Read more in the Denver Post.

Teacher tenure bill fails in Wyo. Senate

The first of several bills aimed to increase education accountability in Wyoming died in the Senate. Senate File 52, known as the “Teacher tenure” bill, failed to pass the Senate 12-18, during its third reading. Read more in the Casper Star-Tribune.

Denver preschool program scores well in evaluation

Assessments measuring the effectiveness of the Denver Preschool Program, which provides tuition credits to families and grants to qualifying preschools, show a majority of kids leaving ready for kindergarten. Read more in the Denver Post.

Does a district need a superintendent?

A school district east of Colorado Springs is poised to test the reaches of the state’s Innovation Schools Act, which allows waivers from state laws and collective bargaining agreements. School board members in the Falcon 49 School District are buying out the contracts of their top four district administrators – including the superintendent, a job that would be eliminated – as they scrap a traditional governance structure for something completely different. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Cherry Creek schools yield high return on instruction investment

The Cherry Creek School District is among the highest ranked in Colorado for effective use of funds for academic achievement, according to a study. Read more in the Denver Post.

Paying more for bottles could bring green to Colorado’s schools

That water bottle or bottle of beer you drink every day may soon cost you five more cents. But you could get the nickel back if you recycled the bottles. Check out this 9News report.

Boulder Valley makes small gains in minority teachers

The Boulder Valley School District is seeing small gains in the percentage of teachers of color after several years of concerted effort, but it still isn’t close to matching its student demographics. Read more in the Daily Camera.

At-risk high school students get glimpse of college

Not too long ago, Greg McCoy went to school at Montbello High School with no thoughts about the future. He says a lot kids are like that.

“I was definitely one of those students where I was just like, ‘Well, I’m in high school. I’m going to have fun. I’m just going to hang with friends,'” McCoy said. Watch this 9News report.

Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of student progress when she taught

Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, known for her crusade to use standardized test scores to help evaluate teachers, is facing renewed scrutiny over her depiction of progress that her students made years ago when she was a schoolteacher. Read more in the Washington Post.

Colorado Legacy Foundation to recognize Dougco schools

Douglas County School District’s Alternative Licensure Program is the recipient of the Excellence in Educator Preparation Award. Read more in the Highlands Ranch Herald.

Colorado district evolves school bus advertising to offset operation costs

Colorado school districts have been allowed to pursue external school bus advertising campaigns as potential revenue streams to fight budget cuts since the early 1990s. A system 45 miles north of Denver tried it once before with disappointing results but is giving the program another shot. Read more in School Transportation News.

Superintendent: Waiver best for small district

A tiny Eastern Plains school district is seeking a waiver from one education reform law by invoking the terms of a different reform statute. The 109-student Kit Carson district wants to be declared an innovation district, allowed under a 2008 law, and as part of that move basically wants to be exempted from the 2010 educator effectiveness law. Read more in Education News Colorado.

First Person

I’m a black male teen in Aurora, and I see how ‘achievement gap’ forms

The author, Ayden Clayton.

Have you ever heard of the achievement gap? Every column, blog or article that I’ve read on this topic has never come from a African-American, let alone an African-American male.

Here is a voice that should be heard: mine.

Recent research from Stanford showed that African-Americans come in behind other students on standardized tests and enrollment in honors to AP and college classes. This is very important because the gap is also prevalent at Rangeview High School in Aurora, where I am a senior.

There really is a problem. Look at the facts: 25.8 percent of African Americans are in poverty according to Census information published in 2013. The problem is how their lives at home are affecting classroom behavior or attention in class. This goes for all races, but the trend is that many of the students with families living in poverty drop out of high school.

“I believe the achievement gap is a multi-level problem in the education system,” English teacher Mr. Jordan Carter, who works at Rangeview and is a mixed minority, told me. “The hardest thing about it is telling people it is a significant problem. We can solve it by devoting time and resources to find the problem and we need to address kids from all backgrounds. Kids with better resources usually do better.”

I see other problems, too. As a student at Rangeview, I’ve been in numerous AP, honors and CCA classes (college courses) throughout my high school career. What I really have noticed were the underprivileged kids being treated differently, almost like the teachers thought of them as troublemakers without even knowing them.

I’ve had many teachers stereotype me about drugs, hip-hop, if I have a dad and more, and it made me pretty uncomfortable to the point where I didn’t want to go to the class. I feel that when issues such as these that occur in the classroom, it makes students of color not want to focus, and teachers could probably use better training on how to teach kids that do not look like them.

Those students would continuously sit in the back of classes, wouldn’t raise their hand, and wouldn’t ask questions. I used to be one of them. It’s not because the urge to not learn, but the discomfort of the setting in the classroom. When you get looked at and thought of like that, you don’t feel welcomed.

It is becoming evident that Rangeview is in need of a serious sit-down with some of our staff, such as the principal, teachers and all administrators. That way, students can see where their minds are and how they are trying to deal with the way they feel about fair conditions in the classroom.

The administrators should also talk to students – particularly minority students – about our wants and needs so we as students can have some input. For the students who are struggling, it would be great to have counselors talk to them and find a way that would help the students improve their academic careers, such as tutoring or staying after school.

I have faced the stereotype of being another dropout who is eventually going to jail, but I use that as inspiration every day. I know that all African-American males and females can make a change by letting our voice be heard.

Although I haven’t been through as much as other African-American students, I’ve been through enough to have my opinion matter. We — as minorities — can also take responsibility to change this problem by staying in school and voting into our government people who will fund impoverished areas.

As a community we need to fight stereotypes together. We either defeat stereotypes together or become the stereotypes ourselves.

Ayden Clayton is a senior at Rangeview High School. This piece first appeared in the Rangeview Raider Review.

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.