Hick, Bennet join NCLB reform push

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet Tuesday enlisted in the Obama administration’s campaign to reform the No Child Left Behind law, telling Colorado reporters that change in the law can’t wait.

NCLB logoAlong with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the two participated in a conference call with Colorado reporters with as part of the administration’s campaign for a major overhaul of the law, signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

The administration released its detailed plans for what’s also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on Sunday – Links to documents. And Duncan and President Obama touted their plans during an event at a Maryland middle school on Monday – Video of Obama speech and link to text.

Opening Tuesday’s conference call, Duncan cited Colorado education reforms and praised Hickenlooper and Bennet for “their extraordinary courage” on education issues.

Bennet served as then-Mayor Hickenlooper’s chief of staff before becoming Denver schools superintendent and later being appointed to the Senate by Gov. Bill Ritter. Hickenlooper and Bennet were elected to their seats in November.

The governor said to Duncan, “I cannot express how much we appreciate your sense of urgency … in a very real way we’re losing a generation of kids.”

Bennet picked up on the same theme, saying, “I look forward to working (with the administration) to make sure we can move this along.”

Duncan said there’s “a lot we have to fix” in NCLB, called it “very punitive in nature” with “no real rewards for success.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper (file photo)

Hickenlooper cited his proposed Education Leadership Council and implementation of the educator effectiveness law, which passed before he became governor, as key Colorado initiatives.

He didn’t mention the $332 million cut he’s proposed in K-12 spending, but reporters brought that up during a question-and-answer session.

“These budget cuts aren’t anybody’s first choice or anybody’s second or third choice,” the governor said. He said that in recent meetings with teachers “there was a clear willingness to stepping up and doing what they need to do” to improve the state’s schools. “This is a hard time. This requires everybody to pull together and find ways to do more with less.”

Hickenlooper added, “I do think we are close to a tipping point” that will see significant school improvement in the next few years.

Key elements of the administration’s proposed NCLB overhaul include:

  • Improved tests
  • School measurements that focus on student growth, not the pass-fail grading system of NCLB, under which 82 percent of U.S. schools are expected to fail
  • Encouraging states to adopt college and career readiness standards
  • Investment in state and local efforts to improve curriculum and allowing subjects in addition to reading and math to be included in accountability systems
  • More flexibility in school improvement strategies
  • Incentives for putting effective teachers in the schools that need them most
  • Elimination of unnecessary federal mandates
  • Competitive grant programs for teacher improvement, extending time spent in school, new tests and other programs
  • Investment in “ambitious efforts” to improve the lowest-performing schools
  • Support for reforms specifically tailored to rural schools

See Department of Education fact sheet about the proposals and a video of the president explaining his goals.

Many of the proposals match Colorado reforms passed in the last three years, including:

  • The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which led to new state content standards and definitions of school readiness and college and workforce readiness and which calls for new state tests and alignment of high school preparation and college entrance requirements.
  • The new state accountability system, launched last August, which bases ratings of schools and districts to the Colorado Growth Model.
  • Last year’s educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 10-191, the rules for which are still being drafted but which will ultimately tie 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations to student growth and change the procedures for how teachers gain – and lose – tenure.

No major K-12 reform bills have been proposed in the 2011 legislature, which is heavily focused on the proposed education budget cuts forced by declining state and local revenues.

The centerpiece of education policy during the first two years of the Obama administration was the Race to the Top competition, which awarded grants to a handful of states for various reform initiatives. Colorado applied twice but finished out of the running both times.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.