First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

LATEST BUDGET NEWS

As cuts continue in D-11, school closures could return

School closures and realignments may not be over in Colorado Springs School District 11, but there won’t be any for this year. Despite having to make $13 million in cuts to the 2011-12 budget, officials promised not to close schools. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Jeffco latest to announce cuts

GOLDEN – Colorado’s largest school district announced plans Friday to close two schools, cut all employees’ pay by 3 percent and trim two days from the school year in the face of nearly $40 million in cuts for 2011-12.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ budget proposal also includes charging students to ride school buses, reducing graduation requirements by a single credit and suspending a popular outdoor lab program that’s been a rite of passage for sixth-graders since 1962. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Aguilar school facing $224,000 in cuts

Members of the administration, teaching staff and part of the school board for Aguilar School District Re-6 met Monday evening to discuss potential budget cuts for the coming year in areas that include administration, instruction, transportation, athletics and the district’s vocation-technical automotive program.

The district has about $224,000 to cut from its $1,336,895 total program funding for the following year, with $163,398.74 expected in the form of state funding cuts and about $61,000 in debt from transportation-related penalties from the Colorado Department of Education. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Community raises $500,000 to save two schools

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. – A community group has raised $500,000 to save two elementary schools in Grand County. The East Grand County School District has a projected $1 million shortfall because of state budget cuts. Watch 7NEWS.

Adams 12 releases budget plan

THORNTON – Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski announced plans Wednesday to cut 180 jobs, including 94 classroom teachers, for 2011-12 and to ask remaining employees to pay more in medical and pension costs as the state’s fifth-largest district tries to close a $30 million budget gap. Read more in Education News Colorado.

Parents protest Adams 12 Schools’ budget cuts

Hundreds of families turned out for a candlelight vigil in front of Adams 12 Five Star Schools Wednesday. The group said they were mourning the educational losses for their children in the district, and protesting the state cuts to education. Watch Fox 31.

D-49 ideas for change include 4-day week, more technology

A four-day week for most students, a shift from books and papers to online tools and exit exams were among the ideas presented Wednesday night at the third innovation convention in Falcon School District 49. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

New measures emerge in Aurora’s bid to balance budget

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education took another step toward finalizing cuts for the coming school year during its meeting Tuesday, offering staff guidance in the form of a list of specific reductions. Increased class sizes, mandatory furlough days, wage freezes, increased health care costs for employees and reductions equaling about 23 teacher coach positions are all on the table. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Parents hand-deliver worries about school budget cuts to lawmakers

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) and other state lawmakers each got a special delivery on Monday. A group of concerned parents wrote them a letter, hundreds of pages long, with hopes of convincing the governor not to cut millions from schools as a way to balance the state budget. Watch more on 9News.

60 MINUTES profiles school paying teachers big bucks

The principal of a new experimental charter school where well-paid teachers cannot get tenure and, unlike in unionized public schools, can be fired easily if they don’t measure up, says he shouldn’t keep his job either if his students’ test scores don’t improve in the first four years.  Zeke Vanderhoek, founder of The Equity Project charter school in New York City, spoke to Katie Couric for a 60 MINUTES story that explores the raging issue of unions and tenure in education.

One of the reasons teachers want to work at The Equity Project without a union contract or tenure is the salary – $125,000 per year. It’s among the highest pay for teachers in the U.S. and the big idea behind the school.

“If you want to attract and retain talent, you have to pay for it,” says Vanderhoek, who attracted hundreds of applicants with that salary, from which he hired a small fraction. Watch 60 MINUTES.

Cherry Creek eyes stimulus cash for iPod language programcolorful iPods

Speech pathologists from the Cherry Creek School District could soon draw on 100 new wireless devices to address language disabilities in students from all grade levels. Read more in the Aurora Sentinel.

Florida set to replace teacher tenure with merit pay

Florida lawmakers gave final legislative approval on Wednesday to a bill aimed at replacing teacher tenure with a merit-based system, in the latest clash between a U.S. state government and public employee unions. Read more in Reuters.

Dougco parents clamor for private school vouchers

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Now that Douglas County Schools have approved a plan to let students use public funds to pay for private school tuition, the phone are ringing off the hook with parents wanting first dibs, a school spokeswoman said. Watch more on 7NEWS.

Thompson students gearing up for annual CSAP exams

Today, Lucile Erwin Middle School students are wearing red to get red-y to take their annual assessment tests over the next two weeks. Tuesday, they’ll come in with crazy hair, followed by a team jersey the next day. Read more in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Concurrent enrollment smooths high schoolers’ path to college

In evolving attempts to smooth the path to college, the number of students enrolled in college classes concurrent with their high school studies is growing. Read more in the Denver Post.

Obama: Rewrite No Child law before next school year

President Obama asked Congress on Monday to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law by fall, escalating the urgency of his campaign for an overhaul of public education. Read more in the Washington Post.

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.