First Person

This week's teaching & learning tidbits

Curtain rises on historic Lobato school funding trial

Is the system Colorado uses to pay for its schools constitutional?

That short but infinitely complex question is the focus of a five-week trial in the case of Lobato v. State, which opens Monday before Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport.

Lobato v. State illustrationThe outcome of the trial could have far-reaching but hard-to-predict impacts on school districts, classrooms, the state budget and the taxes that Colorado citizens and businesses pay. Read all about it in EdNews Colorado.

School dropout rates add to fiscal burden

Nearly 1 million kids who start high school every year don’t make it to graduation. At a time when federal and state budgets are tight, dropouts costs taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenue, health care, welfare and incarceration costs. Read or listen to this NPR report.

Students must pay to ride Jefferson County school buses

Students wanting to ride the Jefferson County Public Schools to class will have to pay to ride starting this fall. Parents received emails about the fees this week. Parents will pay at least $100 per student. Check out the CBS4 report.

Dougco, state file voucher defense

Douglas County school district leaders have sent initial voucher payments totaling $158,519 to private schools on behalf of 140 students, according to court documents filed in a pending lawsuit over the district’s “choice scholarship” or voucher pilot. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Manual H.S. expansion to 6-12 in works

A plan to expand northeast Denver’s venerable yet still struggling Manual High School to include grades 6 through 8 could be brought to the Denver Public Schools board as soon as October. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

New Colo. education group launches pro-reform ad

DENVER (AP) – A new education coalition in Colorado has launched a media campaign to build support for school reform and accountability.

The group, One Chance Colorado, unveiled a television advertisement on Wednesday. The spot, entitled “This is What School Reform Looks Like”, focuses on the story of a sixth-grader in Denver. His mom says that he’s benefited from going to a school that holds its teachers to high standards. Check out the 9NEWS report.

1 in 4 gay/lesbian high school students are homeless

BOSTON – Roughly 1 in 4 lesbian or gay teens and 15 percent of bisexual teens are homeless, versus 3 percent of exclusively heterosexual teens, finds a Children’s Hospital Boston study of more than 6,300 Massachusetts public high school students. Moreover, among teens who were homeless, those who were gay, lesbian or bisexual (GLB) were consistently more likely than heterosexuals to be on their own, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. Read more on the PR Newswire.

Do the math: cost of school supplies increasing

DENVER — The cost of heading back to school is going up this year, more than at least the last six years, and parents are finding out the hard way.

With a basic school supply list for one child in elementary school and a budget of $50, FOX31 Denver went shopping for school supplies. It didn’t take long to go over budget without getting everything on the list. Watch the Fox 31 report.

Grade changing causes scandal at Deer Trail school district

DEER TRAIL – After the school superintendent intentionally raised and lowered some students’ math grades, parents are crying foul, 9Wants to Know has learned.

“I was so furious that first day,” Dana Clay, the mother of Kyner Clay said. Watch the 9NEWS report.

Low-income students receive summer tech training

DENVER – When schools are out of session, computer labs are closed, but not at Munroe Elementary in Denver.

“I’m learning how to use different types of computers and different programs,” said 10-year-old Ana Maria, who’s taking part in a summer technology camp at the school. Check out 7NEWS.

Walton Family donates $3.1 million to Colorado Teach for America

The Walton Family Foundation announced today it will donate $49.5 million over three years to Teach For America in an effort to double the amount of member teachers nationwide.

Colorado’s Teach for America branch is expected to receive $3.1 million over the three year period, allowing the organization to double its 2007 roster. Read the Denver Post story.

State will use $1 million on remedial ed

Colorado is one of 10 states that will receive a $1 million grant to boost college graduation rates, and officials say they’ll target students stuck in remedial classes.

The grant, provided by Complete College America as part of its national Completion Innovation Challenge, was announced Friday by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Read more in EdNews Colorado.

Workshop challenges middle schoolers to tell their stories

Cali Machen used PhotoShop to merge pictures of imposing mountains and cracked, barren ground before adding a brightly colored girl walking through the dark landscape. Read the Daily Camera story.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom BoasbergBoasberg updates congressional committee on Denver’s teacher quality initiative

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg recently testified in Washington at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “Education Reforms: Exploring Teacher Quality Initiatives” was the topic of the hearing, and Boasberg was invited to be part of a panel of education experts from across the country to detail and discuss innovative approaches to improving teacher quality. Next month, DPS will launch districtwide the pilot year of its Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) initiative.

Read the press release.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.

First Person

I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.