a new face

Welcome to Chalkbeat Colorado, your new home for education news

Dear readers,

You might have noticed some changes around here. After more than five years as EdNews Colorado, we have changed our name to Chalkbeat Colorado — the latest step in our efforts to serve you the most relevant news about education policy and practice in the loveliest possible package.

Since first announcing the creation of the Chalkbeat network in October, we have opened bureaus in Tennessee and Indiana, grown our staff in Colorado, and added a new community editor to grow our relationships with readers. Now, we’ve also redesigned our website to improve your reading experience.

CO.Chalkbeat.org is pretty different from the evolutions of EdNews Colorado you’ve seen over the years. You can still see the top stories here, as well as stories on the issues you’re most interested in — now organized by topics and narratives. And you will still get our email newsletters.

We’ve also built tools to help you understand the context behind the stories you read. You can now look for “The Backstory” beside articles or navigate by narrative rather than by date. And we’re publishing detailed guides about the big issues in Colorado schools, from the Common Core standards to teacher evaluation to school funding and finance. More “href=”/topics/”>Chalkbeat Explains guides are coming soon.

An exciting year ahead

This is a period of significant change for Colorado. In fact, some observers have described this school year as among the most challenging for districts in recent memory. School officials across the state are managing a tricky balancing act as they implement initiatives like Common Core standards and new teacher evaluations while trying to minimize the impact of budget cuts to their instructional programs. We plan to cover the rhetoric, action, and inaction, and keep policymakers and education professionals accountable.

To do that, we have selected several areas of focus that each of our reporters will cover for the year:

  • School finance and funding:  In the wake of voters’ rejection of Amendment 66, which would have poured nearly $1 billion into the state’s public school districts, policymakers and district and school leaders are now facing a choice. Do they press for money to simply backfill large budget cuts that the state has made since the start of the recession? Or do they try to enact some of the specific policy proposals that the amendment contained, like an expansion of early childhood education or more programs for English language learners? We’ll follow these questions over the course of the year, paying extra attention to effects on classrooms.
  • Implementation of new teacher evaluations: As new teacher evaluations roll out throughout the state this year, we’ll take a look at the new system’s effectiveness at helping individual teachers improve their performance. Are the evaluations being used as professional development tools or as incentives to elicit better performance? We’ll also examine how the new evaluations and implementation of new standards throughout the state intersect. We’re beginning to evaluate teachers just as we task them with changing the way they teach. Is that fair?
  • Common Core and new standards implementation:  In Colorado as across the country, schools are in the process of implementing new standards for what students should know to be prepared to succeed in college and beyond. In addition to Common Core standards, which are being adopted around the country, Colorado is also adopting new standards in social studies and science. How is the roll-out process going? And are challenges that schools run into due to lack of oversight, lack of training or because of a fundamental policy objection to the idea of shared content standards? We’ll also take a look at how much schools are paying to introduce the standards and what the consequences of those costs are.
  • Turnaround/school improvement: Under Colorado’s school accountability system, schools and districts that receive low ratings are given five years to show significant improvements or face what could be radical interventions from the state. Some schools and districts facing the deadline are calling the state’s bluff about how drastic interventions will be. We will be taking a look at the methods schools and districts around the state are using to improve and what they could mean for efforts statewide. We’ll also be taking a close look at school improvement efforts in Denver, where tensions have arisen over whether the district should try to improve its comprehensive neighborhood schools or offer parents choices among a variety of schools across the city.

How to get involved

Our stories will be strongest with your help. Here are a few ways to pitch in:

First, meet our community editor, Tiffany Montaño, who will be creating more opportunities for you to interact with our reporters, share your experiences, and help deepen our coverage of public schools. To start, please consider submitting to our First Person section, which highlights the experiences of teachers, administrators, students, policymakers, and parents. To find out more or pitch an idea, e-mail Tiffany.

Another way to share your experiences and thoughts with us is through our comments section. Here is a look at our new comments policy, which we will be enforcing aggressively with the help of our engagement director, Anika Anand. We want Chalkbeat Colorado to be a place where educators, policymakers, and families can come to voice their concerns, talk to one another and ultimately, act in a way that leads to better schools for everyone. So please, be courteous and respectful in your comments so that we can all learn something from each other.

Here are some other ways to stay up to date on our reporting and help us make our reporting the best it can be:

New commenting policy and system

One big change that loyal readers of our site in Colorado will notice is that we will be using a new commenting system and, along with that, a new commenting policy for the site. We are proud of the respectful, productive conversation that our readers conduct in our comments section now and we have been searching for ways to make that conversation more inclusive of all of our readers.

To that end, we’re now accepting comments from readers anonymously, although we’re simultaneously building new ways to moderate comments thoroughly—including by enlisting the support of our readers, who can use our new system, Disqus, to promote an especially constructive comment or flag a contribution that was inappropriate. You can read our full comments policy here.

Happy reading,

Maura Walz, Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief

Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat editor-in-chief

Inside Chalkbeat

Meet the talented people who will help us push Chalkbeat into the future

As the new school year kicks off, we’re both looking forward and looking back.

This has been a significant year for us. We covered important stories, broke big news, and launched coverage in two new cities, Newark and Chicago. We also expanded our team. We’re now one of the country’s largest nonprofit newsrooms, and certainly one of the largest telling local stories — at a time when local coverage is shrinking across the country.

In the year ahead, we will continue to tell the story of education in America by investigating both local realities and the national trends that shape them. We kicked things off this summer with a listening tour (stay tuned for more of what we heard at those events). We’re also taking some big steps toward strengthening the other parts of our work. We’re going to further diversify our revenue so we can guarantee the very best and always entirely independent coverage of public schools for a long time to come. We’re going to invest in technology and design, to help us reach and engage more readers. And we’re going to chart a clear path for the significant growth we need to take on to step up to the challenges of the times.

To do that, we’ve brought on a new cohort of leaders in the news business. I am so thrilled to introduce Maria Archangelo, our new senior director of partnerships, who will lead the charge in diversifying and growing our revenue; Becca Aaronson, our new director of product, who will guide strategic investment in our core technology and internal capabilities; and Alison Go, who is working with us to design Chalkbeat’s growth plan.

We are also expanding our national team with the addition of Francisco Vara-Orta as a national reporter and data specialist for Chalkbeat. Francisco’s skills will give Chalkbeat the ability to more closely cover several organizations working to influence schools nationwide and enable us to better use data to find and tell stories in all of Chalkbeat’s bureaus.

 

Maria Archangelo

Photo: Alan Petersime

Maria comes to Chalkbeat after working as publisher and executive director of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a 24-year-old nonprofit education news organization. Most of her 30-year career has been spent in traditional media. She worked as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun and an editor at the Sun’s community newspapers, and was editor of the daily newspaper in the capital of Vermont. Dismayed by the changes in the industry, Maria decided to devote herself to growing revenue for journalism and joined the business side. From 2006 to 2012 she served as publisher of the award-winning Stowe Reporter in Stowe, VT. She also helped lead an innovative international community magazine project and took a (brief) side trip into communications and marketing. She graduated from Temple University with bachelor of arts in journalism.

Becca Aaronson

Photo Alan Petersime

Before Chalkbeat, Becca spent nearly eight years at fellow nonprofit news organization The Texas Tribune, where she was their first-ever product manager. She was responsible for creating and managing the Tribune’s product roadmap, leading their website redesign, conducting user research, and ensuring that technology products aligned with audience and brand strategy. Over the course of her Tribune tenure, she wore many hats, including softball coach of The Runoffs. She co-founded the Tribune’s data visuals team, where she designed, built, and managed several award-winning investigative projects. And while covering health care from 2012 to 2014, she gained 5,000 Twitter followers on the day she live-tweeted the Wendy Davis abortion filibuster. Becca has a bachelor’s degree in cultural theory from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif.

Alison Go

Alison is working on growth initiatives across various teams at Chalkbeat. Previously, she was a product manager at Facebook, Amazon (Audible), and Rent the Runway, and in a former life, she was a journalist at U.S. News & World Report (covering higher ed!), the Boston Globe, and the San Jose Mercury News. Alison received her MBA from Wharton and undergrad degree from the University of Michigan.

Francisco Vara-Orta

Francisco joins Chalkbeat in September as a national reporter and data specialist. He was previously at Education Week, where he covered philanthropy and parent engagement and managed data projects, and an open records researcher at Investigative Reporters and Editors. Before that, he reported for the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, and the Austin Business Journal, among other news organizations. He holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in his hometown of San Antonio, and earned a master’s degree in data and investigative journalism from Mizzou as a Thurgood Marshall Fellow. Follow him @fvaraorta.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.