SBE races get interesting

Reformers, unions spending big on Democratic State Board candidates

A political committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform has spent nearly $126,866 in two State Board of Education races, and the group’s state director indicates more such spending is planned.

That amount is more than five times the combined $22,560 spent as of Oct. 8 by Democratic candidates Henry Roman and Jane Goff from their own campaign treasuries.

Roman, running in the 3rd District and Goff, the 7th District incumbent, also have received smaller but still substantial direct contributions from committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association.

Jen Walmer, Colorado director of DFER and the registered agent for Raising Colorado, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with DFER, said the contributions are motivated by concern about the increasing politicization of education boards by Republicans, such as has happened in Jefferson County.

“We have seen the importance of board of education races,” she said.

Walmer said the spending has “less to do” with any effort to help Democrats gain a majority on the seven-member board, which currently has a 4-3 Republican majority.

Kerrie Dallman, president of CEA, said the union’s interest is less with the political composition of the board than it is with candidates whose views match CEA priorities.

Other education sources tell Chalkbeat Colorado they believe the financial support is partly motivated by worry that continued Republican SBE control after the election could lead to GOP efforts to pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests and possibly to replace education commissioner Robert Hammond.

“It’s because of Common Core and assessments,” said one source. “The board has made a lot of noise about getting out of PARCC.”

The spending indicates a level of intensity seldom seen in State Board races, which typically are low-profile affairs.

Here’s a look at the details of this year’s spending and the politics behind it.

The money

The Raising Colorado independent expenditure committee on Sept. 25 spent $70,500 in support of Roman. On Oct. 7 the committee spent $56,366 in support of Goff.

Walmer said the Roman spending was for radio ads and the Goff spending for direct mail. The media pieces were produced by out-of-state firms.

Roman’s own committee has raised $17,374 and spent $6,370. Goff has raised $31,010 and spent $16,190.

Some 52 percent of Roman’s contributions have come from teachers unions, while Goff has received 29 percent of her funding from such sources.

The Public Education Committee, a small donor group affiliated with CEA, has given $4,500 each to Roman and Goff. The Pueblo Education Association small donor committee also has given $4,500 to Roman, and the Jefferson County Education Association small donor committee has given the same amount to Goff.

Small donor committees, which are funded by member donations or dues deductions, can give a maximum of $4,500 to a candidate each election cycle. There’s no limit on spending by independent expenditure committees, but they can’t coordinate their spending with candidate campaign committees.

Republican board candidates have lagged behind in campaign fundraising. Marcia Neal, the 3rd District incumbent, has raised $12,895 and spent $10,881. (Neal had a primary opponent and spent $4,006 in that election.) Laura Boggs, GOP candidate in the 7th, has raised $4,312 and spent $1,220.

Raising Colorado has made two other interesting spending moves.

The committee made expenditures of $9,700 each against Republican state Senate candidates Laura Woods and Tony Sanchez. The two are challenging, respectively, Democratic Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and Andy Kerr of Jefferson County. Both Democrats have received direct contributions from unions and from DFER-related committees.

Asked how much additional spending Raising Colorado plans, Walmer said there will be more in board and legislative races but doesn’t yet know how much. That next reporting deadline for candidates and committees is Oct. 27, eight days before the election.

All the dollar figures listed above were from Oct. 14 reports, which covered activity through Oct. 8.

3rd District race

Marcia Neal
Marcia Neal

Neal has represented the sprawling district, which covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo, for the last six years. She’s a retired teacher and former Mesa 51 school board member.

The last three SBE members from the District have been Republicans, including Neal. Republicans are 35 percent of the district’s registered voters, compared to 34 percent unaffiliated or minor party and 29 percent Democrats.

But Neal won her first election in 2008 by only about 3,000 votes out of 300,000 cast. In 2002 Republican Pam Suckla won by about 3,000 votes out of some 205,000 cast.

And Neal’s hometown newspaper, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, has endorsed Roman, an education consultant and former superintendent of the Pueblo 60 district. (The Sentinel endorsed Neal six years ago.) The district’s other two largest papers, the Pueblo Chieftain and the Durango Herald, also have endorsed Roman.

Neal said she’s “disappointed” with the Raising Colorado spending and was “very surprised” at the Sentinel endorsement.

Walmer said her group is supporting Roman partly because it believes Neal has become more partisan. “It’s not the same Marcia Neal who ran in 2008,” she said. She also said Raising Colorado felt Roman needed help reaching voters in such a large district.

Henry Roman
Henry Roman

Neal has the same complaint, pointed in the opposite direction. “I haven’t run up against this kind of partisanship before.”

“In general I’m not discouraged, but I’m concerned that this negative advertising is out there,” she said. Neal won the June primary against a more conservative Republican opponent who also outspent her.

Roman said he was happy the Raising Colorado radio ad he heard and the mailer he saw praised him but that did feel a little ambivalent about something over which “I have no say.”

He added, “We were going to do some radio ads, but we don’t feel now we need to duplicate that effort.”

He said the ads and mailer criticize Neal for her stand on the controversial AP U.S. history course.

Roman also said he hopes the Sentinel’s endorsement will persuade some Grand Valley Republican voters to consider him. “It’s certainly not going to hurt me.”

7th District race

Jane Goff
Jane Goff

Although 7th District Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter is expected to win easy re-election, parts of the district, especially Jefferson County, are ground zero in tough partisan battles over legislative seats and other offices.

Jeffco, of course, also has been roiled by controversies over actions by the school board’s new conservative majority. (Walmer weighed in on those in a Sept. 25 posting on DFER’s website, call the board majority “these extremists.” Read the full post here.)

Based on voter registration, the district is 37.5 percent unaffiliated and other, 33.7 percent Democratic and 27.5 percent Republican. (A substantial part of Adams County also is in the district.)

Goff, a former teacher, administrator and union officer, is considered to be leading in her bid for reelection.

Laura Boggs
Laura Boggs

Walmer acknowledged Goff’s funding edge but said Raising Colorado got involved in helping her “partly because it’s noisy” in the district with all the other races and the schools controversy.

Boggs, a conservative former Jeffco board member, said, “Coloradans are getting used to groups from New York and D.C. trying to influence our elections. Clearly there is a fight for control of public education, and voters in CD 7 have a chance to vote for the local control, student-focused voice I will bring to the State Board or for a continuation of the over-testing, one-size-fits-all education system which is not focused on our students.”

Asked about the Raising Colorado effort, Goff said, “I had not idea about that going on. … Wow. That’s quite a bit of money.”

As the whether the outside spending will help her campaign, Goff said, “I’m ambivalent.”

DFER & CEA

To some people the idea of CEA-DFER political cooperation may seem odd, given the organizations’ policy differences on issues like teacher evaluation.

Walmer and Dallman acknowledge the differences but don’t see cooperation as strange.

The CEA itself gave $5,000 directly to Raising Colorado on Oct. 3. The bulk of Raising Colorado’s funding has come from another DFER-related committee, Education Reform Now Advocacy.

“I don’t think it’s unusual to be aligned in some areas with the CEA,” said Walmer.

Dallman said that both groups feel the same way about Roman and Goff as the candidates with the best interests of public education at heart.

Walmer is a former top aide to both DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg and former Democratic Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll. CEA is traditionally a significant contributor to Democratic candidates at all levels.

State Board background

The board takes scores of votes every year, most of them on regulatory and oversight issues, and most of those votes are 7-0.

But there is a clear ideological divide on the board over major issues like PARCC testing, Common Core and the proper state and federal role in schools.

A conservative Republican bloc – chair Paul Lundeen of the 5th District, Pam Mazanec (4th) and Debra Scheffel (6th) are critical of Common Core, supportive of more district autonomy and critical of “reform” in general. Democrats Elaine Gantz Berman (1st) Angelika Schroeder (2nd) and Goff have different views.

Neal has been something of bridge between the two groups, depending on the issue.

Lundeen has tried to steer board attention to some more-contentious issues in recent months, but so far that’s mostly ended up in discussions, not votes.

See these Chalkbeat stories for background on the board and some hot-button issues:

Two other seats on the seven-member board will have new occupants after the Nov. 4 election.

Valentina Flores
Valentina Flores

In District 1 Democrat Valentina Flores is running unopposed. She won an upset victory in the June 24 primary over reform-backed candidate Taggart Hanson. Two independent expenditure committees connected to Stand for Children and DFER spent a total of $107,078 supporting Hansen.

Lundeen is running unopposed for a seat in the state House. His successor on the board will be appointed by a Republican Party vacancy committee.

So Roman and Goff victories would give Democrats a 4-3 board majority.

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See disparities in how Colorado schools are serving black, Hispanic, and white students

Ismael Mora raises his hand on the first day of school at McGlone Academy in Denver on Aug. 15, 2018. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Chalkbeat continues its closer look today at recently released state test scores. The scores are one way to measure whether schools are doing a good job serving different groups of students, including students of color. This story focuses on students by race and ethnicity.

This database is the third of three that Chalkbeat published this week. The first looks at student growth scores by family income, and the second looks at growth scores by disability status.

On the whole, black and Hispanic students in grades 3 through 8 scored lower on literacy and math tests taken this past spring than white students did. Those gaps have persisted for years in Colorado and across the nation.

But the raw scores don’t tell the whole story. While they show whether or not students are at grade level, they don’t show how much academic progress students made in the year leading up to taking the tests. Take, for instance, a fifth-grader who jumped from reading at a first-grade level to a fourth-grade level. The student made a lot of progress but still isn’t at grade level.

The state aims to measure such academic progress with something called a “growth percentile,” or growth score. State education officials have focused on growth scores as a better gauge of teaching and learning than raw test scores, which tend to be correlated to race or family income.

That’s why the state heavily weighs growth scores when assigning quality ratings to districts and schools. That’s also why we’re featuring them in the searchable database at the bottom of this story.

Growth scores work like this: Each student’s raw test score is compared with the scores of students who performed similarly to them in previous years. The growth score is a percentile: A 99 means a student did better than 99 percent of students with similar test score histories.

The state also calculates growth scores for entire districts, schools, and groups of students by ranking from highest to lowest all of their growth scores and then finding the midway point, or median, among the students.

In the charts below, you’ll see median growth scores for 15 metro area districts. For each district, you’ll see three scores: One for black students, one for Hispanic students, and one for white students.

Including the scores of white students provides an indication of whether districts are serving students of color as well as they’re serving white students. Testing experts caution that growth scores are just one piece of the puzzle when measuring a school’s quality.

Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

In most districts, white students showed more academic progress than black or Hispanic students did. But there were some exceptions. In the Mapleton school district, located north of Denver, black students showed far more progress in literacy than did white or Hispanic students. About 2 percent of the district’s nearly 9,000 students are black.

Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

The database below goes even deeper to show median growth scores at all Colorado elementary and middle schools for black students, Hispanic students, and white students. Those three groups are the biggest in Colorado. We did not include growth scores for smaller groups of students, including Asian and Native American students, because of the technological limitations of our database and because Colorado’s student data privacy rules obscure many of the scores for those students.

A note about the numbers themselves: The median growth score for the state is always about 50. The state considers growth scores between 35 and 65 “typical,” meaning students made a typical amount of academic progress that year.

Scores higher than 65 suggest students are making above-average academic progress – evidence, perhaps, that a school’s curriculum is working for those students or their teachers are getting the training, support, and resources they need to be effective

Scores lower than 35 suggest the opposite.

Look up your elementary or middle school in the database below. The database also allows you to pull up several schools at once and see their scores side-by-side.

A “-” symbol means a score is not publicly available. The state obscures test results for small groups of students in what has been a controversial effort to protect student privacy.

school by school

Look up disparities in how your school is serving students with special needs

Zachary Tucker, a 5th grader in Colorado Springs, answers questions in class with his service dog, Clyde, in 2014. Clyde helps Zach with his Aspergers syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Some of the largest gaps in test results in Colorado are between students who have special needs, and students who don’t.

Chalkbeat has been looking at data released earlier this month from state tests students took this spring.

Students with special needs historically underperform the general student population on state tests. However, advocates say that with the right help, students with non-cognitive disabilities should be just as likely to score as well as their peers.

The database below provides a breakdown of test data for students in third through eighth grade. The tool is an easy way for you to compare gaps among schools and the statewide average.

This database is the second of three that Chalkbeat plans to publish this week.
  • To look up disparities by poverty, read our first story here.
  • To look up disparities by student race and ethnicity, read our third story here.
  • What you’ll see is a growth score — it’s a number calculated by the state that shows how students did year-over-year when compared only with students with similar academic histories. The scale is created to set the state median growth at about 50. If a school has a growth score of 55, for instance, that means the students in that school, on average, improved more than 55 percent of their academic peers.

    The state has been weighing growth heavily when rating schools each year, but is now reconsidering that calculation.

    Last year, looking at achievement data, Chalkbeat found some of the widest gaps in school districts such as Poudre, Boulder Valley and St. Vrain. But looking at the growth scores this year, the widest gaps in how much students improved from year to year are in Adams 14 and Denver.

    Denver’s school district often has some of the state’s largest disparities when it comes to the education of different students. Adams 14, which actually had no gap when it came to the growth of students on math tests, but a very large gap in literacy, had a troubled year when it came to special education. The program director left in the spring, and several parents said they discovered late in the year that their children hadn’t received the help they should have according to their education plans.

    Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

    Some districts remain unique cases. For instance, while the gap in Littleton is wide, its students with special needs had the highest growth in literacy among special needs students in other metro-area districts.

    In Englewood, students who have an individualized education plan had, on average, higher growth in math than students who did not require such a plan.

    Credit: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

    Some school-level data is obscured by the state in a controversial attempt to protect student privacy. Below, if you see the “-” symbol, that means the score for that group of students at the school is not publicly available.

    In the tool, “IEP” refers to the growth scores of students with Individualized Education Program plans required for students with special needs.

    Look up your school here: