seal of disapproval

State board votes down resolution supporting new ‘seal of biliteracy’ on high school diplomas

Graduates of DPS's Bruce Randolph School in 2010 (John Lebya, The Denver Post).

The State Board of Education on Thursday rejected a resolution supporting seals of biliteracy, endorsements attached to high school diplomas and transcripts signaling students are proficient in English and at least one other language.

The board voted 5-2 against the resolution, which would have applauded three Colorado districts that have adopted seals of biliteracy and encouraged other districts to follow suit. Four Republicans and one Democrat opposed it.

Several said they support biliteracy, but cited a litany of concerns that led them to vote no — from a lack of uniform standards for defining proficiency to questions about the movement’s origins and worries about data privacy.

“We are being asked to support as a board something that is without standards to be put on a diploma,” said Colorado Springs Republican board chairman Steve Durham, who initially urged the board to put off the vote.

Nothing is stopping districts from moving forward with seals of biliteracy; the resolution was primarily a gesture.

In interviews Thursday with Chalkbeat, superintendents from the three districts that have jointly developed requirements to award seals of biliteracy expressed disappointment the board rejected a nonbinding resolution recognizing students’ hard work toward gaining skills considered critical for success in a global economy.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Pat Sanchez, superintendent of the Commerce City-based Adams 14 district. “Not supporting this resolution sends the message that you don’t value bilingualism. The standards are well-defined and very clear. How is having two languages a deficit? …. It’s unfortunate these things become politicized and made into something else.”

By the numbers

More than 700 students from Adams 14, Denver Public Schools and Eagle County are either working toward or already have proven themselves worthy of a seal of biliteracy. District officials say the road is rigorous, requiring high scores on tests measuring English literacy and world language fluency — or other measures if good tests don’t exist for languages students have mastered.

Fourteen states have adopted seals of biliteracy since California became the first in 2011, and others are considering it.

Because Colorado is a local control state, decisions about adopting seals of biliteracy rest in districts’ hands. The three districts leading the charge in Colorado — all of which introduced the seals this year — envision their approach as a model for others.

Jason Glass, superintendent of the Eagle County district, said the board’s rejection of the resolution will not alter that course.

“We don’t really want or need their approval to move forward,” Glass said. “I had some concerns that if the state started mucking around in it, they would start to over-regulate it and politicize it. We think the best thing for our kids is to leave our schools multilingual, and we think the seal of biliteracy is a great way of recognizing kids with those skills.”

State board member Jane Goff, an Arvada Democrat, proposed the board resolution, calling it an opportunity to honor kids and encourage schools and districts without investing any state money or creating new mandates.

Other board members, however, rattled off questions and concerns. Pam Mazanec, a Larkspur Republican, said that she supports biliteracy and the seal “probably has good intentions.” But she said she was unsure about “this particular movement” and was not ready to back the resolution. Groups in California have spearheaded the drive to bring seals of biliteracy to other states.

Parker Republican Debora Scheffel raised unspecified concerns about data, questioned how biliteracy is defined and noted that PARCC tests are one possible yardstick of English literacy. Scheffel vigorously opposes the tests, now entering their second year.

Democrat Val Flores of Denver — who like other “no” votes hailed the merits of biliteracy — said the issue was a local one.

Sanchez, the Adams 14 superintendent, dismissed board members who talk up biliteracy while voting down the resolution.

“What you say is one thing, and how you act is what shows what you really mean,” he said. “The walk doesn’t match the talk.”

Top languages DPS students are pursuing for seals of bilteracy |

  • Spanish – 434
  • French – 62
  • Chinese (Mandarin) – 19
  • Arabic – 13
  • Japanese – 12

Big push from DPS

No district is more invested in the seal of biliteracy than Denver Public Schools. District officials say 631 students have applied for the seal, and 81 have met the criteria and are ready to graduate with a seal and win recognition on honors night.

Not surprisingly, the largest single bloc of students are seeking seals in English and Spanish. But at least one DPS student is pursuing one in a Native American language, with the district relying on a tribal elder to help determine proficiency, said Darlene LeDoux, a DPS instructional superintendent who previously headed the district’s English learner programs .

The three districts working together researched seals of biliteracy adopted by districts around the country to make sure their standards were high, rigorous and achievable for students, LeDoux said.

“It takes a lot of work,” she said. “There is a lot to it. We are talking about students who have a very strong grasp of the language and the culture. It helps the students be better prepared for college and career. I know, you hear that all the time. But we have organizations coming to DPS asking us for people who can speak different languages so they can hire them now.”

That list of prospective employers includes health care providers, educational institutions, businesses and the FBI, which contacted the district looking for Chinese speakers, DPS officials said. LeDoux said the three school districts also are working with colleges on a formal agreement that would allow students to skip low-level language courses in colleges, saving families money.

DPS Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova said Thursday the district is disappointed in the board’s rejection of the resolution.

“It’s a missed opportunity for our state,” said Cordova, who is fluent in English and Spanish. “It’s unfortunate because Colorado has been a real leader in education. I’m disappointed we are not leading in this case.”

State board could revisit the issue

Durham, the state board chairman, said he may reconsider his position if more defined standards for seals of biliteracy are developed. He indicated state lawmakers may be working on a bill that would do so. No such bill has been introduced yet.

Legislation or not, about 70 students in the Eagle County district are pursuing a seal of biliteracy before graduation this spring.

Within a decade, the district hopes that 90 percent of its kids will know at least two languages, said Glass, the superintendent. The vote Thursday against a resolution supporting the work of those kids and the district will not change anything, he said.

“I’ve sort of given up trying to figure out what this state board is going to do,” Glass said. “They seem to make a lot of random and head-scratching decisions, and with any number of rationales to support those decisions.”

The three Colorado districts awarding seals of biliteracy have developed these requirements:

biding time

Strike vote by Denver teachers no longer imminent due to contract extension

PHOTO: Eric Gorski
The bargaining teams from Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union at a contract negotiation session in 2017.

Although the Denver school district and its teachers union failed to reach a deal on an overhaul of the district’s pay-for-performance system, the prospect of a strike is less imminent.

Earlier this week, the union’s board of directors authorized a strike vote if a new agreement couldn’t be reached by the time the current one expired at midnight Wednesday.

The two sides couldn’t come to terms on how to change the system, but did reach a different kind of deal: District officials agreed to the union’s request to extend the current pay-for-performance agreement until January 2019 in the hopes that Colorado voters will approve a tax increase in November benefiting schools, making teacher pay raises more likely. However, the union did not take the threat of a strike completely off the table.

A statement from the union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the union “will begin preparing to take work actions to ensure progress on the new compensation system. If no agreement is reached by the Jan. 18 deadline, DCTA will immediately ask for a strike vote from union members the following day.”

In other districts that have experienced labor conflicts, teachers have picketed, refused to work extra hours, and even waged “sickouts.” The Denver teachers union did not specify the types of work actions they were considering.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the district was reluctant to sign a ten-month extension, “but in the end, we are prepared to honor their request for more time.”

“We all have a very clear, common goal and common interest around supporting our kids and giving our kids the very best chances to learn and grow,” Boasberg said. “I’m confident that common goal and common aspirations will help us move toward an agreement.”

Denver’s pay-for-performance system, called ProComp, was first piloted in 1999. Under the current agreement, teachers earn a base salary based partly on their level of education and years of experience, and partly on how much training they completed the year before and on the outcome of a yearly evaluation that takes student test scores into account.

Teachers can also earn bonuses and incentives on top of their base salary. This year, for example, teachers who work in a hard-to-serve school with a high percentage of students living in poverty can earn an extra $2,578 per year.

The union wants to make teachers’ paychecks more predictable by moving back to a traditional “steps and lanes” salary schedule in which raises are based on education and experience. Union leaders also want higher base salaries. The union proposed a salary schedule that would pay teachers with a doctorate degree and 20 or more years of experience a base salary of $100,000 with the opportunity to earn a more limited number of incentives on top of that.

The district, meanwhile, proposed a salary schedule that would continue to take teacher evaluations into account when calculating raises but would allow teachers to more significantly build their base salaries for more years. While the union’s proposal shrinks some incentives, the district’s proposal grows the incentive for teaching in a hard-to-serve school.

District officials said the union’s proposal is too expensive. ProComp is funded by a voter-approved tax increase that is expected to raise about $35 million this year. The union’s proposal would cost more than twice as much, district officials said.

Union leaders asked to extend the current agreement until January 2019 in the hopes that Colorado voters approve a proposed ballot measure that would raise $1.6 billion for schools. Backers of the measure, which would increase income taxes for people who earn more than $150,000 per year, are collecting signatures to get it on the November ballot.

Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that voters approve any tax increase. In 2013, voters rejected a school funding tax increase that would have raised $950 million its first year.

Boasberg supports this year’s effort. He’s among the Colorado superintendents pushing for a new, “student centered” school funding formula if the measure passes.

“The entire purpose of that funding measure is to strengthen teacher compensation, decrease class sizes, and improve supports for kids,” Boasberg said. “So if that passes, of course we will eagerly sit down with DCTA to discuss how we strengthen our compensation for teachers.”

On the brink

Denver teachers union leaders vote to call for a strike vote if pay negotiations fail

PHOTO: Marissa Page
Teachers watch a master contract bargaining session between Denver Public Schools and the Denver teachers union on June 22.

The Denver teachers union’s board of directors voted Tuesday to ask its members to strike if the union and the school district fail to reach an agreement Wednesday on teacher pay.

It’s the first time Denver Classroom Teachers Association leaders have taken such a vote since the 1990s, said Corey Kern, the union’s deputy executive director. He said Denver teachers are fed up with the district and inspired by the recent actions of teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma.

“Teachers don’t think the district is taking them seriously,” Kern said.

Since November, the union and the district have been negotiating an overhaul of Denver Public Schools’ pioneering pay-for-performance system, called ProComp. The current agreement expires at midnight Wednesday. Kern said the union’s preference is “to get a deal done,” but its directors were clear that “if that doesn’t ultimately happen, they will ask for a strike vote.”

Kern said he didn’t know when a strike vote would be held, but it probably wouldn’t happen immediately.

Denver Public Schools officials said in a statement Tuesday they “are committed to reaching an agreement.” If the sides can’t agree Wednesday, the district pledged to continue with the current pay-for-performance system to ensure teachers get their expected pay.

The union has offered a proposal that would pay teachers with a doctorate and 20 years or more of experience a base salary of $100,000.

The current salary schedule goes up to $74,130 for teachers with a doctorate and at least 11 years of experience. Under ProComp, teachers can earn bonuses and incentives on top of that. In 2015-16, the average second-year teacher earned an extra $5,599, according to the district.

In August the district and the union signed a new five-year master contract that included increases in base pay – which the district said were the largest raises in the metro area – and an additional $1,500 for teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

This round of negotiations is for the ProComp agreement, which is separate from the master contract. The district first piloted pay-for-performance in 1999. Voters in 2005 approved a tax increase to fund it. Those taxes will generate about $35 million this year, according to district officials. The last significant redesign of the ProComp system happened in 2008.

The union’s proposal calls for higher base salaries and reduces the size of the incentives teachers can earn for working in hard-to-serve schools or hard-to-fill positions. Union leaders have said teachers want a more predictable pay structure that relies less on bonuses, which can vary year to year.

The district, meanwhile, has suggested increasing some incentives as a way to attract and retain teachers. The district has also suggested providing teachers who earn four years of “distinguished” evaluations with base salary increases equivalent to what they would get for earning a master’s degree.

The union’s proposal to raise the maximum base salary to $100,000 would require more than twice as much money as taxpayers pay into ProComp each year, a district spokeswoman said.

The two sides are set to return to the negotiating table Wednesday morning.