Garcia takes a stand


'More From Our Schools:' Getting past political bickering

Last week, a series of forums kicked off, dedicated to finding ways to improve Denver Public Schools while elevating the dialogue around Denver’s school board elections. The event, called More From Our Schools, isn’t a candidate forum or a debate; it’s a gathering of people with multiple viewpoints who want the best for Denver’s school kids. Unfortunately, this kind of get-together doesn’t happen much in Denver. Donnell-Kay’s Associate Director Kim Knous-Dolan described why in her EdNews commentary in late August.  Others echoed her point at last week’s forum: It’s time to abandon rhetoric and bridge differences. Mayor Michael Hancock encouraged this attitude too during his introductory remarks. He said there is no greater moral imperative than putting kids first and then asking how to ensure all kids access to high quality schools. Hancock rightly remarked that the forums and the mayor’s Denver Compact are opportunities for the education community “to do something absolutely transformative. Something where we’re not advocating but we’re actually just going to work to make a difference.” So how can we step away from politics, stop fighting and move forward with reform? The forum’s moderator, AEI’s director of education policy Rick Hess offered his take. Though the education community might disagree on how to improve schools for all kids, he said: “That doesn’t mean that one or another of us doesn’t care about kids or is only interested in some personal agenda. It just means the world is a complicated place. You have to have the ability to understand their challenges, their concerns and then try to identify opportunities to work things out.” Hess encouraged dev

After a year, turnaround schools' performance lackluster

It got our attention: Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan “Announces $3.5 Billion in Title I School Improvement Grants to Fund Transformational Changes Where Children Have Long Been Undeserved” (August, 2009).  When we learned a year ago that over $37 million of that would come to 16 of Colorado’s lowest-achieving schools, over three years, to help raise student achievement, we again took note.  Another year has now passed. How’s that going? Any positive news for those “underserved” kids? One assumes the federal government is interested in seeing that the grants to Colorado, especially to Denver Public Schools and Pueblo City Schools, the two districts receiving most of these funds, ($14.8  and $12.9 million respectively over three years to turnaround six schools in each city) will be well used. One assumes the Colorado Department of Education is taking a careful look at how well year one funds, totaling over $10 million to our 16 struggling schools, have been used. One assumes DPS (about $4.6 million this first year) and Pueblo 60 (over $4.2 million), especially, are taking a close look at how these funds have been spent and how well improvement efforts are going. One assumes they are looking at a variety of measurements to gauge effectiveness and success.  For we all agree that in the complex effort to turn around or transform a low-performing school into a good place for students to learn and grow, there are many factors and variables to consider. However, one also assumes that CSAP data, while just one of the many measurements, is considered an important piece of the puzzle.  So here are the 2011 CSAP achievement results—the percentage proficient and advanced—compared to the previous two years, and compared to the goals set by the schools (and/or districts) when they applied for the turnaround or transformation funds (these goals are found here). Most folks will want to see growth scores too, and I am sure the state and districts will examine those.  But as I have written previously, let’s be careful not to exaggerate those 55 percent growth scores as great news.  The goal—yes?—is still proficiency.

Opinion: Has reform cart outpaced data horse?

Several high-profile education reforms passed by the Colorado legislature in the last few years rely on massive collections of data to work as planned. For example, the 2009 accountability bill requires administrators at struggling schools to use school-level data to drive the improvement planning process. Senate Bill 191’s teacher evaluation provisions require more, however. Administrators must be able to drill down to the individual level, accurately linking teachers with students to evaluate teachers based on how well their students progress over the year. And Senate Bill 10-036 tills the soil for teacher prep programs to monitor the achievement of their graduates’ students in order to improve teacher prep programs. All are ambitious laws -- and I sometimes fear that Colorado’s reform cart has raced ahead of the data horse. The Colorado Department of Education, school districts and the Department of Higher Education are still working out the details on the kinds of data needed. That’s not a criticism. Collecting data that links every student, teacher, school and public university in the state is incredibly slow and painstaking when done right – and you definitely want it done right. I just worry that the public enthusiasm for the reforms will fade before they even get a chance. Collecting data that links every student, teacher, school and public university in the state is incredibly slow and painstaking when done right – and you definitely want it done right. That would be a shame because Colorado is headed toward building one of the most sophisticated data systems in the country, one that can be used to help improve our schools in many ways. Administrators and teachers can use data to identify their schools’ weaknesses and work together to set targets and monitor improvement. Principals can provide useful feedback to individual teachers, helping the weakest improve or find a new profession. Researchers can measure which programs and reforms are most successful over time and examine why.

Listen to Ravitch, Alter talk past each other

It's billed as a debate, but the 35-minute session featuring Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Alter Wednesday on a local talk show was more two people filibustering than anything resembling a true give-and-take. Host David Sirota didn't pretend to be a disinterested third party, coming down, as one would expect, firmly on Ravitch's side. Listen to it here. (Thanks to GothamSchools) Still, having the two on his program was a coup of sorts. The dust-up between them began when Ravitch wrote an op-ed last week in the New York Times, in which she questioned the "miracle" mythology around certain schools, including Denver's Bruce Randolph. Alter, a long-time Newsweek correspondent who now writes for Bloomberg News, penned a column accusing Ravitch of attempting to derail current reforms. He called her "the education world’s very own Whittaker Chambers, the famous communist turned strident anti-communist of the 1940s." Neither Ravitch nor Alter broke new ground, but they spent at least 10 minutes talking about Bruce Randolph. Ravitch, the hater of standardized tests, used test scores to build her argument that Randolph is an abysmal school, while Alter said based on growth data, Randolph looks more like the shining star President Obama, Michael Bennet and others have held it up to be. If you have no opinion on the matter, have a listen. I doubt you'll feel terribly enlightened or swayed by either Ravitch or Alter. If you come down on one side or the other, then you'll probably feel your champion scored a knockout.