Archive for the 'innovation schools' Category

10th 2012
State Board OKs Two More Falcon Innovation Schools; One Banishes Tenure

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & PPC & Principals & State Board of Education & Suburban Schools & Teachers

When Colorado passed the first-of-its-kind Innovation Schools Act in 2008, observers knew that the law was primarily tailored to transform the most challenging campuses in Denver Public Schools (DPS). And so it largely has played out. No one else has matched the 24 DPS schools who have taken advantage of the Act’s process to transform existing public schools by setting them free from many state laws, board policies and bargaining provisions.

But if the state’s second-largest and most heavily urbanized district takes a look in the rear view mirror, they may begin to see a different district creeping up behind them: Falcon 49. Now, in one sense, Falcon cannot catch up, because there aren’t even 24 schools in its boundaries. But as a share of schools with officially approved innovation status, the El Paso County district is now clearly past DPS and behind only tiny Kit Carson, with its only two schools recognized under the Innovation Schools Act.

Two months after granting innovation status to six Falcon schools, on Wednesday the Colorado State Board of Education unanimously approved innovation plans for two more Falcon schools–bringing the total to eight. In addition to the positive potential unleashed by achieving freedom through the waiver process, at least one of the schools also tackled an ambitious reform: Continue Reading »

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14th 2012
Six Falcon 49 Schools Win Innovation Status as Board Nears Important Crossroads

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & High School & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Middle School & PPC & Principals & School Board & State Board of Education & Suburban Schools

About six weeks ago I shared with readers that the Falcon School District 49 innovation plan was nearing a crossroads. That crucial time may now be upon us. As reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado State Board of Education yesterday unanimously approved requests to give six District 49 schools official innovation status:

“Innovation is here to stay,” said Bob Felice, Innovation Zone leader/assistant superintendent, adding that the plans grant a lot of autonomy to teachers and parents.

Yesterday’s Board votes bring the list of innovation schools to 33, including 24 from Denver Public Schools and now the following six from Falcon 49: Continue Reading »

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14th 2012
The Bright & Not-So-Bright Spots of Colorado’s Latest 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Posted under Elementary School & Grades and Standards & innovation schools & learning & Parents & PPC & Public Charter Schools & reading & Rural Schools & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

Can you believe it? Last week I didn’t write anything about the release of the CSAP TCAP results for 3rd grade reading. The state’s overall share of proficient 3rd grade readers (74 percent) is slightly better than the previous year. Colorado can still do better. To me, this is one of the most fundamental measures of how our schools are doing. If you can’t read well by the end of 3rd grade, future prospects look a lot different.

So I’m not the only one who likes to see what kind of progress we’re making on the CSAP TCAP. In the past five years, 3rd grade reading scores in most of the state’s 10 largest districts have been flat with very slight upticks. The notable exceptions are from the lower performers with greater student poverty. Aurora Public Schools improved from 46 percent proficient in 2007 to 51.5 percent in the latest round.

Even more remarkable, Denver Public Schools has made the leap from 50 percent proficient to 59 percent over the same five-year span. As DPS superintendent appropriately noted in his email announcement:

As pleased as we are with the growth, it is clear that we have much more work in front of us to continue to improve our elementary literacy.

Continue Reading »

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1st 2012
Nearing Falcon Innovation Crossroads: Proposals Approved, Opposition Strong

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & PPC & Principals & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

School district “Innovation” through site-level autonomy can be a promising path to pursue, but doesn’t necessarily move forward smoothly or quickly. Local politics, leadership challenges, and the limits of imagination all can slow progress. Yet the spark unleashed remains to be ignited into action, where there is a will to yield productive, student-centered change.

Such is the case in Falcon School District 49 outside Colorado Springs, where more than 15 months ago the Board of Education boldly seized the mantel. Within weeks, leaders in the district’s zones of innovation separately began to convene with parents and staff to flesh out plans that would free them from specific district policies and state laws to achieve something greater. District leaders made some tough decisions to streamline functions and administrative personnel.

One local election and various delays later, numerous school innovation proposals yesterday reached the Falcon Board of Education for an important vote. (Pictures from the meeting are on the district’s Facebook page.) Despite objections, the Board was able to squeeze out three votes to approve innovation proposals affecting nine schools. Continue Reading »

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19th 2012
Dougco, Dougco, Dougco! State Board Reapproves Teacher Licensure Waiver

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Just For Fun & PPC & State Board of Education & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Before diving in, I have to be up front with you: Yes, this is the third time in less than 10 days I’m writing about Douglas County. (And it has nothing to do with the fact that the first legal documents were filed this week in the appeal of last August’s district court permanent injunction overreach — though I’m getting ready for a Court of Appeals hearing to take place some time this summer.) No, this one may lie even further beneath the radar.

In 2008 my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow published an innovative school district issue paper titled Douglas County’s Home-Grown Teachers: The Learning Center Waiver Program. Since 2007 the district has had the freedom essentially to train its own teachers in key strategic areas:

The waivers enable the Douglas County Learning Center to train three types of teaching candidates:

  • Alternative licensure for non-licensed applicants with content expertise in highneeds areas—especially math, science, foreign language, and technical trades
  • Teachers-in-Residence (TIR) primarily for licensed applicants with non-special education teaching endorsements to become special education instructors
  • Professionals-in-Residence (PIR) for non-licensed professional applicants who “are not interested in seeking licensure” but want to teach a course on a specialized topic

So what’s the news? Continue Reading »

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29th 2012
Taking a Few Leaps to Promote Excellent School Leadership in Colorado

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & International & PPC & Principals & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers & Urban Schools

Since today is February 29, I’ll take a timely leap from some of my usual fare to point you to two new podcasts produced by my Education Policy Center friends. In the first, Gina Schlieman explains how school-level autonomy has empowered some positive changes in Britain. In the second, foundation president Tom Kaesemeyer highlighted a program rewarding high-poverty Denver-area schools that are getting good results, and observed that exceptional principal leadership was at the top of the list of common school factors.

Next, a recently published op-ed by Ben DeGrow, who hosted both of the aforementioned podcasts, explains one of the key merits of Colorado’s 2010 educator effectiveness legislation:

Principals as instructional leaders will share accountability with classroom teachers for promoting student growth, which must make up at least half of educator evaluations.

In an unusual step, legislators and Governor Hickenlooper recently ratified some of the details for the state’s coming new educator evaluation system. It’s by design, not by accident, that the policy holds principals to similar standards as teachers. Such a system gives school instructional leaders more reason to retain or remove teachers based on their professional effectiveness at helping students learn. Will it be perfect? No. Are there any devils in the details? Maybe. But I’ll do my part to keep things focused in the right direction. Continue Reading »

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21st 2012
Can We Put the Schools “in Charge”? Colorado’s Falcon 49 Shows a Different Way

Posted under Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Parents & PPC & School Board & State Board of Education & Suburban Schools & Teachers

A good thought-piece to read this week is John Katzman’s new Education Week article “Putting the Schools in Charge.” While I don’t agree with everything in the piece, the author has a laudable vision about sweeping systemic K-12 changes and makes some very sound assessments of the best ways to get there. And as I so often like to do, his main point particularly has a strong Colorado connection worthy of highlight.

First and foremost, Katzman recommends sparking needed innovation by giving more power to school-level leaders, including greater choice over how and where they purchase central services:

Right now, every state distributes state and federal funds to districts; in turn, the districts distribute funds to schools. Imagine that states instead channel funds directly to schools and require that the schools contract with a school support organization (SSO) for an array of services similar to what its district’s central office now provides….

Continue Reading »


15th 2011
Denver Innovation Schools Report Does Little to Resolve Policy Debate

Posted under Denver & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & PPC & Principals & Research & Teachers & Urban Schools

Back in the warm summertime, which seems so long ago, I brought attention to a thoughtful essay that called into question the success of the Innovation Schools Act. My thoughts on the matter really haven’t changed since then — I still believe despite the clear limitations there is a place for innovation schools, though not as prevalent or prominent as some might have hoped.

Yesterday brought the release of a three-year study on the eight earliest Denver innovation schools — including Bruce Randolph, Cole, Manual and Montclair. One key, hopeful finding? Successful innovation schools exhibit “positive cultures,” which contributes to steady, effective principal leadership.

Still, the two news stories on the study make similar points. The Denver Post highlights that innovation status is simply a tool, not a magic bullet. Meanwhile, Ed News Colorado’s headline trumpets the major (and not terribly surprising) finding that the “innovation law doesn’t spark major change.” One point in the study touched on in the latter story did cause me to roll my eyes a bit: Continue Reading »

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30th 2011
How Would Colorado’s Largest School Districts Fare on Brookings Choice Index?

Posted under Denver & innovation schools & Parents & PPC & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

The Brookings Institution has released a new “Education Choice and Competition Index” (ECCI) to rate the availability of schooling options for families in the nation’s 25 largest school districts (H/T Eduwonk). RiShawn Biddle has a great breakdown of the index’s strengths and shortcomings, including the need for a clearer picture of the quality of choices and an expansion to cover more districts.

Expanding to the 100 largest districts, as Biddle urges, would include some of Colorado’s own. I’m pretty sure Denver Public Schools would do well on the ECCI, given the commitment to expanding charter and innovation school options. Interestingly, the Denver Post featured a piece yesterday about how DPS schools are increasing their efforts to market themselves to parents. Continue Reading »

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26th 2011
Fordham’s Checker Finn: School Districts Ready to Go the Way of Horse & Buggy

Posted under Independence Institute & innovation schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice

It’s less than two weeks past my Education Policy Center friends’ series of school board candidate briefings. In other words, it’s time for education reform senior statesman Checker Finn to raise the challenging and provocative question for National Affairs: Are local school district boards and the 19th century governance structure they represent about ready to wither away and disappear?

Four years ago Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno wrote an article suggesting that online learning technologies were pushing school district boundaries into irrelevance. Of all places, the article was published in the Colorado Association of School Boards’ (now defunct) Prism magazine. (Sadly, no link is available.)

Finn fleshes out the increasing policy and governance dilemmas as online and blended learning begin to skyrocket in popularity: Continue Reading »

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