Friday, January 30, 2015

AV#121-More federal dollars to Colorado for the School Improvement Grant? 10/28/2014

Another View #121                                                                                              Peter Huidekoper,  Jr.                                                                                                                                                                              Oct. 28, 2014

More federal dollars to Colorado for the School Improvement Grant? 
After $63 million, time to say: No thanks. We haven’t earned it.

You aren’t seriously going to argue that we should refuse another $5 or $6 million to improve our high-poverty, low-performing schools, are you?  Who can argue with that?

Here is last January’s press release from the U.S. Department of Education, announcing that Colorado would—for the fifth straight year—receive a large grant.

U.S. Department of Education Announces Awards to 7 States
to Continue Efforts to Turn Around Lowest-Performing Schools

“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced that seven states will receive more than $39 million to continue efforts to turn around their persistently lowest-achieving schools through new awards from the Department's School Improvement Grants (SIG) program. The states receiving these new awards are: Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Utah and Washington.” (Jan. 27, 2014) (Bold mine) 

“… for the fourth straight year the Colorado Department of Education has not produced a report to tell us the results of its work.”
“Turn Around.”  “Lowest-achieving schools.” The intent was always admirable—especially when we see the “poverty rates” (percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, FRL) at three of the schools that last year received three-year School Improvement Grants: Bruce Randolph in DPS (98% FRL), Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster (88%) and Aurora Central High (71%).  

This newsletter looks at the results of $2.34 million spent at these
schools in 2013-14.  Any signs of major change?  None that I can see. 

I believe it is time to blow the whistle.

No one would say these students do not deserve our support—and a good education.  But it is time now to tell Washington: Stop!  No more “School Improvement” funds for our state, thank you.

We don’t deserve it.

Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan’s sentiments—in announcing a central reason for the grant last January—felt right. But when he spoke of the results of years 1-4 (2010-2013)—for over 40 Colorado schools anyway—it did not ring true.
"When schools fail, our children and neighborhoods suffer," Duncan said. "Turning around our lowest-performing schools is hard work but it's our responsibility. We owe it to our children, their families and the broader community. These School Improvement Grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most." (
That press release went on to explain that state departments of education use the SIG funds to make “competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to provide adequate resources to substantially raise student achievement in their lowest-performing schools.”

Sadly, the Colorado Department of Education has selected districts and schools where, for a variety of reasons, we have but a few instances—out of 45 schools—where the effort has “substantially raised student achievement.”
Therefore, I believe it is past time when we should accept our failure to accomplish the goals of the SIG “turn around” effort.  We should thank the U.S. Department of Education for the $63 million committed to Colorado the past five years—and say, “Enough, no more.”  If federal dollars are available for round six of the School Improvement Grant this coming winter, one state, at least, should be accountable and admit that we have not figured out how to turn around our lowest-performing schools with these funds. Colorado should say: Thanks anyway, but not one more dollar.  
SIG funds to Colorado*
$  7,469,800
$  5,775,682
$  5,275,756
$  5,024,226

*Figures on years 1-4 from “Colorado’s Turnaround Schools 2010-13: Make a Wish,” by A Plus Denver (Dec. 2013); Year 5 from U.S. Department of Education–estimate.

School Improvement Grant – $63 million overseen by Colorado Department of Education

For the past several years I have, either in my own newsletter[1], or working on A Plus Denver reports[2], studied and/or written about the results of the School Improvement Grant (now called the Tiered Intervention Grant, but I will use the SIG term here), a federal grant to low-performing, high-poverty schools across the country. As of fall 2014, the federal government has committed over $63 million to “turn around” 45 Colorado schools (across the country, nearly $5 billion).  Every report I have contributed to has shown disappointing results. (See Addendum A: even a few “rays of hope” noted in past reports have been dashed.) And yet for the fourth straight year CDE has not produced a report to tell us the results of its work.[3] Again it is left to some other group or individual to publish the 2013-14 data coming from these schools. 

One person’s perspective is not persuasive, of course—especially given my years of skepticism on this effort.  However, please note the criticism of CDE’s management of the School Improvement Grant—by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013. The only “external audit” I can find, with several “findings” worth a look. (See excerpts at Addendum B - “Monitoring of state efforts by U.S. Department of Education.”)

Here is an initial take on three of the five schools that received the first year of the 3-year SIG funds in 2013-14—part of what is known as Cohort IV (the fourth year of SIG funding from the U.S. Department of Education to Colorado), and a brief look at the schools selected to be in Cohort V—now receiving the first year of their 3-year grants (2014-15 to 2016-17).

Decide for yourself if you see signs here of schools headed towards “significant improvement.”

2013-14 School Improvement Grant - Cohort IV

In 2013 five schools were selected to receive federal School Improvement Grants totaling $6.8 million over three years. 

This section of the report looks at Bruce Randolph, Aurora Central High, and Scott Carpenter Middle School, set to receive nearly $5.4 million—an average of close to $1.8 million per school—between 2013-14 and 2015-16.  This federal grant requires the schools applying to choose one of four “turnaround models”: restart, closure, turnaround (includes “replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 of the school’s staff”); or transformation (generally acknowledged to be the least disruptive of the four options).  See Addendum C for an overview of Cohorts I-V in Colorado and the various turnaround models selected. 

The two other schools in Cohort IV are Lester Arnold High School and Vilas OnLine High School.[4]

Cohort IV – Recipients of School Improvement Grant – 2013-14 to 2015-16[5]

3 year grant total
Turnaround model
Aurora Central High School
Aurora Public Schools
Scott Carpenter Middle School
Westminster 50
Bruce Randolph Middle School*
Denver Public Schools
TOTAL for these 3 schools


Lester Arnold H.S.
Adams 14 School District
Vilas On-Line H.S.
Vilas Re-5
$      20,995
TOTAL for Cohort IV schools


              (*Bruce Randolph is a 6-12 school but the grant went to its middle school program.)

In 2013-14, year one of the three-year SIG funding, Aurora Central, Scott Carpenter, and Bruce Randolph received a total of $2.34 million.  Given the student enrollment at these schools/programs (we only provide Bruce Randolph’s grade 6-8 population), the grant equated to $1,408 per student at Scott Carpenter, $1,160 per student at Bruce Randolph, and $480 per student at Aurora Central.

(COMMENT:  One has to wonder what $1,408 spent on individual tutoring for each of the 594 students at Scott Carpenter might have accomplished last year…. Let’s see: at $25 an hour, over 28 hours of math tutoring, over 28 hours of tutoring in English, would bring us to … $1,400 per student.)

FIRST YEAR  OF School Improvement Grant – 2013-14
Enrollment fall 2013
SIG funds per pupil for 2013-14
Scott Carpenter M.S.
$   836,112
594      (6-8)
Bruce Randolph M.S.
$   488,200
421      (6-8)
Aurora Central H.S.
2,120  (9-12)
$   480

The following data presents just a small portion of the results of this $2.34 million investment.  Certainly goals addressing concerns about “inconsistent classroom management abilities” or a “lack well developed culturally responsive educational practices”, or goals for stronger parent engagement, or for the school community as a whole—such as “establishing greater trust and collaboration,” are not measured by this kind of data.  It may well be that the schools made great strides in meeting these vital if less concrete goals.  Nevertheless, I present the data accessible to all.  With CDE not offering any public accounting of whether the grant made any difference, here at least are some of the results. 

Does a look at year one data suggest these schools are likely “to substantially raise student achievement” within three years?  Based on 2013-14 results, it seems unlikely.


Bruce Randolph   (6-12) - Denver’s School Performance Framework (DPS does not rate the middle school and high school programs separately)

Overall rating
Points Earned
Academic Proficiency*
Academic Growth
C/C Readiness**
Readiness Growth***
Accredited on Watch
Does Not Meet- 27%
Approaching –
Approaching – 49%
Meets –
Accredited on Priority Watch
Does Not Meet – 12%
Does  Not Meet– 33%
Approaching – 44%
Accredited on Priority Watch
Does Not Meet – 12%
Approaching- 35%
Approaching – 47%
Accredited on Watch
Does Not Meet-16%
Approaching – 41%
Meets – 51%
Meets – 76%

MOVED UP from Accredited on Priority Watch to Accredited on Watch on the district’s SPF, which evaluates the 6-12 school as a whole. In contrast, the state SPF evaluates the two different components – the middle school versus the high school – separately. In 2013 the state evaluated the middle school as low-performing and so it was the middle school that received the SIG funds.  On coloradoschoolgrades the high school was given a C, but the middle school a D- (477 out of 503 schools). The state’s 2014 SPF has not been released.

* Academic Proficiency
This category of measures is a snapshot of how well students performed on state assessments during the previous school year. A school’s rating is based primarily on the percentage of its students who scored at grade level or above grade level on state tests. (Source of these definitions – DPS -
** College & Career Readiness
This category measures how well a high school is preparing its students for post-secondary success. College & Career Readiness includes graduation rates, performance on assessments (ACT, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), etc.) and enrollment in higher-level course work (AP, IB, etc.)
*** Improvement In College & Career Readiness over Time
This category measures how well a high school is improving its preparation of its students for post-secondary success. This category rates each school on its successful improvement of graduation rates and performance on state and national assessments. It also measures changes in enrollment in AP and IB program coursework and college courses, as well as changes to students’ passing rates on AP and IB tests.

OVERALL the 6-12 school continues to perform well below the state average. CDE’s School View brings together the middle and high school results that show Bruce Randolph students are 35% below the state average in reading and 30% below the state average in both writing and math.

TCAP - % proficient/advanced - 2014

Bruce Randolph
Now, a closer look at the middle school results for 2014.

Bruce Randolph Middle School – TCAP - % Proficient & Advanced – 2012 to 2014
TARGETS for 2014 were in the 2013 SIG Application.  The SIG Request for Proposal asks applicants to “Provide evidence to demonstrate that overall goals and performance targets are included by year. Annual math and reading/language arts academic goals are set for each school site the grant will serve. Expectations for growth after one year must be clear.”   
Sixth Grade
COMMENT: The declining 6th grade scores over these three years is a big concern. Scores declined in all three subjects from 2013 to 2014.


Down a lot
Down a lot
Down slightly

Seventh grade (Improvement in all three subjects.)


Up 4
Up 5+
Up 3

Eighth grade (Improvement in all three subjects.)


WAY UP / 16+
WAY UP / 17+
UP 8

TARGETS – Bruce Randolph’s application for SIG funds lists nine targets, one for each discipline in each of the three grades.
IN RED, Bruce Randolph met one of the nine targets for 2014, in 7th grade writing.  Note that in 2013 it climbed from 14.1 to 28.2, a strong jump, making it possible to reach the 31.8 target in 2014.
IN BLUE Bruce Randolph came close to meeting three other targets, two for 8th graders.

OVERALL, in all three grades, in the three subjects, 65% or more were not proficient in 2014. 
Improved scores in 7th and 8th grade were a step in the right direction. However, they were too small to see the school reach the STATE AVERAGE (50%) Median Growth Percentile* in any of the three disciplines:

Median Growth Percentile
-Reading – 45%
-Writing -   47%
-Math -       43%

*Median Growth Percentile: This number shows how far students are progressing compared to their so-called “academic peers,” that is, other students who’ve posted similar results on test scores in the past. Typical growth for an individual student centers around the 50th percentile. Lower means slower growth, higher means better than average. (Source: Chalkbeat Colorado)

The SIG grant was not directed at the high school program. But it will be worth following the 2014 8th graders as they enter Bruce Randolph’s 9th grade—to see if their improvement in 2013-14 continues.  Last year, 9th grade scores dropped significantly in reading and dropped several points in writing.  And for the second year in a row less than 10% of 9th graders were proficient in math.

Ninth grade – Overall 9th grade did worse in 2014 than in 2013.


Down 10
Down 4
Up slightly


TCAP - % Proficient & Advanced – 2012 to 2014
Ninth grade


Down slightly
Up 3+
Up 3 (but lower than 2012)

Tenth grade


Up slightly
Up 4 points
Down  4 (lowest in last 3 years)

Writing improved in both grades.
Math scores were better for 9th grade, although less than 14% are proficient/advanced.  10th grade math scores dropped—less than 8% proficient.
Reading proficiency – little change for grades 9 & 10; 9th grade a bit down, 10th grade a bit up. 

TARGETS – Aurora Central’s application for SIG funds includes these “targets”; they were not broken out by grades, but simply stated: Reading – 53; Writing – 33; Math - 23.  It did not come anywhere close to meeting these targets.

OVERALL, combining the two grades, about 65% are not proficient in reading, over 80% are not proficient in writing, and nearly 90% are not proficient in math.  Its Median Growth Percentile met or exceeded the state average in 2014 in all three disciplines, but its MGP needs to be well over 60% for the students to catch up.  In writing, for example, the 2014 result of 50% is well short of the 91% the state indicates would be the Adequate Growth Percentile* (see bold); in math, Aurora Central’s 55% MGP is a far cry from the 99% Adequate Growth Percentile.
Median Growth Percentile
-Reading -   54%
-Writing -    50%
-Math -        55%

*Adequate Growth Percentile: This measure estimates whether students’ progress last year will be enough for the school’s students to reach or maintain proficiency. With this indicator, lower is better. Lower numbers represent an easier task because less growth is required. A school with an AGP of 12 means that, on the whole, this school’s students have a strong test score history and, even if their growth or progress is low, they’re probably still on track to stay proficient. On the other hand, a school with an AGP of 95 probably has many students that have had low test scores and they need to make an extraordinary amount of growth to catch up in the time allotted.  (Source: Chalkbeat Colorado) (Bold mine)
11th grade   -   ACT RESULTS

District (APS)
Aurora Central

Up 0.2




Up 0.1


Down 0.2


Up 0.6

TARGET – Aurora Central’s application includes goals over the three years of the grant. The target for ACT scores for 2013-14 was 16.7. (For 2014-15, the target is 17.6.) 
COMMENT: Improving ACT scores by .2% points, as it did this past year, will not bring the school to just a 16.0 on the ACT until 2018. At this rate, it will be 2026 before it reaches its 2015 target of 17.6.              


COMMENT: Last year’s A Plus Denver report on turnarounds found that none of the four schools awarded SIG funds by CDE were given a score higher than 71% (for Bruce Randolph) on the Grant Review Rubric. But Scott Carpenter was given by far the lowest score—only 75 points out of a possible total of 164, or 46% of the possible total. Nevertheless, it was awarded over $1.6 million of the SIG funds.

Sixth Grade

COMMENT: Declining 6th grade reading and writing scores over three years - worse in 2014 than in 2012 – is a big concern.  Math only slightly better in 2014 than in 2013.  But note the low math scores in grades 7 and 8—less than 17% proficient.  It is clear students will need a much stronger start in grade 6 in order to do well in grades 7 and 8.


Down a lot
Up slightly

Seventh grade (Decline in all three subjects)


Down slightly

Eighth grade (Improvement in all three subjects.)


Up slightly

OVERALL, Scott Carpenter can point to some improvement for 8th grade proficiency scores in 2014. But in all three grades, in the three subjects, 65% or more were not proficient in 2014. In writing, roughly 75% of the students were not proficient, and in math about 80% were not proficient.

TARGETS  - In its application for SIG funds, Scott Carpenter did not state any targets for students reaching proficiency, but did establish a goal of 70% MGP (Median Growth Percentile) in 2013-14 (and 73% MGP for 2014-15 and 75% for 2015-16 in all three disciplines: reading, writing, and math. (

Most troubling are the growth scores for Scott Carpenter.  The school came nowhere close to the goal of 70% Median Growth Percentile.  In fact, it did not reach the State Average MGP (50%) in any of the three disciplines:

Median Growth Percentile
-Reading – 39%
-Writing -   44%
-Math -       41%

Funding for 2014-15 to these three schools – full speed ahead (almost)

2014-15 is year two of the three-year SIG for these schools.  CDE reviews progress at the schools and has determined to go ahead with year two funding for Aurora Central and Bruce Randolph.  And “Scott Carpenter has received conditional approval, pending a school diagnostic review and adjustments to its plan based on the results of the review” (email to me from Brad Bylsma, Oct. 15).
If the SIG funds projected for years two and three continue to support the efforts at all three schools, they will receive $5.38 million in taxpayer money.

To date, based on the above data, no signs of major improvement at any of the three schools. True?

School Improvement Grant - Cohort V – Application and Selection spring/summer

In its Request for Proposals for the School Improvement Grant of 2014, CDE wrote: “Approximately $6 million is available for distribution to LEAs.”  These five schools were awarded three-year grants totaling a little more than $1 million per school.

3- year grant*
Crawford Elementary (Aurora)
Ashley Elementary (DPS)
Castro Elementary (DPS)
Cheltenham (DPS)
Fairview Elementary (DPS)
*Tiered Intervention Grant, 2014 - Cohort V – Approved plans and budgets -

Of course, as the five schools selected to receive SIG funds in Cohort V only started to receive the money during this 2014-15 school year, questions and concerns raised for these schools are not about student data. Instead, they have to with the selection process.  These points have been raised before, to little effect, based on what I have learned.

Notifying schools too late in the summer

Some will recall the rather late announcement of the first year of the SIG funds in 2010 – when the U.S. Department of Education made its most generous grant towards school turnaround efforts to the states—totaling $39 million to Colorado.  A number of the parties involved (CDE, districts and schools) reported that the application and selection process was rushed, and found that the schools had little time over the summer to prepare and plan for the major changes they had written about in their proposals.  It was so rushed in DPS that grants were awarded to Montbello and Rachel Noel in August, but the Denver School Board did not agree to a radically different plan – a phasing out of both schools – until the following November (, p. 13). 

Late notification led A Plus Denver to raise this question in its 2011 report:

3. Timing of grants – should Colorado request a waiver?
Last May CDE announced it had received $7.5 million to support a second round of turnaround schools; CDE says it will announce its new three-year grants in October. How does a school welcome a grant that might require a change in its leadership and the removal of half the staff, particularly when it gets the money in the fall? The timing of the federal grants can pose problems. Announcing the first year grants in August 2010 made it difficult for schools to rethink their leadership and redesign issues just as the year began. Delaware and Tennessee were able to get waivers to alter the timing of this grant. Colorado might wish to do the same so that the funds go out at the most opportune time. (, p. 10)

In that report A Plus also published CDE’s response, which included this sentence:

“The timing is a concern for CDE – Systems were not able to change policies and structures prior to the start of the school year in both rounds.”

But a review of the timing of this year’s process suggests CDE did not proceed in a timely manner, again leading to late notification to the schools “winning” the grants.

February: CDE’s Brad Bylsma, Assistant Director of Competitive Grants and Awards, explained to me: “CDE received USDE approval of its state Title I SIG application in February, 2014.” 

CDE’s Request for Proposal stated Feb. 12 as the date of the RFP Release.  It also included the following:
Proposals due:
Part A: Thursday, March 27, 2014 by 4 p.m.
Part B: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 by 4 p.m.
That RFP also stated: “May 15 – May 30, 2014 - Final Approval and Pre-Implementation Activities. CDE will review and score Part A and Part B of application. Final awards will be made in late May.”

May: As it was understood that the award would be made in late May, giving the school community all of June and July to do some careful planning for how to proceed during the coming school year, the RFP listed the Year 1 grant this way: “The duration of Year 1 will be May 30, 2014 to September 30, 2015.”

June: But the awards were not made in late May, nor even late June.   In early June I began to ask about the schools named for Cohort V.  I sent five emails - on June 6, July 8, July 18, and July 28, and August 11[6] -making this request. 

August: I finally heard from CDE on August 12 that the districts had been informed.   I then asked, “when were these schools told they would be the recipients?” and learned that “formal notification went out to the districts on July 21st” (email Aug 12). 

Recently I inquired further about the timing of the grant announcements to the schools. Brad Bylsma’s email of October 15 explained:

Based on a review of the proposals submitted in the first round of the process, CDE determined that none of them were sufficient to yield the significant school improvements that are the intent of the grant.  Consequently, all underwent an extensive revision process.  Applicants were formally notified of final approval on July 21st.” (Bold mine)

If a delay was due to CDE’s insistence that the applications demonstrate greater clarity and commitment, fine. An extensive rewrite? Good.  But I still see no reason the five schools should have been notified so late.  In the fifth year of this effort, we should have learned this lesson by now.

“Competitive grants” – CDE approves 5 of 7 applications, in spite of concerns

Finally, a word on the quality of the applications.   A Plus Denver’s reports have twice stressed the concern that CDE had approved grants to nearly every eligible school that had applied for SIG funds. Its 2011 report asked:

4. Will Round 2 of the School Improvement Grant in Colorado be “competitive?”
Making grants to all those who applied hardly made Colorado’s effort in 2010 seem “competitive.” A close look at what happened in DPS and Pueblo 60 with the SIG application reveals little enthusiasm for—or clarity regarding—several of these restructuring plans. … Can’t we, like several states, raise the bar, and approve a smaller percentage of applicants?

A Plus Denver’s 2013 report repeated the point in a passage on “selection and accountability”:

We have raised questions in the past about whether the state’s selection process was competitive enough …. While CDE maintains that one of its objectives was to allocate resources to struggling schools as quickly as possible, we believe that had a large pool of applicants been recruited and funding been awarded more selectively, applications might have been stronger and thus the likelihood of success higher. As it was, 95% of applicants were awarded funding, compared to 63% nationally. Just two schools were denied grants.
It would be one thing if all of the applications were strong, but by the state’s own standards, many of the applications were very weak. Many of the scores were in the 50s and 60s (out of 100) and one school scored as low as 46. However, all but two schools were awarded large grants no matter how strong their proposal.

Among the recommendations at the conclusion of that report:

Schools and districts should only be given funds when they prove they are ready to use the money effectively. 

A review of the process this past year offers no sign that the process has improved.
CDE’s RFP included the Grant Review Rubric.  Similar forms have been employed most previous years.

Part I: Proposal Introduction No Points

Part A: Narrative

Section I: LEA Readiness                                                             /43

Section II: LEA Commitment and Capacity                                 /56

 In-Person Readiness Interview                                        ________
                                                                                                    Total /99

GENERAL COMMENTS: Reviewers, please indicate support for scoring by including overall strengths
and weaknesses. These comments are used on feedback forms to applicants.

Required Changes:
Recommendation: Fund _____ Fund w/ Changes ____ Do Not Fund ____

Part B of the Grant Review Rubric is a similar form focusing on the budget. Part of it looks like this:

Part B:
Section I: Needs Assessment and Program Plan                     /49

Section II: Budget Narrative                                                        /23
Electronic Budget No Points                                         _________
Total /72

Again this year results of these Grant Reviews were not available on the CDE web site without a request.  I received Part B on all five schools, but then asked if Part A was missing.  Lynn Bamberry, Director of Competitive Grants and Award at CDE, explained in an email to me (Oct. 17) of a change:

The decision was made to not to score section A, but rather, to provide narrative feedback and discuss any questions or concerns in depth at the in-person readiness meetings which occurred on April 8.  The feedback from Part A needed to be addressed in the final application.  

So the scoring only had a maximum of 72 points. The scores for the five schools that “won” a grant read as follows:

Out of a total of 72 points
Converting score to a percentage
Crawford Elementary (Aurora)
Ashley Elementary (DPS)
Castro Elementary (DPS)
Cheltenham (DPS)
Fairview Elementary (DPS)

CDE only reviewed seven applications and ultimately said yes to five of them, in spite of finding their initial proposals not “sufficient to yield significant school improvements.…”  Nic Garcia’s piece in Chalkbeat Colorado on a fifth Denver school that applied, Columbine Elementary, noted that “… the state rejected Denver Public Schools’ application for Columbine’s turnaround plan, which it deemed subpar.” (“DPS’s subpar grant application costs school $1 million, but leader forges ahead,” Sept. 2, 2014).  But when the other four Denver schools that did “win” the grant were given a score of D (61-64%), we again ask if CDE was too determined to make these grants, regardless of the quality of the proposals. 

Once again, hardly a “competitive grant.”

Whistleblower?  No, simply doing what CDE was asked to do a year ago

It would be presumptuous to call this newsletter “whistleblowing.” I feel it is just the last in a series of external reports that, frankly, begin to feel redundant. The effort is not succeeding. Thus it feels appropriate to ask the state to put a stop to it.  No more reassuring words about how we’ll do better—next time.

Still, the words from David Barbetta in The Denver Post last week felt about right to me.  Formerly a financial analyst for DaVita HealthCare Partners, Barbetta gave this reason for his part in the whistleblower lawsuit against his former employer.  “No one else was standing up and saying this wasn’t right and it should stop. Everyone seemed to know about it, and no one seemed to be willing to anything about it.”

CDE staff has been helpful to me as I gathered information for this newsletter.  I worked alone on this—no other individual or organization is to blame for any mistakes—or certainly for my conclusion.  If CDE would have acted on the recommendation from A Plus Denver last year to produce its own account of what has taken place in the schools, I would have felt no need to attempt this look at the results.

4. Transparency: The public and the State Board of Education should be aware of school performance. Monitoring and evaluation tools, including basic information on how much money is being put into each school, where is it going, and how schools are progressing according to predetermined benchmarks, would provide needed clarity.  (“Colorado’s Turnaround Schools 2010-13: Make a Wish,”                                            

“The public and the State Board of Education should be aware….” True? I hope this is a start.

Another View, a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper, Jr., represents his own opinion and is not intended to represent the view of any organization he is associated with.     Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 /

Addendum A

Brief “Rays of Hope”: a year later, not so much
I did not work on the A Plus Denver report in 2012: 2012 - “Colorado Turnaround Schools – Rays of Hope,”  That year I produced my own examination of the school results. I saw fewer “rays of hope” than did A Plus. 

The 2013 A Plus report, “Colorado’s Turnaround Schools – Make a Wish,” looked back this way:

After two years of SIG funding, A+ Denver published “Colorado Turnaround Schools - Rays of Hope,” a report on the progress of 20 turnarounds in Colorado. The report was optimistic about some of the investments …  By 2013, however, some of this optimism had dampened, and many of the schools that had seen a bump had faltered.

Although that 2013 report painted a rather dismal picture of the SIG-funded turnaround schools in Colorado, it did offer one sentence with encouraging news at six schools:

We applaud the schools that are approaching the level of growth necessary growth to move the majority of kids to proficiency, which are High Tech Early College, STRIVE-Lake, KIPP Montbello, Mesa Elementary, Smith Renaissance, and Noel Community Arts High School.

Unfortunately, it appears that in 2013-14 most of these schools did not continue to improve. The rating on Denver’s School Performance Framework dropped for three of the five DPS schools:


High Tech Early College
Meets Expectations
Accredited on Watch
Rating lower
Meets Expectations
Accredited on Watch
Rating lower
Noel Community Arts High School
Accredited on Watch
Accredited on Priority Watch
Rating lower
Smith Renaissance
Meets Expectations
Meets Expectations
Kipp Montbello
Meets Expectations
Rating higher

The sixth school Mesa Elementary, in Westminster, performed a little better on TCAP scores in 2014, but showed only average growth:  Reading: 49%;  Math: 48%;  Writing: 55%.

Addendum B

Monitoring of state efforts by U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education monitors the states’ SIG efforts.   See its report: “Office of School Turnaround (OST), Monitoring Plan for School Improvement Grant (SIG), Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014- Its 53 pages hardly touch student outcomes—it is largely about ensuring “the SIG intervention models are being implemented consistent with … requirements….” Nevertheless, we see a few questions on academic achievement:

School-Level Questions, School Leadership Team
Is the school implementing other efforts to raise student achievement?
How do you know the changes you and the school have made this year are working?
School describes additional efforts being made to raise student achievement
School describes its progress and provides evidence of progress, for example interim data (p. 29)

Colorado was last monitored in 2012, with a report written and dated Jan. 10, 2013.  The report criticized CDE’s management of the grant on several fronts,  One larger finding spoke to CDE not ensuring that the school districts were adequately monitoring their school or schools receiving SIG funds. (SEA=State Education Agency; LEAs=Local Education Agencies, or school districts)

Finding: The SEA did not ensure that the LEAs monitor the schools consistent with the final requirements of the SIG program.  Although the SEA and the LEAs are providing ongoing technical assistance to the schools in the SIG program, the SEA has not established an expectation, a process, or a timeline for the LEA to monitor these schools.

Further action required: The CDE must submit to ED a plan that will ensure that LEAs are monitoring schools implementing SIG. The plan must be submitted to ED within 35 days of this receipt of this report.

Three specific findings pertained to what it learned in visiting a school in Cohort II, Fulton Elementary in Aurora: 

Finding 3:  At the time of ED’s monitoring visit, the Fulton Academy of Excellence failed to meet the requirement of the principal replacement as stated in the SIG final requirements for the transformation model. Fulton’s principal has been leading the schools since the 2006-2007 school year. Prior to funding the school, the CDE was aware that Aurora did not intend to replace Fulton’s principal. However, prior to making a decision about funding, the CDE allowed to school to submit evidence as to why the principal was a dynamic leader and should not be replaced as part of the reforms.

Further action required: The CDE must submit to ED evidence that it has reviewed the progress of all schools that received SIG funds to implement the transformation and turnaround model to ensure that principals were hired consistent with the SIG requirement….

This particularly sharp criticism of the implementation of the grant for Fulton Academy in Aurora led to the suspension of federal funding for that school’s turnaround work.

LEA Name
School Name
Description of how funds were or will be used
Amount of Remaining Funds
Aurora Public Schools
Fulton Elementary School
“Remaining funds will be added to FY 2012 funds and awarded to Cohort #5.  These funds have been de-obligated due to USDE monitoring finding.”
(From CDE’s application to U.S. Department of Education for 2014- and how funds will be used., p. 7.)

In hindsight, CDE might have seen two other red flags when it reviewed the proposal from Aurora Public Schools for Fulton Elementary.

1.      The budget request was for $4,187,085 over three years.  CDE’s Grant Review Rubric told APS: “The overall budget will need to be reduced to $1,136,100.” (, p. 59).  A request for $4 million for one elementary school, when the entire state that year was awarded less than $7.5 million for its School Improvement Grant? 

2.      CDE’s Grant Review Rubric scored the application 85/143 points, which is 59% –a failing grade.  As A Plus Denver’s 2013 report noted, applications with even lower scores have been approved (RE High School in Mesa Elementary in Mesa 51 RE -57%; Westminster – to 5 elementary schools– 56%; Spann Elementary in Pueblo 60 – 49%; and Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster-47%).  In that context, perhaps 59% looked pretty good.  But looking back, perhaps it deserved the F.

Addendum C

Four Turnaround Models  –  Cohorts I - V  –   2010-11 to 2014-15

Cohort I
Cohort II
1 (Trevista in DPS)
Cohort III
3 (Ford and West*** in DPS; and Sheridan Middle)

Cohort IV
Cohort V


*Lake Middle was seen as both a turnaround and a restart (of the Lake International Program) so it is counted twice here; total is still 19 schools in all.
**Transformation at Montbello and Noel in the end led to the closure or phase out of the existing schools and starting up several new schools.  So while “transformation” may have been the designated model when the application was first approved by CDE, it turned out to be quite different work.
***R-5 High School in Mesa County; Schecnk, Smith, and West in DPS.  “Transformation” at West—as with Montbello and North—may also be a misnomer.  As West wrote in its SIG application:
“Two other DPS schools are pursuing this same ‘phase in’ and ‘phase out’ approach in a way that is already showing marked gains. Therefore, the best school intervention model for West is turnaround. There is a bit of a classification challenge when it comes to West, but since Montbello, which is utilizing the same approach and receiving TIG funds, is considered a turnaround. [sic]  West is also considered a turnaround.” (, p. 39)

Addendum D

Lester Arnold High School in Adams 14

Lester Arnold’s application for the School Improvement Grant included “measurable goals” for TCAP for 2013-14 – such as the percentage of students achieving proficiency in Reading (26%), in Math (4%), and Writing (11%).  Perhaps as important to the school are other “measurable goals,” which of course are not related to TCAP results.  For example:

·        It is expected that students meet and sustain an 80 percent attendance rate.   Attendance will be monitored daily, and those who fall below 80 percent will be approached for further interventions.
·        Students will make measurable progress towards completing course credits by completing course recovery units with an 80 percent success rate.
·        Students will make satisfactory progress with a minimum 80% on course assessments and 80% attendance rate in selected work-readiness and electives courses.
·        Attendance/truancy: 50% higher attendance among students with re-engagement plans, compared to students and families eligible for the program, but who did not take advantage.
·        Drop-out: 50% re-enrollment among students and families who develop a re-engagement plan.

[1] Another View #55: “What to do about ‘fixing’ underperforming schools? Tell Feds we have learned a lot … about what NOT to do” (June 25, 2009). My final sentence of that newsletter stated: “Before Colorado should receive millions of dollars for something we have not done well, we ought to think hard about what we have learned over the past twenty years.”
AV#86: “One last swing – before another $10 million is misspent?  The School Improvement Grant to DPS and Pueblo City 60” (Aug. 23, 2012).
AV#89: “$14.8 million over three-years to turnaround efforts at six DPS schools – Are grants for year three (2012-13) warranted?” (Oct. 4, 2012).
AV#90: “On NOT TURNING AROUND SCHOOLS: Too Quick to Celebrate, Too Eager to Point Fingers…” (Oct. 29, 2012).
AV#92, “Regional economic development works. Why not a regional recovery school district?” (Jan. 1, 2013).
AV#109, “Why turnaround schools do not turn around - One reason struggling schools fail to make real progress: Aurora Central High as a case study,” (Feb. 12, 2014).
[2] 2011–“Background - Turning around low-achieving schools in Colorado,”
2013—“Colorado’s Turnaround Schools 2010-13: Make a Wish,” See “message from CEO” Van Schoales: “Two years ago, A+ Denver sounded an alarm, claiming that there had been little selectivity, transparency, accountability, or most importantly, evidence that the oversight body was using past experience to inform its award-making…. Now, based on the percentage of students reaching proficiency, we find that nearly a third of Cohort I, II, and III schools are doing worse than they were pre-funding….”
[3] CDE tells me that it “does have plans to produce a formal report on the impact of Title I Improvement funding in 2015.”
[4] I have not included Lester Arnold High School in this review as it is an Alternative Education Campus.   I appreciate that the data for such a school needs to be reviewed differently given the high percentage of students who have previously dropped out and/or have struggled in other schools.  (Lester Arnold’s application——noted that less than 2% of its 10th graders were proficient in math, its truancy rate was close to 20%, and its dropout rate was 24.3%; in this context, it is understandable that evaluating the effectiveness of the program requires different tools than TCAP, ACT, and similar standard measures.   Of course it is troubling to see the percent of 10th graders proficient in math drop from 5.3% in 2013 to 3.4% in 2014; still, CDE and Adams 14 will have to look much more deeply to see if the school is achieving its goals for this grant.  Addendum D lists a few of Lester Arnold’s “measurable goals” in its application for the School Improvement Grant.)
Neither do I include the fifth school granted TIG funds for 2013-14, Vilas Online High School, as it was awarded $20,995 to help fund its closure. (Comment: Which, at that cost, let’s admit, hardly required a federal grant!)  
[5] Tiered Intervention Grant, 2013 - Cohort IV - Approved Plans and Budgets,
[6]From my August 11 email to the Office of School and District Performance at CDE: “…As you know, I've been asking about the Cohort V schools much of the summer. I have to believe you notified them early enough in the summer so they had time to do the needed planning before school started. Now that school is starting, I will ask again - my fifth request I believe - if can you [sic] make the information available as to which schools received the funds and the amount of the grant.”

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