Monday, June 26, 2017

AV#163 - After three years of teaching – over and out - Tears, progress, departure

Tears, progress, departure - One teacher, one year, one school

Listen to a dedicated, thoughtful young teacher in the fall of 2016, and then this spring, in her third—and as it turned out—her final year in the classroom.  Perhaps representative of many.

Part I – November 2016

“So take a good look at my face/ You’ll see my smile looks out of place”
(“Tracks of my Tears,” Smokey Robinson)

She can still put on nice smile when I sit down with her at the coffee shop, but the year three teacher is hiding the tracks of her tears. The school year is not going well.

The crux of the matter for her middle school: student behavior, discipline, a sense that 30 kids who are “given referrals” for misbehavior are “having an impact on the culture of the school” every day.  Given the number of stealing incidents, she tells me: “I now need to lock the doors to my classroom all the time.”

“I have a deep desire to be working with students of color, with students who don’t typically get a high-quality education, but there are too many moments when it feels like our school is not working.”
In the first eight weeks of school, three teachers have already quit.

Overwhelmed by behavior management

“The first few weeks we had only one dean, who had to deal with what seemed like 100 referrals a day!” (After it became clear this was not working the principal shifted two other staff members into the role of dean, so now each grade has a “dean.”)

“Students are yelling from their seats, they’re throwing objects, their language is inappropriate. I don’t give referrals immediately – usually after giving them 3-4 opportunities to correct their behavior. … It’s exhausting.” 

She speaks of the challenge “we are having difficulty connecting with the community”—as the staff is largely white, and most students come from families of color.

PH: Does your school use restorative justice? Is it effective?

“We tried it this year. We hired a trainer too. We now have 20 kids in the referral room—we had to make it an entire room as the numbers were too great for the small space they were in before. I don’t understand why so many students choose to NOT FOLLOW expectations.” 

Yes, she told me, the school still uses elements of restorative justice, but too often it did not seem to produce any better behavior.

“For restorative justice to work you need to have PRODUCTIVE AND HEALTHY conversation with the kid. Without having established relationships or accountable systems then the basic expectation will not be met and the conversation will not be effective.”

Of course any principal or teacher—on seeing high referral rates and struggles with classroom management—must ask what is or is not happening with instruction and efforts to engage students. She believes that the teaching and the content for her grade are strong.  That might sound defensive, a way to brush aside what might not be working in the classroom, but as she sees it:

“When a kid has decided they don’t want to do the work and be cooperative, when you have five or six students in one classroom who resist and behave so badly, it becomes challenging to get the rest of the class focused on the work at hand…. I don’t know what we’re doing wrong. I don’t know what it’s going to take to make a dramatic change…”

She worries the school may have already been “lost” for the year … a small group of students has established a negative school culture, and it will only be with a new school year that they’ll be able to have the restart that seems so desperately needed.

“It’s hard to proactively plan (for major changes) at this point in the school year…. We don’t have the time needed to plan intently. We are putting out too many small fires when we need to focus on prevention…. Students have begun to feel they can get away with a lot - there’s not a lot we can do –especially with parents. They come in when we ask—to discuss the boy or girl’s behavior.  The student says all the right things and it sounds like tomorrow will be different, but then the next day we’re back to the same kind of misbehavior. …  It would help if we could reduce class size, add counselors, etc., but with our budget we don't have the resources for that."

The campus – little to make one proud
What other factors, one might ask, make this school particularly tough to work in, and more likely to find students resentful and uncooperative?
    “We have no field for them to play on – just a hard top. The building is old; it’s freezing cold in the winter.  There’s trash everywhere, dead grass, the appearance is awful.”
PH: And the custodians?
   “Our custodial staff comes and goes… After what the kids did to the bathrooms, we recently repainted the bathrooms with kind of paint that won’t allow them to write graffiti.  We have to have a staff member posted outside the bathrooms, to make sure the kids aren’t fooling around.”
PH:  Are you feeling defeated?

Oh yeah.

She is not alone. The person with whom she co-teaches her grade, with many more years of teaching experience, is similarly discouraged.

“Neither of us feels like a success when we deal with the consistent, constant challenges of     behavior management.”

(A week later, that colleague had quit.)

Near the end of our conversation, she reminds me that her comments focus on a minority of the student body: “80% of the kids are doing the right thing.”  It is not as if she does not have any good days, or at least a good class or two. 

PH: Can you make it through the year? Will you stay?

She has spoken with her principal of her concerns, and of the possibility that—as with the three teachers who have left since August–she might find it impossible to stick it out until June 1, if positive change is not implemented.

She is grateful to and proud of her colleagues.

“That’s what’s keeping me there. I think that’s what will keep me there through the year.  I do not want to let them down, and I do not want to let my students down.”
“It’s a terrible time to be in education.  Ten years from now we’re going to have a real big crisis.”
“I want to be a teacher. I want to be successful, but I don’t know how.”

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better/ A little better all the time”
 (“Getting Better,” The Beatles)

Another coffee shop, five months later … she is grading papers by her sixth graders. She looks happy and asks me to look at a couple of answers given by her students.  Impressive!

The school – what a change in five months

“The culture at our school has significantly improved… I love my school, my kids, my administration. She (the principal) is an incredibly strong leader…. We’re now in a safe space.”

PH: How did the change at your school come about? 

“They came down hard for two months—they were very consistent.  If a kid was caught out of class twice or was disrupting learning, he or she was sent home – and a parent HAD to come in and shadow their child for all or much of the day, depending on their needs.”

PH: You spoke in the fall of a few students who seemed un fazed by the light punishments.  Were some expelled when the school tightened up? 

“About 10 students left voluntarily within the first month, and many began to change because they didn’t want to be sent home for skipping class … We had restroom monitors – substitute teachers stationed at each of bathrooms; students had to sign in to use the restroom.
“Now we don’t have hallway monitors anymore, that’s how much things have changed. 
“The majority of our kids stayed. The majority are learning….”

She was skeptical at first about all these changes and if it would work – but it has, for the most part.

“I haven’t referred a kid (to the dean or main office for behavior issues) in many weeks…. We still have kids who are out of class at times.  But in the fall there were maybe 20 sixth graders (out of 150) out of class, wandering around, maybe 50 students in the whole building out of class.  Now it’s infrequent; now it’s more common to see two or three in the hallway.” 

Restorative Justice

“We’re now at a place where we can do restorative justice. I feel very comfortable with it.”

She had two kids recently who wanted to fight each other.  The next day we sat them both down and they both took accountability for what they did.  Both said this is what they wanted (to talk it through); they both wanted to, and did, apologize.”

She has done four of these restorative justice sessions – sometimes alone, sometimes with another adult. Eventually she believes students in middle school could lead them, as happens in some high schools. “It would be wonderful, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Extra focus on 6th grade (the school’s first grade) – “how to do school”

She now believes now that, with the appropriate commitment, a middle school like hers “can transform them as students.” “Many sixth graders arrive from nearby schools,” she says, “come to us who don’t know how to do school.”  Fall semester of sixth grade in their new school is critical; that’s when they learn what expectations are. She likes the current plan to get the top teachers into sixth grade next fall, to make sure it has the strongest teaching team.  

“If you can get the right culture established, have strong teaching and clear expectations established in the grade where new students begin their time in the school, it can make such a difference.”

The work students were producing made her hopeful about end-of-year assessments, and prospects for the School’s Performance rating.

“Classes I have this year seem more engaged, seem more motivated.  I see better progress.”

How do you see the big picture for education in our state?

 “I know teachers who are in their first year who will not return after this year…. We’re going to have a significant shortage of teachers … because of the cost of living and because teacher pay is not climbing at the same rate as the cost of living…. (In Colorado) we rank about 42nd in teacher pay or something absurd like that… the pay issue has to be addressed.”

“We’re on the right path (nationally anyway) of how to best support students with their social-emotional needs. But I’m really fearful of the next 5-10 years.  My generation has a special craving for work-life balance, but for a teacher the demands are growing, the hours are increasing because of top-down policies, and yet the pay stays pretty consistent as the cost of living/housing keeps rising….”

Why, after three years, she’s leaving … teaching

Though optimistic about the school’s future, she has decided to resign.  She’s had four different teaching partners this year: one quit; another long-term sub with no experience in a low-income school failed; a third arrived after the holidays and was sick most of her first week, looked overwhelmed, and was gone by week two.  The impact of these turnovers with her partner next door (she has had to do most of curriculum design for both classes), to have a new person to work with so often … “it’s hit me hard.”  What she has not had through all this, she says, and what she needs, is some “emotional stability.”

Like many TFA alumni who leave the classroom, she is eager to continue to work in education.  

Hiring – when, and how

She spoke of the high number of teachers who had not yet revealed if they will be back next year.  As the principal is not certain who will or won’t return, hiring gets delayed until June–or later, which, in turn, can alter the quality of the candidates applying.

She hopes the school has candidates teach a class and get a sense of the school culture and the student body. It could reduce the turnover problem if prospective teachers “have a clear idea of what they’re getting into.”  Too many find too late that the school is not a good fit, that the challenge is too great.

Teacher turnover in general – and why

In March she spoke of the concern that a huge percentage of teachers might not return.  (She told me last week that 30% were not coming back.)  She says 50-60% of the faculty are, like her, in Teach for America, or are TFA alumni.

PH: Why such a high turnover?

“The nature of the job. It’s exhausting.  We leave for our emotional well-being.  We can’t teach very long in schools like this. I shouldn’t be just surviving.”

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

AV#162 - Higher graduation rates in Colorado - fake news

“Colorado graduation rates reach highest marks since 2010…”
 (CDE News Release, Jan. 19, 2017)
“The real goal is not just to graduate more young people, but to keep more young people on the path to success in adulthood. Giving false diplomas or passing students who aren’t ready helps no one.”[i] (John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, May 2016)

I stand and cheer for our 2017 high school graduates on their way to college!  Congratulations Ava (CU-Boulder), Adwoa (Wake Forest), Betty (George Washington), Jonas (Harvard), Leo (Colorado College), Miriam (CSU-Ft. Collins)—among others.  College ready?  No question.

But we must question what percentage of this year’s roughly 50,000 Colorado high school graduates are college-ready, or have demonstrated a certain level of competency in reading, writing, and math.  My text this time is the just released Legislative Report on Developmental Education for the High School Class of 2015 (May 2017), from the Colorado Department of Higher Education.  (Highlights, Addendum A.) Read it and I think you too will find it impossible to cheer for the happy talk of higher graduation rates. Such as:

·         The national graduation rate is “at an all-time high of 83.2 percent” (Education Week, May 10, 2017).
·         The Colorado Department of Education states the four-year graduation rate shows “a marked increase in the statewide graduation rate with 78.9 percent of the students in the class of 2016 graduating within four years of entering ninth grade”… and an increase of “6.5 percentage points since 2010.” News Release, Jan. 19, 2017,
·         Denver Public Schools began the decade with an on-time graduation rate of just over 50% (51.8% in 2010).  Nothing but progress of late: 62.8% in 2014, 64.8% in 2015, 67.2% in 2016.

Solid data, right?  I doubt it. Such claims are a type of fake news.

Remedial rate – Colorado grads  entering Colorado colleges[ii]
Why?  Because they suggest a higher percentage of students each year are achieving a certain academic standard.  But as a high school diploma, in our state anyway, says little about graduating with the knowledge and skills that indicate college-readiness, a greater percentage graduating can also mean—see box—a higher percentage require remedial classes.     
Can we celebrate a higher graduation rate in May at a Denver high school—when, in August, an astonishingly high percentage of its graduates are not seen as college ready for English or math classes, or both—requiring remedial course work before they are eligible for college-credit classes?
Consider a Chalkbeat Colorado piece on the 2015 results:

DPS celebrated its gains Thursday by highlighting the Denver Center for International Studies, which earned a 92.9 percent graduation rate.  [Addendum B has this same figure.]
“It’s not just that they graduate, but that they are successful when they leave,” said school principal Theresa Mccorquodale.
Mccorquodale cited a drop in remediation rates for her graduates.

Some drop: According to the Legislative Report, the remediation rate for DCIS students entering a Colorado college was 53.1% in 2014, and 51.4% (19 of 37 students) in 2015.   (See details for this and for paragraphs below, in Addendum B: DPS: CLASS OF 2015 - ACT, GRAD RATE, and REMEDIATION RATE.)

That same year Bruce Randolph High reported a graduation rate of 79%--even better than the state average!, and a big bounce from 62.6% the year before.  And yet for the fall of 2015, the Legislative Report showed 46.2% of Randolph’s graduating class entering a Colorado college needed a remedial class, a rate 10% higher than the state average (36.1%) for remediation that year. 

Abraham Lincoln High may have been proud to show a graduation rate of 77.3% (266 out of 344 students) in 2015, also a terrific jump from two years before (64.7%).  But the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s remediation figures show that nearly two-thirds (59 out of 90) of Lincoln’s 2015 graduates required remedial classes when entering a Colorado college that fall. 

“ACT scores show a smaller share of students are ‘college-ready’”[iii]  Washington Post, Aug. 24, 2016
DPS puts together a different tally for remediation figures than DHE.  (See its report for the class of 2014-15[iv]. See also Chalkbeat Colorado’s explanation of Denver’s approach, May 2016.[v]) DPS will challenge the state’s numbers, perhaps rightly. But for a three-year picture, and state-wide comparisons, the Legislative Report is what we have.   
And we have ACT scores too. Let’s look at the 2015 class at Randolph and Lincoln.  When students there took the ACT as juniors in 2014, they had an average score of 16.4 at Randolph and 16.0 at Lincoln.  Such low scores make it likely that of those who do go on, a large number will not be college ready. 

In other words, the (high) remediation rates and the (low) ACT scores seem consistent.  Together they force us to be skeptical of “encouraging” graduation rates at such schools.

Remedial rate–2015 Colorado grads entering Colorado colleges
Westminster 50
Adams 14
Pueblo City 60
Of course this is more than a DPS story.  When Alameda International shows a graduation rate (92.9%) nearly as impressive as two well-regarded Jeffco high schools, Evergreen (95.8%) and Ralston Valley (95.2%), one might cheer.  But then you note Alameda’s remediation rate of 60%, compared to less than 15% for Evergreen and Ralston graduates.  Even within a district, a high school diploma can have a profoundly different meaning. (See details in Addendum C: 6 other metro area school districts.)

Adams City High shows better graduation rates of late: from 67.8% in 2013, up to 79% in 2016.  But DHE’s most recent numbers also show rising remediation rates for Adams City graduates: 2013: 62.3%; 2014: 64.1%; 2015: 68.8%.  (The State Board of Education will soon take a final look at Adams 14’s turnaround plan. Please note that 68.8%.)

Sheridan High School (SHS) boasted an increased graduation figure of 30% points from 2013 (60%) to 2015 (90.1%).  One might wish to say: terrific–64 out of 71 SHS seniors earned a high school diploma that spring.  But the DHE report shows that, in the fall of 2015, 10 of the 18 graduates (55%) of the district’s two high schools—Sheridan High and SOAR Academy (an alternative school)—required a remedial class when they entered a Colorado college.

Again, in a state with no graduation test, the closest we have to a “final assessment” for the entire class of 2015 would be its performance on the ACT taken junior year.  At Sheridan High, it was 15.9; at Adams City High, 16.1.  A year later, most seniors in these schools had the grades and credits to earn a degree.  In such cases, what is the value of that degree? (See details on Sheridan High in Addendum D.)

A recent Education Week article reported on a study that addressed the skepticism about the upbeat stories on grad rates: “Is the High School Graduation Rate Inflated? No, Study Says.”
Watered-down graduation requirements, mistaken calculations, and push-outs of unsuccessful students may have falsely boosted high school graduation rates in a few states, but are not widespread enough to have inflated the national graduation rate, which is at an all-time high of 83.2 percent, according to a new study.[vi] 
Strange to see not one mention in the article of remediation rates.  It does comment:
If states were lowering standards for diplomas, the report says, there would likely be declines in scores on tests such as the ACT and the SAT, and Advanced Placement exams.

Much here updates the argument I made in
I simply point out the paradox of seeing schools where ACT scores remain terribly low as graduation rates rise.                                                                                     
Not inflated?  Seriously?

Some will say we have not done enough to match a high school diploma with the knowledge and skills required to take college-level classes, and that we should not fault the K-12 system for that failure.  And I appreciate why many question the way colleges determine “readiness”—such as the way most students ended up in my remedial reading classes at Arapahoe Community College—by taking the Accuplacer, a 20-question multiple choice test in English.[vii]

Nevertheless, the data available should compel us to stop celebrating higher graduation rates as if they tell us something important about what our students have learned. 

You can say it’s too cute to call it fake news. 

I would answer: it is not honest of us to tell ourselves and our community that higher graduation rates mean our schools are improving and our students are making academic progress.  It is clearly dishonest if we are telling students their degree means something they soon find out is untrue. 

What is true—can we please admit this?—is that a high school diploma in our state, and perhaps in many others as well, says little about our students’ academic skills or whether they are ready for college.

Another View is a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper Jr.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 -

Addendum A


Highlights from Academic Year 2015-16

1. Overall, the percentage of the 2015 high school graduates placed into developmental education
in at least one subject was 36.1 percent, a slight increase from the previous year of 35.4 percent.

2. Of the high school graduates who matriculated to college in Colorado, 7,838 students were placed
into developmental education (an increase of 366 students from last year).

3. The percentage of female college students placed into developmental education was 37.9
percent, a slight decrease from last year. The percentage of male college students placed into
developmental education was 34 percent, a slight increase from last year.

4. At two-year institutions, 79.1 percent of African American students were placed into
developmental education. At four-year institutions, 49.3 percent of African American students
were placed into developmental education. Both rates have decreased compared to last year.

5. At two-year institutions, 71.4 percent of Hispanic students placed into developmental education
(a slight increase compared to last year). At four-year institutions, the rate of Hispanic students
placed into developmental education is unchanged from last year at 39 percent.

6. Of Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) participants, 53.6 percent were placed into developmental
education which represents a slight increase compared to last year (53.4 percent last year). Of
non-FRL students, 30.6 percent were placed into developmental education (31.4 percent last year).

7. When examining developmental education by subject, students almost equally required support
in mathematics and English.

8. For the third year, students placed into developmental education had higher first year retention
rates than non-developmental education students at community colleges.

9. At the four-year level, the retention rate for students not placed into developmental education
was 77.8 percent, compared to 66.3 percent for those placed into developmental education.
Retention rates have increased for both groups of students compared to last year (76.7 percent
and 61.4 percent respectively).

10. More than 63 percent of all developmental education courses were completed successfully, a 0.6
percent increase from the previous year.

11. The estimated cost to the state and estimated tuition cost to all college students enrolled in
developmental education courses is approximately $29.6 million in FY2015-16. This is a $9.7
million dollar savings from last year due to students taking fewer developmental courses and
fewer courses being offered.

2015 High School Graduating Cohort: 53,128
Enrolled in an Out-of-State College: 7,119
Enrolled in Colorado Public College: 22,923

Addendum B 


2014 – ACT*
2015 grad rate**  % - total # seniors
2015 remediation rate*** % - entering college
Denver School of Science & Technology-Stapleton
81.9    105
9.3      5/54
DSST: Green Valley Ranch
85.4      96
13.5      7/52
Denver School of the Arts
98.1      158
29.5    18/61
89.6    616
35.8    82/229
George Washington
82.6     270
32.6    30/92
Denver Center for International Studies
92.9      85
Thomas Jefferson
83.5    212
44.1   37/84
KIPP Denver Collegiate
83.5     79
40.5   17/42
College ready?
John Kennedy
76.7     279
52.5    52 /99
78.6     238
43.6    41/94
Martin Luther King Early College
70      150
58.6    34/58
DCIS at Montbello
86.7    90
71.8    28/39
High Tech
77.8      81
60      12/20
70.9    134
40      18/45
Southwest Early College
44.1     59
41.2      7/17
Bruce Randolph H.S. (6-12)
79      81
46.2   18/39
Manual H.S.
52.7     74
77.8   14/18
Abraham Lincoln
77.3    344
DPS Average
taken by 4,071 students
45.4    626/1,378
taken by 54,512 students

Addendum C – College ready?

7 other metro area school districts - CLASS OF 2015 - ACT, GRAD RATE, and REMEDIATION RATE

2014 – ACT*
2015 grad rate** % - total # seniors
2015 remediation rate *** % - entering college
10 metro area high schools

Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts (MAPLETON)                    
87.3      71
65.5     19/29
Northglenn High (ADAMS 12)
83.8       351
61.9     78/126
60.3     521
48.6    67/138
55.9        397
61.8     47/76 
92.9      170
60.5     26/43  
Westminster H.S. (WESTMINSTER)
66.2     568
70.9     90/127 
Adams City High School (ADAMS 14)
73     366
68.8     53/77
Jefferson High School (JEFFERSON COUNTY)
64.4      118
65        13/20
Sheridan H.S. (SHERIDAN)
90.1     71
55     10/18*
44.3      479
70.3        52/74
77.3      61,790
****Not available for the school; these are the numbers for the entire district (both schools) – from the Legislative Report, above.

Addendum D – Sheridan High School

How can ACT scores decline, even as grad rates appear “strong”?

  grad rate** % -
# grads/total senior class
remediation rate ***
Graduating class of 2013
16.7 (2012)
60%        42/70
Graduating class of 2014                   
16.4 (2013)
82.7%      62/75
Graduating class of 2015
15.9 (2014)
90.1%      64/71
55% for district****
Graduating class of 2016
15.5 (2015)
84.9%       62/73
N.A. yet

****Not available for the school; these are the numbers for the entire district (both schools) – from the Legislative Report, above.