Thursday, September 24, 2020

AV #216 - Candidates for the Colorado State Board of Education – Fact checking and concerns - Part 1

Part 1


Though seldom a high-profile campaign, the election of new members to the Colorado State Board of Education deserves greater attention than it receives. I will offer two short newsletters which might encourage others to take a closer look at two candidates: Karla Esser and Lisa Escarcega. I hope it will lead to a better understanding of where these candidates stand. Both are likely to win their respective races; nothing I write will alter that. And yet, given the critical role the State Board of Education plays in determining education policy, there is still time for voters to ask about key points they have made.

Neither has responded to questions I have emailed to them. I trust others will find ways to ask them to address questions and concerns raised here.

This week, two points taken from the website for Karla Esser, who is running in the 7th Congressional District, Denver’s “northwest suburbs,” as Chalkbeat Colorado puts it—from Lakewood to Commerce City.

1.)    Open to Esser’s website and we see an error in the first full sentences under this heading:

REAL CHALLENGES CALL FOR BOLD LEADERSHIP.

Colorado, we have a lot to do.

Colorado’s teacher pay ranks 51st in the nation including Washington D.C.

https://www.karlaesser.com/karla-esser-priorities/

 

Dr. Karla Esser recently retired from her role as the Director of Graduate Programs for Licensed Teachers at Regis University, so I expect she followed the recent discussion to get beyond exaggerated claims and establish the facts about Colorado’s teacher pay. (See Chalkbeat Colorado, “Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?” Opening paragraphs quoted in Addendum A.)

It is surprising, then, that she would say we are dead last. Although the Colorado Education Association has endorsed her candidacy, the National Education Association’s own annual reports— its figures nearly match those produced each year by the Colorado Department of Education—say nothing of the kind about Colorado’s teacher pay ranking 51st. (For details, see Addendum B)

Year

From National Education Association

From Colorado Department of Education

 

National Rank

Average Salary

Average Salary

2015-15

30

$51,223

$51,204

2016-17

30

$51,808

$51,810

2017-18

32

$53,301

$52,728

2018-19

26

$54,935

$54,950

2019-20

 

 

$57,746

 

2)  At Esser’s website, under Karla’s Priorities for Colorado, we see this statement.  (Bold mine.)                                                                                                 

Accountable Education - It is important that we have rational metrics for success to ensure that our schools are performing well and giving our kids the tools they need to succeed, but the current system of pitting school against school and child against child for limited resources is unfair and wrong. It propagates unequal education and simply doesn’t work. With more and more parents opting their students out of CMAS testing, it is time to bring stakeholders together to determine a better form of accountability. The sole purpose of accountability should be collecting data so students, parents, and educators can determine what next steps are needed to further student success. Today, CMAS is used as a tool to compare, praise, and punish disparate schools.

In fact, as the Colorado Department of Education has shown, opt out rates are declining and participation rates have improved steadily the last few years.

From CDE’s New Release – Colorado’s 2019 State Assessment Score/Growth Release (Aug. 15, 2019)

Participation improves
Participation in the 2019 CMAS assessments continues to show improvement with grades three through five all above 95% participation. There was relatively no change in participation in the middle school years of six, seven and eight grades compared with 2018. But all grades have shown increases in participation from 2015, ranging from 1.6 percentage points in grade five English language arts to 4.3 percentage points in grade seven math.
http://www.cde.state.co.us/communications/20190815assessmentrelease

Below you see the increasing percentage of students participating in CMAS, more specifically, from participation on the English Language Arts/Literacy portion of the test. The rates were nearly identical on the Math portion for each grade, each year. This data, covering 2015-16 to 2018-19, is taken from CDE’s annual summaries of CMAS results.

Grade

2015-16

2016-17

2017-18

2018-19

Change from 15-16 to 18-19

3

95.6

96.4

97.2

96.9

+1.3

4

95.0

95.7

96.7

96.7

+1.7

s

94.2

94.3

95.9

96.2

+2.0

6

91.6

92.3

94.2

94.7

+3.1

7

88.0

89.1

92.0

92.4

+4.4

8

83.5

85.2

88.7

88.7

+5.2

http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/cmasparccstatesummary2016

http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2017cmasstatesummarymathela

http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2018_cmas_ela_math_state_summary_achievement_results

http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2019_cmas_ela_math_statesummaryachievementresults

 

This is not to say parents—or teachers—believe our accountability system is perfect. The State Board of Education can and should work to make it better. Many of us share this goal. But let’s be accurate: the opt out movement has not grown. On the contrary, we see a greater acceptance of CMAS as a key component of accountability for K-8 schools. And at the high school level, after switching to PSAT/SAT assessments, we also see more buy-in: in 2019, the participation rate for grades 9, 10, and 11 exceeded 92% (http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/2019_psat_sat_statesummaryachievementresults).

 **

 

Addendum A – Not 51st, or 46th - not even close

“Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

A series of unfortunate events led to an inaccurate statistic being spread far and wide.”

By Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat Colorado, May 2, 2018

As a rallying cry, “We’re 30th in the nation for teacher pay!” doesn’t quite inspire outrage.

But that is, in fact, where Colorado ranked in 2016, despite reports to the contrary.

A series of unfortunate events led to an inaccurate statistic being spread far and wide — that Colorado ranked 46th in the U.S. in teacher pay.

The eye-popping number in a state with a booming economy found its way onto social media posts and signs at last week’s massive teacher rallies in Colorado, as well as into stories in Chalkbeat and manymany other media outlets. But it was wrong.

Here’s how the mistake happened — and how groups with different agendas have seized on the snafu to score points:

The Colorado Department of Education changed its data collection system during the 2014-15 school year and built a new data query system from scratch, officials said. Some teachers were left out of the system, resulting in artificially lower average salaries for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

When the nation’s largest teachers union was preparing its 2017 state rankings, it used the 2016 average teacher salary provided by the Colorado Department of Education. That was $46,155.

Officials in Colorado later realized the actual average salary for the year in question was $51,204. They informed the National Education Association in May 2017, but the report had already been published. The union didn’t update the number until it released its 2018 state rankings, which came out shortly before thousands of teachers rallied at the Colorado State Capitol.

The revised figure meant Colorado ranked 30th in 2016, not 46th, and 31st in 2017.

The average annual salary for last year was $51,810, according to the state education department, and the average annual salary for this year is $52,728. Colorado teacher salaries were 15 percent below the national average of $59,660 in 2017.

 

Addendum B - Figures on Teacher Pay in Colorado from CDE and NEA

A.      Figures from the Colorado Department of Education

The above article provided updates on these three years (in bold):

2015-16 - $51,204

2016-17 - $51,810

2017-18 - $52,728

Those figures are supported at CDE’s website – “Historic data for average teacher salary corrected in May 2017” -http://www.cde.state.co.us/communications/20180427datacorrexrelease


Here are the figures from CDE for 2018-19 and 2019-20

2018-19 - $54,950 – 

http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/2018-2019averagesalariesforteacherspdf

 

            2019-20 - $57,746     - Charter schools- $44,172

                  - Non-charter schools - $59,889

http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/2019-20averagesalariesforteacherspdf

 

B.      Figures from the National Education Association

Education Week releases the NEA results each year. The 2015-16 to 2016-17 figures, below, come from these same Education Week reports on the NEA results. The 2019 report for all 50 states, and the District of Columbia (website below), had the final numbers for 2017-18.

COLORADO

2015-16 - $51,223 - ranked #30

2016-17 - $51,808 - ranked #30

 

2017-18 - $53,301 - ranked #32

https://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teaching_now/2019/04/which_states_have_the_highest_and_lowest_teacher_salaries.html

 

2018-19 - $54,935 - ranked #26

From the National Education Association - EDUCATOR PAY AND STATE SPENDING - https://redforedmap.nea.org/?_ga=2.52225961.1866930269.1599755598-1831559579.1594660938

Sunday, September 20, 2020

AV #215 - To reduce class size - more teachers, fewer counselors

 Teachers as advisors to 8-10 students works well in many schools

 

Anyone proposing we reduce class sizes in our state—as I did in #214—needs to provide at least one specific recommendation on how we can afford it, as it will mean paying for more teachers.

What would you cut?

Counselors.  Fewer counselors (with their preposterous ratios per student–the most recent figure for Colorado is 1:324[i]) and more teachers in a school building. This is one way to reduce the number of students in core classes, where too many middle and high school teachers in Colorado are asked to meet the needs of over 140 students. It is too much. We see this in the deeply troubling issues regarding a lack of time for teachers, of burnout and attrition, touched on in my Sept. 1 newsletter.

And who will take the place of the counselors?

Teachers. They will have smaller classes, but they will also be the advisor to 8-10 of their students. Exactly as I was asked to do in two schools where we had, if I recall correctly, just one counselor—whose job it was to help the graduating class with applications to their next school or college.


I.                    Teacher as advisors - How it works

The most efficient way is for the 8-10 advisees to be among the students in a teacher’s class, so they see each other every day, not just once a quarter, as is the case with many counselors. Teachers invariably know their students better than most counselors can possibly know their 300-plus “caseload.” To be an advisor does not add to the number of students a teacher needs to know well; it simply means a special commitment to 8-10 of them.

Which includes what?

1) Regular “meetings” – a kind of “homeroom” with your advisees for 15 minutes a day. Or a few sit-downs, one-on-one; more often just informal check-ins. Lunch together once in a while. A chat in the hallway before school. Paying extra attention to your advisees’ health, their spirits, their work habits and, of course, their grades. Getting to know their interests. Building trust.

2) You receive notes from your fellow teachers, coaches, and those leading extracurricular activities who work with your advisees (back in the day, pre-email, actual written NOTES!)—questions, concerns, praise. You have an idea in real time if your advisees are struggling in a course, if their attitude or study habits might be an issue, and where, as similar messages arrive from two or three colleagues, a pattern emerges that helps you see it’s time to set up a longer conversation.

3) As the advisor, you become the first link for many families. Parents know that you know their son or daughter in a way the counselors seldom do. Your goal is to be—and parents trust you in this role—their child’s advocate. The one adult in the building they believe feels an extra responsibility to watch out for the well-being and growth of their child. In some cases, those parents become friends.

4) You sit down with each advisee to work on his or her schedule for the following year. This is not rocket science. You know the boy or girl well enough to handle this role without much training. In this process you also learn more about your advisees: what excites them, what they expect of themselves, their hopes – and apprehensions – about the next school year.

5) If “real” counseling seems necessary—mental health support—you can be a link to the school psychologist or social worker. You are not expected to have that expertise.

In the two secondary schools where I served as an advisor to about eight students each year, it was the student’s choice if he or she wanted to stay with us as their advisor the next year. If the relationship was good, we could be their advisor for several years. In maintaining this connection, we came to know the student, and their family, really well. (What a joy, years later, to be asked to attend the wedding of former advisees!) And yet as students develop a bond with some another faculty member or coach, they might switch to be with that person the following year. It works.

 

II.   Jefferson County Open School – 50 years with teachers as advisors

From Lives of Passion, Schools of Hope: How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning, by Rick Posner, PhD, pub. 2009 (former teacher and assistant principal at the Open School).   

Early in the book, Posner devotes a chapter to the critical role of the advisor at the Open School. Chapter 3, “Relationships: The Skills of Life,” introduces a section called, “A Foundation to Build On: The Advisor-Advisee Relationship.”

In some ways, the school is all about relationships. In fact, one of the few requirements is that each student has at least one trusting, supportive relationship to start with—the one with his advisor. This connection with an adult in the [school] community is really the starting point for everything that happens at the school. The advisor acts as an advocate and guide through the self-directed journey that is the Open School.

… With all the talk about school accountability these days, no one seems to be asking about a student’s accountability to herself and her responsibility for her own education. And who is accountable to the individual student? At a conventional high school, who does a parent call to find out about how his child is doing? His child’s math teacher? The school counselor? Sometimes you’re lucky if anyone even knows your child by name. At the Open School, a parent knows who to call—the advisor.

The advisory system is designed to build confidence and encourage the social and personal skills a student needs to pursue goals and to participate actively in the community. Students gain a sense of empowerment that extends to and is supported by the school community, and they learn invaluable skills that they can carry through their lives as adults. Some kind of advising or mentoring program should be the starting point for all schools that wish to transform students’ lives and build for the future.

Much of the rest of this chapter, as Posner puts it, “builds on” this key component and shows how the school “fosters healthy relationships.” He explores the school’s efforts to nurture trust, compassion, empathy, conflict resolution, responsibility, confidence, acceptance, and respect. Throughout the book Posner quotes from Open School alumni as they reflect on its impact on their lives. Many are eager to express their gratitude for the strong relationships they formed with their advisor, and other faculty, during their Open School years.

At the website for the Open School, https://jcos.jeffcopublicschools.org/, we see the school’s continued commitment to have every teacher serve as an advisor. Their job description demonstrates that to be an advisor is central to their role. A few examples:


Jana Durbin - ELC Advisor

Molly Rubin - ELC Advisor

Jimi Gibson - ELC Remote Advisor

IA & Bridges Advisors (Grades 4-5 & 6)

Kate Johnson- IA Advisor

Kristie Edwards - IA Advisor

Foundations Advisors (Grades 7-8)

Hannah Reynolds - Foundations Advisor / Special Education

Brandon Parker - Foundations Advisor / Social Studies

Jolayne Keller - Foundations Advisor / Science

Kaitie Kasper - Foundations Advisor / Language Arts

Walkabout Advisors (Grades 9-12)

Adria Brown - Walkabout Advisor / Science

Benjamin Dancer - Walkabout Advisor / Language Arts

Dave Harmes - Walkabout Advisor / Math & Social Studies

Jeremy Kowal - Walkabout Advisor / Shop

Jacob Sliemers - Walkabout Advisor / Science

Tom Sheridan - Walkabout Advisor / Theatre

Jenny Tanner - Walkabout Advisor / Math & Science

 

III.  Ted Sizer, the Coalition of Essential Schools, and Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School

Theodore R. Sizer’s book, Horace’s Compromise – The Dilemma of the American High School (published 1984), made the case for a redesign of our secondary schools. The Nine Essential Principles laid out in that book became the guide for Sizer’s national organization, the Coalition of Essential Schools. Two quotes.

 

·         Redefining the role of adults in the school to get to that 1:80 teacher-student ratio

“As is obvious to even the most casual visitor to high schools, the conditions of work for teachers and principals need to be sharply changed. Horace [Sizer’s fictional teacher of his book title] should not have to compromise; he should be responsible for only 80 students at a time, not 120 or 150 or 175, as is common today in many public and parochial schools. How can this be done? With more money for salaries, obviously. With a redefinition of adult roles within a school system.” (Examples follow. From Section III, Teachers; Part 6, Trust.)

 

·         In a chapter called “Principals’ Questions,” Sizer includes a number of questions school leaders have raised about his proposals—and his response:

                                                                                                                                           (Bold mine)

                 “You haven’t mentioned guidance counselors.”                                            

  “Counselors today act either as administrators, arranging schedules and job and college interviews and the like, or as teachers, coaching and questioning young people about their personal concerns. Good teachers are good counselors, in that second sense; students turn to them for help, whether or not their titles identify them as ‘guidance’ people. Most high school guidance departments are overloaded with obligations, many of which are contradictory …

   “A decentralized school with small academic units has less need for specialized counseling offices; improved faculty-student ratios make this possible…” (From Section II, The Program)

**

My conversation with Colleen L. Meaney, Director (August, 2020)

Theodore RSizer Teachers' Center

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, Devens, Massachusetts

A school serving grades 7-12. Enrollment - about 400 students.

Founded by Ted and Nancy Sizer and others in 1995. Now in its 26th year.

 

After hearing from Director Meaney on how the school has managed to maintain the small class size and low teacher-student ratio so vital to Ted Sizer (see AV #214), I asked about its advisory program today.

The Faculty – “The Parker School has a talented and dedicated faculty. Parker teachers work together every summer to develop the school's curriculum and its unique program. All teachers serve as advisers to students, nurturing their intellectual, emotional, social, and ethical development. Parker gives top priority to keeping teaching loads at a level where every student can be known well.”[ii]

She stressed how essential it is. When we interview candidates to teach here, she told me, we really explore if they are prepared to take on this additional role. In her words, “If you can’t be a good advisor, you cannot teach at our school.” Being an advisor is quite simply “a given,” Meaney said, fundamental to the school’s “primary mission,” as she put it, “to know students well.”

 Each teacher has 10 advisees. They meet as a group for 15 minutes four mornings a week, and again briefly before school closes each day. Middle school advisors stay with their 10 students (whom they are also teaching) during grades 7 and 8. Teachers of 9th and 10th grade serve as a student’s advisor for those two years. As junior and senior years have specific areas to focus on, students have a new advisor – one of their 11th/12th grade teachers—for each of those final years.

I ask Director Meaney how the advisor-advisee policy alters the need for counselors at her school. Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School has three people on a “wellness team”: a school psychologist, a social worker, and a nurse. It also has a college counselor. Echoing what we hear from many educators, Meaney tells me that her school has seen an ever greater need to address the mental health concerns of students. Advisors, she says, are often the “first step of support.” Through them the school begins to note when a student’s needs are getting (her nifty term for this) “louder.” When it does, this can lead to support from the psychologist or social worker.

We want people to “shine in their lane,” Meaney says, not expecting teachers to assume responsibilities best handled by those trained for more complex challenges. In such cases, the professionals in their fields, the social worker and/or psychologist, take the lead.

·         For more on advisor-advisee policies and relationships from the Coalition of Essential Schools:


                                                                                                                                                                                                      
(Bold mine)


Advisory Program Research and Evaluation | Coalition of Essential Schools...

essentialschools.org › horace-issues › advisory-program...

At its heart, advisory forges connections among students and the school community, creating conditions that facilitate academic success and personal growth. Intuitively, the program makes perfect sense. But that isn’t enough. Maintaining an effective school-wide advisory program requires a substantial investment of resources. So what does the research say? 

Are Advisory Groups 'Essential'? What They Do, How They Work

essentialschools.org › horace-issues › are-advisory-groups...

If even one person in a school knows him well enough to care, a student’s chances of success go up dramatically. In small groups that can focus on a range of subjects, teachers and students are forming new bonds and setting new standards for a personal education.


Student Advisory - Ashland School District -
http://www.ashland.k12.or.us/files/StudentAdv.pdf

This publication focuses on student advisory programs. High school students often feel disconnected and have few personalized relationships with the adults who educate them. Advisory programs are based on the belief that students need the opportunity to develop trusting relationships with adult educators and that doing so benefits students in a variety of ways. In a student advisory program, each student in the school is assigned a teacher or staff member who assists the student in achieving his or her academic and personal goals.


IV.  Colorado’s approach: lower the counselor-student ratio. Success? $100 million well spent?

In Colorado, policymakers and schools have ignored the unfair burden we place on teachers. The focus, instead, has been to address the (perhaps equally) unfair burden we place on counselors.

In this section I merely introduce a few key points. (More details in the Addendum.) We need to reassess Colorado’s decision to make lowering the counselor-student ratio such a priority. This started in 2008 when the legislature passed the School Counselor Corps Grant Program.

School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP) - 2008-2020

Fifteen years ago, no one could look at the counselor-student ratio in Colorado and feel pleased: 1:548 in 2005-06. In 2008 the Colorado legislature sought to bring these alarming rates downs with the passage of School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP). Colorado has now spent close to $100 million (Addendum). As a state, we are still not close to the 1:250 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA),[iii] but it is much better. In some schools receiving the SCCGP funds, the ratio is even in the low 200’s. 

The declining average number of students assigned to a counselor in Colorado:

2005-06 – 548

                            2007-08 – 470

                                                            2010-11 – 402

                                                                                            2014-15 – 383

                                                                                                                            2018-19 – 324*

(2004--05 to 2014-15 data from NACAC and ASCA State-by-State Report Student-to-Counselor Ratio Report.[iv])  

(*2018-19 figure is from the 2020 Legislative Report – Colorado School Counselor Grant Program.[v]) 


A great success, true? And yet, still ridiculously high, agreed? Consider this: Your school has five counselors who have been working with 1,800 students. With the SCCGP grant, you add a sixth counselor; the 1:360 ratio comes down to 1:300. A meaningful change? Are these six individuals likely to form a strong connection with their 300 students they meet just a handful of times in a school year?

My argument: We must do more to help the men and women who teach the students every day. We must create work conditions—and allow the necessary time—to enable these adults to establish a good rapport and relationship with their students, supporting them, listening to them, knowing them. It is possible, assuming (see AV #214) teachers are not asked to teach 35 third graders, or 150 high school students.

Given the $100 million of taxpayer money committed to SCCGP since 2008-09, we must ask if the program has achieved its own stated purpose: [a] “to increase the state graduation rate and [b] increase the percentage of students who are appropriately prepared for, apply to, and continue into postsecondary education.”[vi] As regards [a], I am not alone in dismissing higher graduation rates as telling us anything about greater college readiness.[vii] As for [b], I see nothing in any article or report on SCCGP’s outcomes to indicate that this has been achieved (see Addendum). More students taking concurrent enrollment and CTE classes says nothing about the rate of success in passing the courses. (See my studies on AP exams in low-performing high schools: more students taking, but often few passing.)

Good counselors can play a critical role in the lives of our students; I bet they may have even saved lives. SCCGP has been a positive for many schools. Nevertheless, I do not believe we have spent our dollars wisely. In good schools it is the teacher-student ratio—not the counselor-student ratio—that makes the biggest difference. We know this. Let’s act on it. 

The great manager—and wit—the Baltimore Orioles’ Earl Weaver made a key distinction between baseball and that game played on Sunday afternoons. “This ain't a football game, we do this every day." 162 games over six months. Teachers do this every day too. They teach and try get to know and meet the needs of their students. Every day. 172 days or so every year. But they cannot do it, or they are likely to leave the profession after 4-5 years, if we ask too much of them. 

For this reason, our first priority should be to limit class sizes and the teacher-student ratio.


**


Addendum – SCCGP - articles, reports, funds committed by the Colorado legislature

I cannot find a news article or any study of the School Counselor Corps Grant Program that provides a rigorous analysis of its effectiveness. Although the annual Legislative Reports by CDE (section III below) provide 20 pages of useful data, they only give us the good news. The 2020 Legislative Report concludes: “SCCGP is meeting its legislatively mandated goals in reach and impact.” I see little evidence of that. 

I would hope legislators who have supported this initiative (the grant program “was updated in 2014 via Senate Bill 14-150, and again in 2019 via HB-19-1187”[viii]) will demand a more thorough evaluation than we have seen to date. The question to ask: Are students more “college ready” due to more counselors?

 

I.                     News stories – a superficial look at the grant and the money spent

                                                                                                                                                        (Bold mine)

From July 2016 -  More students on to college. So?

   “Money spent to bring in more middle school and high school counselors helped keep almost 1,000 at-risk students in Colorado schools and send more of them to college, a new report shows.”

   “The state-funded Colorado School Counselor Corps grant provided $16 million to 59 schools between 2010 and 2015 in an effort to keep students engaged and chart a course — unfamiliar to many low-income students — toward college and career.”[ix] 

From May 2018 -  Improving “educational outcomes.” Evidence?

   “Colorado is betting that a big investment in counseling can improve educational outcomes for its low-income students. Since 2008, it has spent almost $60 million to hire an additional 270 counselors and provide professional development training at 365 low-income middle and high schools throughout the state, via grants from the Colorado School Counselor Corps.”[x] 

From May 2019 – The “utility players” who can do it all. What about the starting nine—the teachers?

   School counselors are the utility players at a school, said Carlos Hipolito-Delgado, an associate professor of counselor education at the University of Colorado Denver. They work with students on their academic and career planning and social and emotional development."

   “Over the past decade, 57 percent of school districts have received the grant and more than 300 school counselors have served students across the state.”[xi]


        II.               WestEd’s friendly report and SCCGP as a “systemic change”? Really?

See “Colorado School Counselor Corps Grant Program: Early Experiences and Lessons Learned,” WestEd, Nov. 2016.[xii] An in-depth analysis? A balanced look? Hardly. “This report provides information about the SCCGP and its initial successes, including participants’ experiences, in order to inform and assist other state education agencies and policymakers who might be interested in developing similar initiatives in their states.” Not a negative word.

In fact, the report so inflated the goals of the grant that they are almost laughable.  (Bold mine)

Although the SCCGP is a grant program and is funded by the legislature, state leaders and program designers have envisioned the program as a systemic change strategy designed to enhance the way schools operate, while improving practice and policy along the way. They consider successful sites to be those that envision a future in which every student pursues some avenue of postsecondary studies, and where a schoolwide culture provides counselors and other educators with the time and space required to foster postsecondary readiness and success. The program is intended to infuse the entire school culture, including students’ daily interactions.

More counselors as “a systemic change strategy,” a program “intended to infuse the entire school culture”? One more reason we need a serious study of how $100 million has been spent.

 

III.                Annual Legislative Reports, produced by the Colorado Department of Education

Three recent annual reports to the legislature seem intent to convince policymakers that the grant is doing all it was supposed to, and to justify continued support.


·         2016 Legislative Report Colorado School Counselor Corps Grant -

        https://www.cde.state.co.us/postsecondary/2016-school-counselor-corps-grant-program

·         2018 Legislative Report Colorado School Counselor Corps Grant Program –https://www.cde.state.co.us/postsecondary/sccgp2018legreport

·         2020 Legislative Report Colorado School Counselor Corps Grant Program -http://www.cde.state.co.us/postsecondary/2020-sccg-pdf

The Executive Summary each year reminds us of “the purpose of SCCGP: to increase the graduation rate within the state and increase the percentage of students who are appropriately prepared for, apply to, and continue into postsecondary education.” And yet these reports offer no data that measures how well the students are “appropriately prepared for” college or how many “continue” (and succeed) in college after they enter a higher education institution.

The 2020 Legislative Report offered this conclusion: “… the eight-year trend data demonstrates that SCCGP schools and students are experiencing higher rates of postsecondary readiness than the state.”  This is “measured by the overall sustained growth in their graduation, completion, dropout, FAFSA completion, concurrent enrollment and matriculation rates even after funding ceased.”

But who believes that this is how we measure postsecondary readiness?

 Furthermore, I have no idea what this so-called “highlight” on “Program outcomes” (2011-12 through 2017-18) tells us about how this $100 million has advanced the college readiness of students: “Grantees report accessing nearly 25,000 hours of postsecondary and workforce readiness professional development reaching over 2,100 professionals annually.”[xiii]  

Finally, along with others, I have pointed out for several years the grim remediation rates in college of recent high school graduates—from schools with “ever rising graduation rates.” The state law for SCCGP includes remediation rates as a useful measure of the program's effectiveness. See 22-91-105, Reportingd) A comparison of the dropout rates, and the college matriculation and remediation rates, if applicable, at the recipient secondary schools for the years prior to receipt of the grant and the years for which the education provider receives the grant.


Guess which topic gets the headlines?

  From “Student-to-Counselor Ratios are Dangerously High. Here’s How Two Districts Are Tackling It,” by Emily Tate, EdSurge, Sept. 19, 2019.[xiv]

But the best thing the district can do for a school counselor, new or experienced, (counselor Melissa) Marsh says, is lower their caseload, even if it’s just by a few students.

“The smaller a counselor’s caseload is, the more personalized services they can provide,” she adds.

True for teachers too! Why don’t we talk about this?

I see no such reporting on remediation rates in the annual reports. And tucked away near the back of the 29-page report to the legislature is this revealing sentence on how well the program has implemented key components.


“The program operates from a plan for closing the achievement gap” was rated the lowest overall in the last year of implementation and did not improve as other elements did, 3.05 to 3.13.” (p. 28)

This should not surprise us, when academic achievement is of so little concern in these reports. Instead, they assure us of the reduced student caseload for counselors; provide graduation, dropout, and matriculation rates, etc.; and tell us the students are more prepared for college.[xv]

But are they? More prepared to take and pass college classes?

We can pat ourselves on the back for having reduced the counselor-student ratio from around 550 to 325 these past ten years. Still, has it been worth the cost?

Given the tough choices[xvi] we must make these days—how to invest our limited education dollars—a rhetorical question: who is most responsible for working with high school students to see that they are more prepared to “take and pass college classes”?  

Reason again to turn our attention to what we can do for teachers.

 

IV.          Colorado now funds SCCGP at $10 million a year. Total to date (2008-2021): $100,000,000

From the 2020 Legislative Report – Colorado SCCGP:

“Since the 2014-15 school year, SCCGP has been appropriated $10,000,000 annually to distribute to grantees for implementing postsecondary success supports.”[xvii]

 

I asked the Colorado Department of Education for the amount the legislation has committed to support SCCGP since it began in 2008-09. My thanks to CDE for responding the next day with this account—based on its review of the long bill the past 13 years—of the funds committed to SCCGP.

 

2020-21

$10,000,000.00

2019-20

$10,250,000.00

2018-19

$10,000,000.00

2017-18

$10,002,802.00

2016-17

$10,000,000.00

2015-16

$10,000,000.00

2014-15

$10,000,000.00

2013-14

$5,002,716.00

2012-13

$5,000,000.00

2011-12

$4,520,000.00

2010-11

$5,000,000.00

2009-10

$4,998,500.00

2008-09

$5,000,000.00

$99,774,018.00

 

Endnotes



[i] 2020 Legislative Report – Colorado School Counselor Grant Program https://www.cde.state.co.us/postsecondary/sccgp2018legreport

[iii] “ASCA recommends that schools strive to maintain a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. In this analysis, only three states (New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming) maintain a ratio lower than 250:1.”

The national average in 2014-15 was 482. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/ratioreport.pdf

[iv] STATE-BY-STATE STUDENT-TO-COUNSELOR RATIO REPORT 10-YEAR TRENDS, 2004-05 to 2014-15,

“The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) compiled this report to provide a glimpse at the 10-year trends in student-to-counselor ratios from 2004-05 to 2014-15, the latest school years for which data is available.”

    “Our intention in producing this data is to shed light on the often unmanageable caseloads public school counselors must serve. Research shows that access to a school counselor can make a significant difference in student persistence/retention, students’ postsecondary aspirations, and students’ likelihood of enrolling in postsecondary education. To realize such results, school counselors must operate in an environment free of overwhelmingly large student caseloads.”            (Bold mine)

https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/ratioreport.pdf

[vii] AV #183 – “Remediation rates suggest our graduation rates will soon fall” (Sept. 5, 2018) and  “High school graduation rates aren’t necessarily a reason to celebrate,”[vii] The Denver Post (July 2, 2015).

[ix] From “How adding high school counselors saved Colorado more than $300 million,” Chalkbeat Colorado, by Wesley Wright  Jul 19, 2016, https://co.chalkbeat.org/2016/7/19/21100616/how-adding-high-school-counselors-saved-colorado-more-than-300-million#.V4_YcvkrKUn

[x] From “School counselors keep kids on track. Why are they first to be cut? - How Colorado is betting on counseling to vault low-income kids into good jobs and post-secondary education,” by Sarah Gonser, May 31, 2018.   https://hechingerreport.org/school-counselors-keep-kids-on-track-why-are-they-first-to-be-cut/

[xiii] CDE’s School Counselor Corps Grant Program, Fact Sheet, http://www.cde.state.co.us/communications/sccgfactsheet

[xv] As far as demonstrating improvement in academic achievement—due to the SCCPG—CDE’s School Counselor Corps Grant Program, Fact Sheet, includes this statement:

“Research shows (Belasco, 2013): Students attending high schools with fully implemented school counseling programs earn higher grades…”

However, none of CDE’s annual reports, from what I could find, speak of higher grades in the schools awarded the School Counselor Grant. Another example of how CDE’s own reports fail to speak to any improved academic achievement.

[xvi] Though dated, the Policy Guide for 2017-18 from the Colorado Education Association reveals the kind of indiscriminate plea, we want more of everyone, that ignores the hard choices we have to make. I am glad to see the CEA put “reducing class sizes” first, but if that is our priority, let’s focus on THAT. Under “Supporting Student-centered Learning,” we read that the “CEA supports: reducing class sizes in all grades, with priority attention to grades K-5, as well as reducing the ratios of students assigned to the following school employees: counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, special education providers, and other public school employees who are assigned a specific case load of students.” https://www.coloradoea.org/wp-content/uploads/PolicyGuide2017-18.pdf