slowing growth

Charter and online schools report the largest increase in students in Colorado

Ryan Kilburn checks his schedule before leaving a bank of lockers at Overland Trail Middle School on August 17, 2017, in Brighton, Colorado. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Colorado’s student population grew again in the fall of 2017, but by the smallest numbers since 1989. The biggest increases were in charter and online schools, according to data released by the state.

A total of 910,280 public school students from preschool through 12th grade were counted in the annual student count day in October, up from 905,019 last year.

Racially, the biggest student increases were among Hispanic students who now represent 33.7 percent of all Colorado public school students.

Statewide the number of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch decreased by more than 1,700 to 379,458 students. The number of students who are learning English as a second language also decreased.

Among district enrollments, the Charter School Institute, which opened two new schools this year, logged the biggest growth, adding 1,128 students, a 6.9 percent increase from 2016. The Charter School Institute is a network of charter schools authorized by the state but located throughout Colorado.

Students enrolled in online schools also grew substantially. This school year, 19,876 Colorado students are enrolled in an online school, a 1.5 percent increase from 2016.

Several school districts surrounding the metro area saw drops in enrollment. Aurora Public Schools had the largest drop with 40,920 students in 2017 down from 41,797 in 2016 — a decrease of 877 students or 2.1 percent. Officials in Aurora have blamed rising housing costs that are driving out many families and instead attracting younger millenials who don’t have children.

Officials in districts dealing with lower student enrollments have also cited a decrease in the birth rate through the recession years as a reason for fewer students, especially in the early grades.

Districts with biggest increases:

DISTRICT NEW STUDENTS % INCREASE
Charter School Institute 1,128 6.9%
Cherry Creek School District 842 1.5%
Las Animas School District 544 46%
School District 27J 768 4.5%
Denver Public Schools 662 0.7%
Falcon 4 614 2.9%

Districts with biggest decreases:

DISTRICT STUDENT DECREASE % DECREASE
Aurora Public Schools 877 2.1%
Colorado Springs 11 484 1.7%
Pueblo City 60 389 2.2%
Jeffco Public Schools 235 0.3%
Westminster Public Schools 197 2%

a day in lansing

More ABCs, fewer sacrifices: These Detroit parents know how Michigan lawmakers can improve early childhood education.

PHOTO: Koby Levin
Oriana Powell, 30, listens to a presentation about early childhood education in Lansing. Powell joined dozens of parents from across the state in calling for increased access to early learning.

Parents cheered when the a state-funded preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program, was expanded in Michigan in 2013, increasing the available seats by roughly 16,000.

But the expansion didn’t eliminate every challenge.  The program ended at 3 p.m., for starters, making it difficult for parents who hold a full-time job to pick their children up.

“What kind of job are you going to get that will let you pick up your child at 3 p.m.? Parents are literally quitting their jobs to get child care,” Ekere-Ezeh, CEO of the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, said.

With issues like this one in mind, dozens of parents from Detroit, Flint, and Grand Rapids — where Ekere-Ezeh’s organization is based — traveled to Michigan’s state capital on Tuesday to make the case for the further expansion of the states’ early childhood education system. It was the first such event in at least a decade, according to the organizers.

Still unclear is whether the latest effort to expand early learning opportunities for Michigan children will succeed where past efforts have failed. The prospects seem hopeful following the election of Gretchen Whitmer, a governor who made pre-K a key part of her campaign platform.

“Every effort matters,” Heaster Wheeler, the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State who previously worked for the early childhood partnership Hope Starts Here, told the Detroit contingent. “The fact that you were here today meant a whole bunch of legislators felt your presence. This is how they set their priorities.”

Many of the group’s priorities center on the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s state funded pre-K program for children from low-income families.

In addition to closing at 3 p.m., the program is only offered to four-year-olds, even though experts recognize that children need help at even earlier ages. And it’s only offered to parents who make less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level — the second lowest cutoff for childcare subsidies in the U.S.

Roughly two dozen parents traveled from Detroit in hopes of addressing those concerns. Oriana Powell, a 30-year-old mother from Detroit, said that in the end, she would have liked more face time with her legislators. Of more than a dozen state legislators with ties to Detroit, only a handful showed up.

“They’re not just going to give it to folks,” Powell said, referring to an expansion of the state pre-K program. “It comes from parents making it very clear that we can’t continue to support anyone who’s not going to create the change that we need.”

Tuesday’s activism was only the start. Advocates say they are gearing up for a fight over early childhood education funding in the spring. They may get a hand from business groups that support expanded access to child care because more parents are available to work when they don’t have to stay home caring for children.

Powell, who has a two-year-old daughter, will be watching closely.

She recently tired of leaving her two-year-old daughter at home all day to watch TV with her grandparents. But the higher-quality program she found for her daughter came with higher costs.

After years of zeroing out every credit card bill, she’s found herself carrying a balance to deal with the $500 monthly child care bill.

“It’s been tight,” she said, “but it’s worth the sacrifice. Within a month, my daughter was coming home saying her ABCs.”

principal pipeline

MBAs wanted: Success Academy looks to woo business leaders for a fast-track principal program

PHOTO: Monica Disare/Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz touted her network's test scores at a press conference in 2017.

New York City’s largest charter operator is launching a fast-track program designed to quickly train business leaders to become principals at schools across the network and elsewhere.

Starting this spring, Success Academy is kicking off a two-year program to take “talented leaders from across industry” — especially those with MBAs — and convert them into principals at one of the network’s 47 schools or at other schools across the country.

The program is noteworthy partly because it could help address a consistent problem among New York City charter schools: They tend to burn through principals at a higher rate than traditional public schools do.

Last school year, 25 percent of the city’s charter school principals were new, more than double the turnover rate at district schools, according to a recent Manhattan Institute report. Success has also struggled at times to retain principals and teachers, a challenge that has contributed to a tumultuous period at its first high school, Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Manhattan. Success officials would not say how many of its schools had new principals last fall, and added that turnover figures also include principals who move to other schools in the network.

“I don’t know if we have a strong sense either way about whether this will be effective or not,” said Marcus Winters, the researcher who authored the Manhattan Institute turnover study, noting that there is not a large research base to draw on. Researchers often “focus on teachers, but principals and other administrators really mean a lot.”

It’s not clear how many of the inaugural class of 25 fellows will wind up running a Success Academy school. The fellowship application says the boot camp is “designed to train talent new to education to become principals in our growing network of schools.” But Success spokeswoman Ann Powell also emphasized that some fellows would likely “go directly to lead schools across the country” — an effort to spread the charter network’s model elsewhere.

In the first year of the new Success program — known as “Robertson Leadership Fellows” — participants will spend three weeks learning “the basics of school design and school leadership” before spending a couple of months learning about data and operations from the central office team.

The next four months will be devoted to teaching and learning; fellows will also participate in a “specialized track” of Success Academy’s own teacher training program to learn about instruction and teacher preparation. Finally, fellows will spend a six-month stint working as an assistant principal. The entirety of the second year will be spent as an assistant principal — though at a different school than during year one.

Fellows are paid on a scale similar to assistant principals, Powell said, though she did not answer questions about their exact compensation or how much the program will cost. The Robertson Foundation, which is funding the program and has invested heavily in Success Academy, did not answer specific questions about the program, including its cost.  

The program is reminiscent of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s boot camp for aspiring principals, which also believed business principles were useful in running schools. Under that program, less experienced educators could be elevated into leadership positions after a fast-track training program that taught them to run schools like CEOs. The Aspiring Principals program was controversial; some critics argued leaders without lots of education experience should not quickly vault into principal positions.

Research found the program had some positive effects on student test scores, but a different analysis found that schools run by the program’s graduates had higher rates of teacher turnover and lower grades on progress reports. The program was ultimately phased out in 2017 under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor during the Bloomberg administration who later ran a principal training program at Teachers College, said hiring leaders from other industries can work, but isn’t always the best strategy.

“It’s useful for somebody to have spent time in a school to be a good principal,” he said, noting the Teachers College program required three years of classroom experience. “The focus should be home grown people from your own schools who have done an outstanding job.”

Success officials acknowledged that internal teacher candidates would not be eligible for the fellowship program, but said there are alternative routes for educators to become principals. The program will be overseen by Aparna Ramaswamy, the network’s chief leadership and human resources officer, Powell said. The first group of fellows are set to begin training in April.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the description of the Aspiring Principals program.