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Evolution of teacher evaluations is leading performance pay reforms

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Colorado’s three largest school districts are pushing to reform the way they pay teachers based on new measures of performance despite disputes with unions and mixed data about what it achieves. The nationally watched school districts in Denver and Douglas and Jefferson counties have been trying to reform their versions of performance-pay systems but have faced challenges that have landed in court. Following new state laws, districts have updated teacher evaluations, and officials want those pay systems tied to the evaluations — generally also closely tied to student test scores. In the process, collaboration that once existed between teachers and districts is crumbling, and the definition of performance pay has changed.”(more)

Environmental learning program puts grade-school kids in outdoor class

The Denver Post – Joe Vaccarelli

“Courtney Armstrong asked her 44 fourth-grade students about the traits of an owl. After answers rolled in ranging from hunting at night to acute vision and hearing, Armstrong told them that at the end of their weeklong outdoor day camp they would be wise like an owl and learn about the environment. Armstrong is a supervisor for the Eagle’s Nest and Owl’s Roost Environmental Discovery program which, for the past 40 years, has given students in the Jefferson County area an opportunity to spend a week learning outside during the summer. “I just love that kids can get outdoors, experience being outside and really involved with being in nature,” Armstrong said. The ENOR program, as it’s called, was started in 1973 by B.J. Meadows, who was at the time the environmental education director for Jefferson County Public Schools.”(more)

Education Secretary Duncan learning lessons from DPS programs

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Denver Public Schools is a source of inspiration for the federal government. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finished a two-day trip to Denver on Thursday and said his frequent, just about annual, visits are not a coincidence. “Not that Denver is doing everything perfectly — nobody is. But there’s some pretty significant macro-level lessons that I think other large urban districts would do well to really spend some time and look at what these guys are developing,” Duncan said. The secretary spent Thursday morning at McGlone Elementary in Montbello, where DPS officials highlighted the use of teacher leadership roles, enrollment zones and innovation status that gave principal Sara Gips autonomy in the school’s budget. Duncan also participated in a roundtable discussion where he listened to three teachers and two school parents talk about the turnaround they’ve seen in the past four years. “The biggest thing for me is having a team,” teacher leader Amy Lovell said. “We see everything as ‘our kids’ rather than ‘these are the students that were assigned to me.’ We’re not flying alone in our classrooms.” McGlone is one of several schools in Denver that is piloting a “differentiated roles” program where teachers are able to spend half of their time teaching in the classroom and half of their time coaching or leading other teachers in shared planning.”(more)

Denver teacher’s lesson plan goes viral, launches movement

The Denver Post – Anna Gauldin

“A Denver teacher’s lesson plan has gone viral after it revealed the inner workings of her students’ minds. Kyle Schwartz, 28, is a third-grade teacher at Denver’s Doull Elementary School, where more than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In an effort to get to know her students better, she created a lesson plan called “I Wish My Teacher Knew.” She said she was blown away by her students’ responses to the prompt, which she began sharing on Twitter. Pretty soon, the hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew was trending.”(more)

Real-World Math: A Bit Of Trig And Hay For The Horses

NPR – Jenny Brundin

“The Soroco High agriculture shop is massive — a warehouse full of old motorcycles, tractors, various machines, even a greenhouse. On the concrete floor is the start of the feeder: an octagon of blue tape, laid down with the utmost precision, using the Pythagorean theorem. But getting those angles exactly right was the hardest part of the project. “Maybe somebody would not quite understand an equation,” says student Bailey Singer. “Sometimes you have to go back and redo some equations, redo some math, trying to make sure every angle is right.” Sometimes, the pursuit of perfection led to spirited, mathematical debate. “We all worked together pretty well but on some occasions we would somewhat argue — because one person would think something’s right and then one person would think it’s wrong,” says Harrison Ashley. Bruski says it’s important for students, especially those who traditionally struggle in math, to “sort out those difficulties and hopefully really see — because they’re able to touch the math, not just try to do the math on paper.” Though the project dovetailed with the kind of advanced work her upper-level students were doing, Bruski says Whaley’s shop students, most of them freshmen, eagerly tackled the trigonometry.”(more)

School districts looking to support popular dual-language programs

The Denver Post – Yesenia Robles

“Successful dual-language schools in Colorado often start as grassroots efforts, operating on their own paths, working with consultants to get advice on running the programs. But as the number and popularity of the bilingual schools grow, some districts are re-evaluating how to support them and make more of the schools successful. “We don’t want to make them cookie-cutter programs either, but right now they kind of became dual language on their own and we were not able to support them,” said Darlene LeDoux, director of academic achievement for English learners in Denver Public Schools. Colorado does not track the number of dual-language programs in the state. Nationwide researchers estimate there are more than a thousand such programs. There are different types, but most dual-language schools are defined by having all content — like science, math and social studies — taught in English and a foreign language, most often, Spanish. Young children start with varying amounts of time in each language, but the goal is to get to a half-and-half split by third grade.”(more)