Improving K-12 Education

“How Are The Children?” In Colorado, we do not know.

“How are the children?” It is a greeting used by the Maasai people – asked by parents and young warriors alike. If things were good and peaceful in the village, the response would be, “all the children are well.” Here in the United States, it is heard from time to time amongst educators. It is a statement made by Chris Stewart, the CEO of Education Post, in blogs, and on Twitter. It is so frequently used that there is a hashtag, #HowAreTheChildren.

In Colorado, the answer often is, “we don’t know.” This reply stems from the fact that State leaders have allowed districts to mask the academic outcomes and performance of some of Colorado’s most vulnerable students. Here in the Centennial State, like other states, youth who are under-credited, or behind, can attend specialized schools called, Alternative Education Campuses or AECs. These schools, be they traditional public or public charter, receive a school rating based on their students’ performance, the same as any other school. And, the districts and authorizers (local education agencies/LEAs) that support these schools are on the hook for their AECs’ performance as well, the same as any other school. Or are they?

“Not necessarily” is the unfortunate answer. Instead, districts and authorizers, per state rules (p.10-11 Section 5.08 6(a)(b)), can and do remove the school performance of AECs from their overall district accountability frameworks. In essence, the state of Colorado has created an environment where districts and authorizers are not “accountable” for the performance of all of their schools and students, especially those students who deserve the most attention and the most protection. It is shameful.

Since 2016, I have been a board member of Colorado’s statewide charter school authorizer, the Charter School Institute (CSI).  At CSI, we have not succumbed to the temptation of boosting our district performance rating by erasing our Alternative Education Campuses’ performance from our overall scores. Instead, we, as an authorizer, are transparent about all of our schools’ results, and in the process, we are holding ourselves accountable to our families and communities. We will not minimize the hard work and the genuine challenges of our AECs and their students by hiding their data. Our board has written twice now to the Colorado Department of Education, making clear our position that every student counts at CSI, and that we believe every student should count everywhere. We know there are better and more just ways to handle this issue than erasure. What about sub-scores that communicate a district’s Alternative Education Campuses’ outcomes or rethinking our district accountability framework to better allow for AEC performance?  We could create one statewide district or authorizer just for AECs that has a unique performance framework.

The issue of performance and accountability, particularly for Alternative Education Campuses and the students they serve, is complex. We should be having robust conversations about what success looks like for AECs and how to measure it. Unfortunately, that conversation will never get off the ground as long as the state allows AEC performance to be ignored and wiped from district books.

Have I gotten your attention? Good. Click here to read more in an unpublished op-ed written by the Executive Director and the Director of Evaluation and Assessment for the Colorado Charter School Institute, highlighting this issue with a bit more policy nuance.

So, “How are the children?” We don’t know. We’ve hidden them.

-Antonio Parés

Antonio Pares

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