A different perspective on the current state of Jeffco schools

Month: May 2020

Jeffco’s Restart Model – Heavy on Fluff, Light on Anything Resembling a Plan

I guess I expected more from Jeffco’s Restart Plan. But, maybe on second thought, we got what I expected – not a lot of substance.

Yes, Jeffco got a lot of high-level concepts such as Remote Learning, Hybrid Learning, that the IT Department would work to get students machines and internet and that teachers and staff could take unpaid sabbatical, etc. But what employees didn’t get was an actual plan that would help them achieve the high-level concepts that were presented. I was particularly disappointed with the the most important section – Academics – which was essentially a whole lot of nothing.

Just as disconcerting was that there was a complete lack of any budgetary discussion in the document. How can you ask the Board of Education to approve a budget without any consideration of the almost certain added costs that Hybrid Learning will entail? That’s just incompetence and fiscal malpractice.

It is now nearly the beginning of June and approximately 80 days until school is scheduled to start. Time is of the essence. While I don’t expect Glass and the District to have all of the answers, I would have liked for the “Plan” to have included dates when some of those answers would be known. Waiting until sometime in July and the final ‘Plan’ leaves very little time for necessary actions to be completed by the people who will be tasked with carrying out those tasks. It also would have been more comforting to know dates of when certain things would be accomplished once school starts.

Here are some examples that would have made the ‘Plan’ more meaningful, including some tasks that should have already been started:

  • No later than July 1, identify staff who will be taking 1 year unpaid sabbatical
  • No later than July 1, identify staff who do not desire to work in physical school locations
  • No later than July 15, identify and contract with Guest Teachers
  • No later than August 1st, identify students who will solely participate in Remote Learning
  • No later than June 1, identify possible additional costs to run school meals and Grab-and-Go lunches simultaneously
  • No later than June 1, identify the estimated costs to set up screening stations in schools (thermometers, PPE, tables, personnel, training, etc)
  • No later than July 15, identify additional staff needed for things such as custodial, student flow control, busing etc.
  • By the end of the 3rd day of school, the IT Department will have identified all students in need of a Chromebook
  • By the end of the 3rd day of school, the IT Department will have identified all students who do not have Internet access from their place of residence
  • By the end of the 1st week of classes, all students will have a Chromebook
  • No later than August 10, all schools will have floors marked with student flows
  • And on and on…

I don’t have any doubts that Principals will make things work in their schools. However, by not having some centralized guidelines and deadlines, it only makes the jobs’ of principals that much harder.

On first glance, the Jeffco Restart Model, at 29 pages, looks impressive. However, once you take a look at it, it is mostly fluff and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, especially in relation to academics. Once again, this highlights the poor leadership at District level.

The Academics section of Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model is worthless

Anyone who cares about education and academics should be appalled by the lack of anything concrete in Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model.

What does the Academics section of the Restart Model really say? It is nothing but generic and high-level mumbo-jumbo. It doesn’t answer ANY key questions about Academics in the Fall such as:

  • When will students be assessed to identify the COVID slide? Ideally, that should happen within the first week of school.
  • What assessment tools will be used?
  • What definitive and differentiated steps and actions will be taken to address the COVID slide?
  • How will prior year academic short-falls be addressed in the new year? How are teachers preparing for that?
  • How will Remote Learning in the fall be different than the questionable Remote Learning that just happened?
  • What will be the Hybrid and Remote Learning standards that students will be held to? How will attendance be counted?
  • What are the expectations for teachers? What standards will they be held to? How, and when, will they be assessed?
  • How will teachers be held accountable?
  • What are the District’s plans for when teachers get sick, since this could be for an extended period of time? We’ve all had our experiences with “Guest Teachers”. For this reason, shouldn’t the District be using a standardized, almost lock-step, curriculum across the District?
  • Why doesn’t Jeffco use the summer to create a Flipped Classroom curriculum that can easily be used by teachers in all grades to provide standardized teaching quality and consistency and ease the burden on teachers instead of each individual teacher essentially duplicating what possibly 100’s of other teachers all have to do?
  • How does it work for teachers and students when the teacher is in the classroom, but ½ or more of the students are at home? What is the expected effectiveness of that? I have a hard time grasping how that will be effective. Did the District consider team teaching – 2 teachers for a cohort, with one classroom teacher and one remote learning teacher?
  • Has Jeffco considered a summer tutor program such as one launched in Tennessee, or even a targeted tutoring program once school starts to mitigate equity impacts?

The Academics section of Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model is worthless. Time is of the essence. If Jeffco doesn’t start really planning for the fall, 1,000s of kids will be permanently harmed by the ineptitude and lack of leadership coming out of Denver West.

I’m Not Buying Jason Glass’s Deeper Learning Snake Oil

Where are the studies showing Deeper Learning can be successfully implemented in large schools and large school districts?

Recently, I was sent the following link in response to one of my Tweets that included: “Until then we’re (Jeffco) left with just a nice sounding Deeper Learning which has no definition of success and no measure of success.”

I stand by my Tweet in relation to Jeffco schools. What are Jeffco’s clearly defined definitions of success and how will Jeffco measure if the shift to Deeper Learning is successful? We don’t know. In Jeffco, we do have several Academic Performance Indicators included in Jeffco Generations, but, unfortunately, instead of trending toward those goals, Jeffco is trending away from them. And, belatedly, the District is now claiming that they expected the recent implementation dips in both growth and performance.

But I want to talk about the AIR study in the link that was sent to me in an attempt to dispel my claim of no definition or measure of Deeper Learning’s success in Jeffco.

First, I make no claim that a Deeper Learning experience cannot improve some vague definition of Student Outcomes, I just want to know exactly what those outcomes will be and how long it will take to achieve them in our District. I haven’t seen that information.

My main concerns and doubts regarding Deeper Learning are:

  • While the AIR study looked at High Schools, what can be expected at Middle and Elementary Schools? Specifically, how will Deeper Learning impact the already atrocious measure that only 46% of Jeffco 3rd graders meet state reading expectations? How can you have Deeper Learning if students can’t read?
  • Can Deeper Learning be implemented in larger schools than those included in the study?
  • Can Deeper Learning be effectively implemented across a District as large and diverse as Jeffco?
  • Finally, this study doesn’t exactly give me a great deal of confidence, given its limitation of using only small, cherry-picked High Schools.

First and foremost, this study’s claims are only based on schools with a “well-implemented approach to deeper learning”. The background information for this paper is contained here and clearly states “it was important to select schools that provided reasonably strong examples of the deeper learning concept” and “We sought schools that were implementing their approach to deeper learning schoolwide and at a high enough level for us to examine whether an explicit focus on deeper learning—when done well—can result in improved opportunities and outcomes across a broad spectrum of students and teachers.” (page 5).

The other thing I would like to highlight is that the average number of students in the High Schools that were part of the study was 386 with a range of 187-681. Those are small High Schools. I would think that it is significantly easier to change culture, curriculum and teaching practices in small school settings in comparison to larger school settings. In fact, the Deeper Learning network schools in the study were compared to much larger schools having an average of 1,340 students with a range of 434 – 2,529. The issue would be the same in Jeffco, where the smallest High School is larger than the largest High School in the study. This reason alone leaves doubt in my mind on whether Deeper Learning could even replicate the results of the AIR study in Jeffco. Is it even feasible, in large school or District environments, to obtain the number of internships the Deeper Learning schools in the study say are so valuable?

Even the OECD and Graduation claims presented here are mitigated by:

Looking beyond the average effect, we found significant variation across pairs of network and non-network schools in the effects of attending a network school, especially for mathematics and science. The estimated effect of attending a network school on PBTS reading, mathematics, and science scores was positive and significant in some pairs, and not significant in others.


Although attending a network school did not affect overall college attendance rates, students who attended participating network high schools were more likely to enroll in four-year institutions than were students who attended non-network high schools.

So, unfortunately, I’m going to need more than the AIR paper to give me confidence that Deeper Learning is a game changer.

Finally, Deeper Learning is difficult to implement. The Deeper Learning networks that had participating schools in the study all had different approaches. The brutal review of the book that Jason Glass likes to hand out, “In Search of Deeper Learning” only raises more doubts.

On the surface, the AIR study presents a rosy picture. In actuality, the picture may not be as positive as presented. And, to try and implement Deeper Learning in larger schools across a large District without a well-planned and phased rollout? That’s a recipe for disaster. Jeffco has already seen that disaster in the making with last year’s academic results and this year’s MAP data trending in the same downward direction.

I’m not buying Glass’s Deeper Learning hype.

Why Doesn’t Jason Glass’ Jeffco Restart Plan Talk About Internet Access?

The Jeffco Restart Plan is all about Hybrid – when and how students can go to physical classrooms. But in all of the scenarios students will still be doing Remote Learning 80% of the time.

That makes internet access extremely important. Yet, the Plan didn’t even mention this.

  • The Plan didn’t mention how the District would identify students needing Internet access prior to August
  • The Plan didn’t mention how the District would ensure ALL students would get Internet access at their place of residence
  • The Plan didn’t discuss the cost of providing Internet access

In essence, the Plan didn’t even touch on a key component of EQUITY in the Restart Plan – ensuring Internet access for everyone.

That is just so disappointing. Equity? Jeffco likes to talk about it, but when it comes to making sure it happens, it’s all about ensuring the activist soccer moms are happy.

When Innovation and Boldness Are Needed, Jeffco gets a Restart Plan Filled with Neither from Jason Glass

This past Wednesday Jason Glass and his staff presented their ‘DRAFT’ Fall Restart plan to the Jeffco Board of Education.

To put it mildly, the ‘Plan’ was, as expected, a disaster. In fact, it wasn’t a plan. It was more like a few general and high-level concepts. And, as previously pointed out, there was no discussion in the ‘Plan’ regarding the myriad education related issues.

There was no discussion of educational best practices, standards for teachers or standards for students. It didn’t discuss how the District will know if ALL teachers are doing their jobs and doing them effectively. It didn’t discuss how the District will identify, motivate and train poorly performing teachers, before kids are negatively impacted. It didn’t discuss how or when the District will know if students are learning at the same rate as they did in the pure classroom model. It didn’t discuss how low performance/growth will be corrected. It didn’t discuss the projected impacts on achievement. It didn’t discuss how the District will know if students are even attending class, particularly since the currently used ‘engagement’ standard is worthless.

It was only after Susan Miller asked several education related questions that we heard some of what Glass and the District were thinking. We heard that testing would be conducted early in the semester, we heard about the possible use of Flipped Classrooms, we heard that the District may consider teaching fewer subjects simultaneously but for longer times in a Block model and we heard that the District is considering identifying teachers who are good at Remote Learning for teaching students who will not physically come into the school.

All of that sounds good, from a high-level.

But Glass and Jeffco don’t have a lot of time. They need to use resources effectively. Glass always talks about innovation, it’s time he shows some of that innovation! Just as importantly, Glass and the District need to maximize their resources, including time.

Jeffco infamously prides itself on local control. However, in this pandemic period, it’s time for the District to consolidate resources and exercise central control over teachers and curriculum.

To put it mildly, the upcoming semester will be a nightmare for teachers. Teachers will either be teaching remotely or teaching using a hybrid model. Again, on the surface, that sounds good, but in practice how does that work out for students? What are students doing on the days they are remote but the teachers are devoting their attention to the students in the physical classroom? Personally, I don’t see that working well, unless everyone is willing to concede that the amount of material covered during the course of a semester will be significantly decreased. Another possibility would be team teaching. That could work out nicely for the A/B model, but in the A/B/C or A/B/C/D models the remote teacher would likely become the primary teacher.

The Flipped Classroom offers some possibilities, but when do teachers have time to create those needed videos while also doing the in-classroom teaching? Shoot the video during the in-classroom day is a possibility, but an awful amount of equipment will be needed District wide for this.

I just don’t see this working well and I suspect teachers will tell Glass and District staff this is going to be unworkable.

However, another possibility exists. Why can’t the District choose some of the best teachers and pay them, over the summer, to create the Flipped Classroom curriculum and record lessons? This is incredibly efficient and relieves a tremendous amount of stress on teachers. Instead of potentially 100s of teachers individually performing the exact same task, at varying degrees of competency, the District now has a uniform standard for what is taught. This material can now be delivered to every student on the same day so that students will be learning at the same pace. There’s a lot to like about this model.

To take this a step further, Kris Schuh has said that Jeffco has been meeting with other Front Range school Districts. Why not share some of the Flipped Classroom curriculum development with them? Again, this would maximize the use of resources and reduce individual Districts’ costs. There are some drawbacks to this approach, but it is something to consider.

In addition, there are consulting firms with experience in curriculum development. One example would be the curriculum developed for EngageNY.

In any case, time is of the essence. Chaos, low quality and low standards will ensue in the fall if the current incarnation of Remote Learning, morphed into Hybrid Learning, is allowed to continue.

Another area ripe for Innovation in the Hybrid Learning Model proposed by Glass is the sharing of teachers across schools. Right-sizing classroom sizes may be difficult due to some students preferring the Remote Learning model over the Hybrid model. This will most likely result in significant resource allocation issues for individual principals, especially at smaller schools. Why not share teachers? In essence a remote teacher could teach students from more than one school. To avoid total confusion schools could pair up with a single other school so there would be some consistency for the students in who they interact with. This could even be framed as an exchange program.

There has not been a more appropriate time for Innovation. Does Glass have what it takes to walk the walk? Or, let’s hope the teachers are more innovative than Glass has been with the worthless Restart Plan he presented to the Board on Wednesday.

Jeffco’s 2020-2021 Remote Learning Plan is Non-Existent

Today, Jeffco staff will present their 2020-2021 Restart Plan to the Board of Education.

It is an unmitigated disaster.

It looks like it was developed with about one hour’s worth of thought.

The ‘Plan’ only addresses student learning from an extremely high level, principally the reduction of class sizes by splitting classes into smaller cohorts who will attend in-person classes one day a week.

With only 1 remaining Board of Education meeting prior to school restarting in the fall, this broad outline does not provide nearly enough detail for the Board of Education to perform their primary function of governance.

The plan does not address how facilities will be sanitized. It does not address how buses will be sanitized. It does not address meals. It does not address school entrance procedures. It does not address what scenarios would require the closing of a school. It does not address costs. It does not address how schools would function and interactions kept to a minimum. It does not address the continuation of Grab and Go meals. There are so many things to consider. And, while I’m not suggesting that the District have answers to all of the questions right now, they should be talking with the Board about what the issues are, what they are considering, potential costs and when they will have those answers. No detail whatsoever.

But the most egregious part of the restart plan is the complete lack of any mention of education. Absolutely none!

Students will still be participating in Remote Learning for 80% of the time. I would think that very few people think that the same quality of instruction is happening now as happened when students were in physical classrooms. Yet, we now see that Remote Learning will be happening for an extended period of time. Therefore, Remote Learning MUST be just as good as in-classroom learning. But there is no discussion of best practices, standards for teachers or standards for students. How will the District know if ALL teachers are doing their jobs and doing them effectively? How will the District identify, motivate and train poorly performing teachers, before kids are negatively impacted? How/when will the District know if students are learning at the same rate as they did in the pure classroom model? How will low performance/growth be changed to correct this? What are the projected impacts on achievement? When will assessments be administered?

So many questions regarding the most important consideration of all and it is not even addressed.

Now is the time to put the necessary changes in motion, not in August.

Glass and his band of merry subordinates just don’t get it.

What a disaster.

The Road to Recovery or Deflection of Accountability?

Yesterday, the Superintendent of Jeffco Schools, Jason Glass, released a blog post titled: ‘Road to Recovery – How Lawmakers Can Ease the Crisis for Schools’.

As with most things related to Glass:

1. The post is political in nature. There is literally nothing in the post about educating Jeffco’s kids. Specifically, Glass does not talk about what Jeffco Schools are or will be doing to mitigate the effects of the, in most cases, lower quality of remote learning education.

2. Glass makes a big effort to shift responsibility and accountability to the state and away from himself and change the way in which he is measured and evaluated.

I particularly find his plea to ‘Stabilize enrollment counts and projections’ to be interesting, especially in light of the fact that Jeffco’s CFO was already publicly stating that the District was projecting a loss of 350 students and $3M in revenue.

Because of this, it is to Jeffco’s advantage to ‘hold-harmless’ school Districts for student losses as Jeffco’s losses are likely to be proportionally more than other Districts. What Glass doesn’t take into consideration is the possibility that one District could gain students from a neighboring District, but still have an overall loss. Will funding still be the same as last year? Here’s an example: In both Denver and Jeffco 10% of students who attended in 2019-2020 do not return to physical government schools in August for Covid-19 related reasons. Yet, an additional 100 students from Jeffco transfer into Denver schools. Is Glass saying that Jeffco should be held harmless and receive the same state money for those 100 students? And what about Denver, will they receive no money for those proportionally more students? Or, will the state, already in a budget crisis, be paying twice for some students?

Additionally, if the state does ‘hold-harmless’ student count, will Glass do the same with individual schools within Jeffco? Will principals receive the same SBB as last year if their enrollments decline? Will Glass be willing to pay twice for students who choice change schools?

Does Glass really think that there will be ANY Districts in Colorado that see an overall enrollment increase? How many District’s will permanently lose students to homeschooling when parents realize that their kids might get a better education at home than they have gotten in the government schools? It’s nice to say that Districts with growing enrollment will gain additional funding, but it’s not quite as simplistic, or equitable, as Glass makes it seem.

It is nice to see Glass admit that state funding for student losses is mitigated by the state funding formula.

School enrollment rises and falls each year across the state and money sent to districts adjusts accordingly (with provisions to soften the loss of funding for districts with declining enrollment).

His CFO, Kathleen Askelson doesn’t seem to get that concept as she has repeatedly told the Board of Education that a loss of 350 students will result in a $3M loss ($8,571/per student) of revenue to the District (there are other problems with her loss claim too, as outlined here). Shouldn’t the BoE be able to trust the District’s CFO? Does Jeffco need a new one? That’s a big swing of money, when Districts are checking sofa cushions, to make misrepresentations like that.

Testing – to put it bluntly – Glass doesn’t like it. He has stated it several times in the past. And, there’s no reason why he should. Since he has been Superintendent in Jeffco schools’ academic growth and achievement scores are down. He just doesn’t want to be measured and made accountable for the pathetic Jeffco Generations Academic Performance Indicator goals he is nowhere close to achieving.

What better opportunity than a pandemic crisis to change the conversation and implement measurement systems that aren’t comparative and have the distinct possibility of not measuring anything:

While … the challenges presented by COVID-19 are disruptive, they also present opportunities for meaningful change and innovation. On assessments and accountability, the legislature should direct school districts to develop locally-designed accountability systems

When you’re failing at your primary job of educating kids, why not just change the measurement system so that people can’t really see how badly you’re doing.

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that and neither should Polis, the legislature or parents. We can’t let the fox guard the hen house.

There’s no doubt that Covid-19 is going to have a big impact on K-12 education for an extended period of time and Glass has made some valid points. It will not be an easy time. Systems, processes and people will need to change and adapt. Leaders will need to emerge. However, I would have preferred that Glass talk about how he intends to stop and reverse the Covid-19 slide with curriculum, standardized/best practice teaching methodologies and evaluation of teachers’ instruction practices than just one more politically slanted, shifting responsibility and avoiding accountability blog post.

Glass and Jeffco Board are Failing in their Fiduciary Responsibilities to Taxpayers

5B Bond projects to date are grossly over budget.

This past Thursday, May 7, 2020, Tim Reed, Executive Director Facilities and Construction at Jeffco Schools, told the Board of Education that as of April 30, 2020 $57M in contingency remained for the District’s 6-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

Given that the Contingency presented to taxpayers prior to the 2018 5B vote was $86M, $57M sounds like a reasonable amount to be remaining.

However, it was only after Director Susan Miller asked a question did Tim tell the Board that the $57M included additional Construction Contingency of $11.5M that the Board would later vote on that evening for overages in the Alameda project. This would effectively reduce the amount of remaining contingency to $46M. In addition, it seems that the additional Construction also comes with even more Soft Costs (thanks to another question by Director Miller), usually in the range of 20%. This would necessitate the use of ANOTHER $2.25M in Contingency, further reducing the available amount to under $44M.

While this is troubling, a mere 18 months into a 6 year program, there was even more troubling news in Tim’s slide. That news was that Tim and Jeffco have added the $50M in bond premium and $11M in bond interest to the Program’s Contingency, raising total Program Contingency to a whopping $147M.

It is shocking to me that Jeffco has seemingly burnt through over $100M in Contingency in only 18 months, when the total Program Contingency was presented to taxpayers as $86M.

And only Susan Miller is concerned and asks questions about this.

Brad Rupert asked Tim Reed if he agreed with the statement that it appeared that over half of the Contingency remained and Tim agreed. That statement is ONLY true if you base it on the original $86M.

Ron Mitchell flat out stated that he trusts Tim Reed, obviously too old and tired to, or maybe incapable of, performing the math to show that $100M in Contingency has already been spent.

And through all of this Jason Glass just sat silently. His non-existent leadership on full display.

Who is going to provide oversight to this spending and overages? A contingency budget is money set aside to cover unexpected costs during the construction process. Who is going to ask why nearly every project has unexpected costs and why those unexpected costs are so high? Who is going to ask why there should be an expectation that this trend will change with future projects? Who is going to ask why there should be an expectation that there will be enough money to deliver on ALL of the promises made to individual schools and taxpayers?

Who is going to take their fiduciary responsibility seriously? Glass? Don’t count on it. The Board of Education? Susan Miller is asking the right questions. Brad Rupert is asking questions, but they leave too much wiggle room for Tim Reed. Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert are just District fan boys who never question anything the District does or says, so don’t count on them.

The District and taxpayers have already suffered from this fiscal mismanagement (What to do with $50M in bond premium). It’s time to put an end to the reckless and harmful spending propagated by Glass and Reed to ensure that ALL projects can be completed on time with the initially planned scope and the money taxpayers provided.