Colorado’s biggest universities were left off a report on how high schools set up their graduates for college success

PHOTO: Seth McConnell, The Denver Post

A Plus Colorado, an advocacy group that uses research to push for higher student achievement, has withdrawn a report that cast a dim light on the college prospects of most Colorado high school graduates. The report was based on flawed data from the Colorado Department of Higher Education that excluded the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University, both well-regarded schools that are major destinations for students who stay in-state.

A Plus Colorado plans to reissue the report in a few months with correct data. Chalkbeat wrote a story based on the report, which we have removed because the new report may not support the premise of the original version.

That report had found that just 4 percent of Colorado high school graduates went on to enroll in one of the schools ranked among the nation’s top 150 universities and top 150 colleges as identified by U.S. News and World Report. The implication was that many high schools aren’t doing a great job at preparing their students for higher education.

The finding caught the eye of Superintendent Walt Cooper of Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs because he knew his students had done much better than the report indicated. A Plus Colorado CEO Van Schoales credited Cooper for flagging the mistake.

In a statement posted to its website, A Plus Colorado apologized.

“A Plus Colorado deeply apologizes for the misinformation provided in our report and will reissue the report, A Seat at the Table: Colorado Students’ Access to Top Colleges, with the corrected matriculation data for all Colorado high schools and the 300 selective colleges and universities,” the statement said. “This is the first time that A Plus Colorado has had to reissue a report because of missing or inaccurate data. Accurate education data and analysis is the core value for A Plus Colorado.”

Beth Bean, the chief research and strategy officer for the Department of Higher Education, took responsibility for the mistake and said measures are being put in place to prevent this from happening again.

“We try to share data with external advocacy groups because the information they put out is good, and we don’t have the manpower,” she said. “Obviously we want it to be accurate.”

All sides of the education debate depend on data to make their case, and when there are mistakes in the numbers, there can be ripple effects. In 2016, Padres y Jovenes Unidos had to walk back a report that seemed to show a spike in out-of-school suspensions after years of declines. In that case, the school districts had reported bad information to the state.

Here’s what happened with A Seat at the Table, according to A Plus Colorado and Bean:

A Plus Colorado submitted a data request to the Colorado Department of Higher Education for matriculation data for a list of 300 colleges and universities for the classes of 2009 to 2015. Due to a data cross-walking error, the underlying data provided by the Colorado Department of Higher Education did not include data from the full list of these colleges and universities, including University of Colorado — Boulder and Colorado State University, leading to a significant discrepancy in the reported and actual matriculation data.

While A Plus Colorado validated the overall matriculation rate at each school, the data provided by the Colorado Department of Higher Education was aggregated across the requested list of colleges. As such, A Plus Colorado was unable to validate whether specific higher education institutions were missing from the data set. The Colorado Department of Higher Education has since improved their validation process for future data sharing and reporting.

Bean said validation processes are being developed for one-off data requests like those made by A Plus Colorado. Such measures have been in place for years for the reports the department generates for the state legislature, and Bean said this incident shouldn’t cause any doubt or question on the accuracy of reports on, for example, remedial education or concurrent enrollment.

“We stand behind having solid data,” she said. “We’ve been doing those for years, and the code has been validated. We’re now building that into our external data reports.”


Memphis candidate says no longer in running to lead Achievement School District

The only Memphis applicant to lead Tennessee’s turnaround district is no longer under consideration, the state Department of Education confirmed Thursday.

Keith Sanders told Chalkbeat on Thursday that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called him and said that he would not advance in the application process to become superintendent of the Achievement School District. Sanders is a Memphis-based education consultant and former Memphis school principal who most recently was chief officer of school turnaround at the Delaware Department of Education.

The state later confirmed that Sanders will not advance, citing concerns from the search firm hired to find the next leader of the turnaround district.

In a March 21 letter to McQueen, the search firm highlighted Sanders’ time as a charter school leader in New Orleans as a reason he should not advance. Sanders co-founded Miller-McCoy Academy, an all-boys public school that closed in 2014. The school was academically low-performing, and Sanders and his co-founder left the school before it shuttered amidst allegations of financial mismanagement and cheating, according to the letter.

“Given the visibility of the ASD role, I think there are too many questions about his time at Miller-McCoy for him to be credible,” wrote Mollie Mitchell, president of The K-12 Search Group, in the letter.

The announcement comes a day after Stephen Osborn, a finalist for the position, visited Memphis for a second interview with McQueen. Osborn is currently the chief of innovation for Rhode Island’s Department of Education.

Sanders said he was shocked at the news, as just weeks earlier he was told that he would advance as one of two finalists for the position.

“I was given an itinerary for two days next week for my final interview process,” Sanders said. “I’m shocked that I’ve been suddenly and abruptly removed from this process. I want to be clear in this community I reside in — I did not withdraw.”

In addition to Sanders and Osborn, other candidates under consideration were: Brett Barley, deputy superintendent for student achievement with the Nevada Department of Education, and Adam Miller, executive director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice at the Florida Department of Education.

McQueen emphasized during her Memphis visit on Wednesday that the superintendent search is still in progress.

“We certainly have an expectation that we’ll bring in others,” she told reporters. “At this point, we wanted to move one forward while we’re continuing to solicit additional information from the search firm on current candidates as well as other candidates who have presented themselves over last couple of weeks.”

The new superintendent will succeed Malika Anderson, who stepped down last fall after almost two years at the helm. Kathleen Airhart, a longtime deputy at the State Department of Education, has served as interim leader.

The job will require overseeing 30 low-performing schools — the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Editor’s note: We have updated this story with comment from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Play nice

How can Michigan schools stop skinned knees and conflict? Use playtime to teach students kindness

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn
Macomb Montessori kindergartner London Comer plays with a ball during a Playworks session at her school.

Kindergartners play four square, jump rope and line up in two rows with outstretched arms to bump a ball during recess. What’s unusual is that the four- and five-year-olds don’t fight over balls or toys, and when one child gets upset and crosses her arms, a fifth-grade helper comes over to talk to her.

This is a different picture from last spring, when the students at the Macomb Montessori school in Warren played during recess on a parking lot outside. The skinned knees and broken equipment were piling up, and school administrators knew something needed to change.

“Recess was pretty chaotic, and it wasn’t very safe,” Principal Ashley Ogonowski said.

The school brought in Playworks, a national nonprofit that uses playtime to teach students how to peacefully and respectfully work together to settle disagreements — also known as social emotional learning, said Angela Rogensues the executive director of the Michigan Playworks branch.

Ogonowski said the change she has seen in her students has been huge. Kids are getting hurt less, and teachers have said they have fewer classroom behavior problems.

The program teaches better behavior through physical activity. Games focus on cooperation, not winners and losers. When tensions rise on the playground, kids are encouraged to “rock, paper, scissors” over conflicts.

Playworks is adamant that their coaches are not physical education teachers, nor are their 30-45 minute structured play periods considered gym class. But the reality is that in schools without them, Playworks is the closest many kids come to receiving physical education.

Macomb Montessori does not have a regular gym teacher, a problem shared by schools across the state and nearly half of the schools in the main Detroit district, and a symptom of a disinvestment in physical education statewide. In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified.

But with Playworks, the 210 elementary-aged children at the school have a daily recess and a weekly class game time lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Another benefit of the program is the chance to build leadership skills with upper elementary students chosen to be junior coaches. Shy kids are picked, as are natural leaders who might be using their talents to stir up trouble.

“I made it because I’m really good with kids. I’m nice and kind and I really like the kids,” Samerah Gentry, a fifth-grader and junior coach said. “I’m gaining energy and I’m having fun.”

Research shows that students are benefitting from both the conflict resolution tools and the junior coach program.

“The program model is really solid and there’s so much structure in place, I can’t really think of any drawbacks,” Principal Ogonowski said.

The program, however, is not free.  

Part of the cost is handled on the Playworks side through grants, but schools are expected to “have some skin in the game,” Rogenesus said. The program at Macomb Montessori costs between $60,000 and $65,000, but poor schools can receive a 50 percent subsidy.

The cost hasn’t prevented eight Detroit district schools from paying for the program. Rogenesus said she is talking with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti about putting the program in even more schools next year. He also identified Playworks as one organization that could be brought in to run after-school programs at a time when he’s rethinking district partnerships.

Part of Playworks’ mission is to work together with schools, even if they already have gym and recess in place or plan to hire a physical education teacher.

“PE is a necessary part of their education in the same way social-emotional learning is a necessary part of that education,” she said.