The vote

Denver school board divided over vote to fill vacant seat, ballots show

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board president Anne Rowe.

More than 48 hours after the vote, Denver Public Schools officials on Thursday released vote tallies showing school board members were not united in the appointment of parent activist MiDian Holmes as the next board representative of northeast Denver.

Holmes got enough votes to be one of three finalists, then prevailed 4-2 in a second round of balloting, according to ballots obtained by Chalkbeat in an open records request.

Two board members cast ballots in that round for Jennifer Bacon, board chair of Padres y Jovenes Unidos, an activist group that has criticized some district policies. Bacon is an attorney who works for an organization that trains Teach for America alumni to become school leaders.

Former board president Happy Haynes, who holds an at-large seat, and southwest Denver representative Rosemary Rodriguez voted for Bacon. Board chair Anne Rowe, vice chair Barbara O’Brien and board members Lisa Flores and Mike Johnson backed Holmes, records show.

The disclosure in the past two days that Holmes was convicted for misdemeanor child abuse — and what she shared and didn’t share with district officials about it — put her appointment on shaky ground. (Note: Since publication of this story, Holmes has announced she would step aside and not accept the appointment).

Questions remain about how school district officials vetted the candidates, what they discovered in Holmes’ background check and what they told board members when.

After meeting behind closed doors with an attorney Thursday, the board scheduled a special meeting for 5 p.m. Friday to discuss the fate of the District 4 seat.

Also unclear is why district officials did not immediately release the results of Tuesday’s vote on the appointment, which under Colorado law cannot be conducted by secret ballot.

A Chalkbeat reporter immediately requested the vote results after Holmes was chosen. A district official advised that the reporter request the information under Colorado open records law.

The district responded on Thursday evening by providing copies of the ballots.

The vote should have been revealed when it was taken, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an alliance of journalists, organizations and individuals promoting transparency and open government. (Chalkbeat is a member).

“A reporter should not have to do an open records request for a vote that was taken in a public meeting,” Roberts said. “The fact they delayed giving this information is not a transparent way to operate.”

Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who specializes in open meetings law, said: “Public business is not supposed to be conducted in secret. Why not let people know at that time? Now you’ve got a controversial appointment. People ought to be able to know who voted for whom.”

DPS spokesman Will Jones said the delay in releasing the results was bureaucratic.

“Us holding on to the information doesn’t do any good,” he said. “… I have no desire not to give you what you want.”

That the board was split in the final round of balloting is significant given that the six members are united in support for DPS’s brand of school reform. Here are the round-by-round results:

ROUND ONE

Lisa Flores: Bacon, Rachele Espiritu
Happy Haynes: Bacon, Makisha Boothe
Mike Johnson: Holmes, Espiritu
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes, Dexter Korto
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon, Boothe
Anne Rowe: Holmes, Espiritu

ROUND TWO

Lisa Flores: Holmes
Happy Haynes: Bacon
Mike Johnson: Holmes
Barbara O’Brien: Holmes
Rosemary Rodriguez: Bacon
Anne Rowe: Holmes

Chalkbeat deputy bureau chief Nicholas Garcia contributed information to this report.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

legislative update

Senators kill two education proposals, but plan to replace ISTEP moves ahead with a new high school test

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Senate Education Committee had its last 2017 meeting today.

The plan to replace Indiana’s unpopular ISTEP exam took another step forward Wednesday as the Senate Education Committee finished up its work for the year.

The committee killed two bills and passed four, including an amended version of the bill to overhaul the state testing system. The bill passed 7-4, but some lawmakers still weren’t happy with the plan — especially because the bill continues to tie teacher evaluations to state test results and removes a requirement for students to take end-of-course exams that many principals and educators had supported.

The amended bill would:

  • Require high school students to take a national college entrance exam, such as the SAT or ACT, rather than end-of-course exams. The Indiana State Board of Education would choose the specific test and set a passing score needed for graduation.
  • Create tests that would allow Indiana students to be compared with peers nationally.
  • Allow the state to create its own test questions only if the option saves Indiana money or would be necessary to ensure the test complies with Indiana academic standards.
  • Require schools to give state tests on computers or using “digital technology” unless they receive a waiver from the education department.
  • Create a legislative panel to study Indiana’s teacher evaluation laws and draft a final report by Nov. 1.

Some of the changes in the amendment came from state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Earlier this month, she outlined some of those ideas for the committee, which were similar to ones pushed by former schools chief Glenda Ritz. But that still didn’t make it especially popular with the committee today.

“I’m still not comfortable with where we are,” said Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, also expressed concerns about the bill, although Leising voted “yes” because the state is still required to have a test, she said.

“I’m very disappointed we can’t move away from ISTEP more quickly,” Leising said. “I’m most disappointed that we’re still going to evaluate teachers based on ISTEP results which nobody believes in currently.”

Here are the rest of the bills that passed the committee today. All of them still must face debate by the full Senate, and likely further discussions by the House:

Charter school renewal and closure: House Bill 1382 would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could benefit Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies.

The bill was amended today to give the state board of education more control over what education and experience charter school teachers need in order to be allowed to teach.

High school graduation rate and student mobility: House Bill 1384 would require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades.

But it was amended today to change previous language that would have given schools two A-F grades — one reflecting state test results from students who move around frequently, and one based on students who have been at the school for at least a year. The amendment removes the two grades and instead would instruct the state board to consider student mobility in the existing A-F system, and “whether any high school should be rewarded for enrolling credit deficient students or penalized for transferring out credit deficient students.”

This bill, too, has implications for Indiana virtual schools, which have struggled to show success educating a wide range of students. The schools have complained that they often accept students who are far behind their peers and are using the school as a last-ditch chance to graduate.

The bill also includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers.

Teacher induction program: House Bill 1449, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027.

And here are the bills that died, both authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis:

Elementary school teacher licenses: House Bill 1383 would encourage the state board of education to establish content-area-specific licenses, including math and science, for elementary teachers. It was defeated by the committee 6-5

Competency-based learning: House Bill 1386 would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of pace (Learn more about Warren Township’s competency-based program here). It was defeated by the committee 8-3.

secretary statements

Betsy DeVos on American schools: ‘I’m not sure that we can deteriorate a whole lot’

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos isn’t concerned that a push for more school choice could inadvertently harm America’s schools, she said Wednesday — because she believes the nation’s achievement is already too abysmal for that to be possible.

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today,” DeVos said of achievement levels. “The fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world, and that we’ve seen stagnant at best results with the NAEP scores over the years — I’m not sure that we can deteriorate a whole lot.”

DeVos was referring to one international test and another taken by a sample of students across the United States that’s used to compare performance across states. Her comments, made at the Brookings Institution, paint a picture that’s more dire than fully accurate.

On the international PISA tests in reading and science, the U.S. hovers near the international average, though it falls near the bottom of other industrialized countries in math. And on the NAEP tests, often referred to as the “nation’s report card,” math scores have been rising for decades, as moderator Russ Whitehurst noted, while reading scores have also increased, though much more slowly.

The comments reveal an unflinchingly negative guiding premise for the nation’s top education official: With nowhere to go but up, any disruption of the current system is, by definition, going in the right direction. (She pushed that idea further by invoking the fight between Uber and taxi companies as a parallel for the push for school choice.)

At the same time, DeVos indicated that she was uncomfortable using statistics as the basis for some of her own policies.

“I’m not a numbers person in the same way you are,” DeVos said, when asked specifically how she would want her success to be measured. “But to me, the policies around empowering parents and moving decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.”

You can watch her speech and her discussion with Whitehurst afterward here: