Power Shift

Democrats take control of Colorado State Board of Education, Schroeder appointed chair

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Angelika Schroeder, right, a Democrat from Boulder, was selected as chair of the State Board of Education on Wednesday. Joyce Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, was selected as vice chair.

Angelika Schroeder was selected with unanimous support Wednesday to serve as chair of the State Board of Education, the first action taken by a newly constituted board under Democratic control for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Joyce Rankin, a Republican, was unanimously chosen to be the board’s vice chair.

Schroeder and Rankin in separate interviews praised the way the board has worked in a bipartisan fashion and pledged to work cooperatively.

“We’ve been a bipartisan board up until now,” Schroeder said. “And I think we’ll continue to be a bipartisan board.”

The Boulder Democrat downplayed the historic nature of Democrats taking control of the board.

“I know folks would like to make a big deal about this, but in this room I don’t think it needs to be a big thing,” Schroeder said. “We all bring our own personal values to the table.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Rebecca McClellan, right, reviews the oath of office with appeals court Judge Dave Furman. McClellan, a Democrat, was later sworn in. Her victory in November shifted partisan control of the State Board of Education for the first time in nearly 50 years.

The shift in partisan control comes after a November election that saw Democrat Rebecca McClellan narrowly beat Republican incumbent Debora Scheffel. McClellan, a former Centennial city council member, ran on a promise of respecting local control of school boards and listening to classroom teachers and principals.

McClellan raised thousands of dollars more than Scheffel and was backed by both the state’s teachers union and Democrats for Education Reform, two significant players in education politics that usually don’t see eye to eye.

While the Democrats have partisan control by a one-vote margin, sharp divisions exist among the Democratic board members. Denver Democrat Val Flores has a history of voting with Republican members on controversial issues such as testing.

Flores on Wednesday said she believed her voting record followed the Democratic platform.

“Read the Democratic platform,” she said. “You’ll see I’m voting with Democrats. Reformers are kind of out of sync with our Democratic ideas and platform.”

The shift of partisan control comes at a critical juncture. The board is set to begin addressing how to fix the state’s lowest performing schools and review the state’s academic standards, including the politically controversial Common Core State Standards.

The state education department also must submit a plan to the federal government detailing how it plans to use federal funds to meet the expectations laid out in the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“We have a lot of work to do this year,” Rankin said. “So we’re going to have to work together.”

Betsy DeVos

‘Receive mode’? The D.C. school DeVos visited responded to her criticism with a withering tweetstorm

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Howard University.

Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School Academy is standing up for its teachers after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said they are “waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos made the comments in one of her first interviews since being confirmed last week. She said teachers at the school — the first one she visited on the job — were “sincere” but seemed to be in “receive mode,” which she said “is not going to bring success to an individual child.”

The school took to Twitter late Friday to make its case. In 11 messages, the school described several teachers who creating new programs and tailoring their teaching to meet students’ considerable needs.

“JA teachers are not in a ‘receive mode,'” read the final message. “Unless you mean we ‘receive’ students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.”

The former and current D.C. schools chiefs have also weighed in. Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who accompanied DeVos on her school visit, issued a statement praising the teaching at Jefferson Academy. And his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, tweeted her withering take on DeVos’s comments:

Here’s the full tweetstorm from Jefferson Academy, which D.C. Public Schools considered a “rising school” because of its good -but-not-great test scores.

 

first steps

Secretary Betsy DeVos on first school visit: ‘Teachers are waiting to be told what they have to do’

For someone now running the federal education department, Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t have many ideas for how it’s needed.

In one of her first interviews since being confirmed as secretary last week, DeVos said the federal government was right to step in “when we had segregated schools” and to ensure girls’ access to sports teams. But she suggested that those issues have been resolved, narrowing the issues where federal intervention might be appropriate.

From the interview, published Friday by Axios (the new news site created by Politico’s founders):

“I think in some of the areas around protecting students and ensuring safe environments for them, there is a role to play … I mean, when we had segregated schools and when we had a time when, you know, girls weren’t allowed to have the same kind of sports teams — I mean, there have been important inflection points for the federal government to get involved.” But are there any remaining issues like that where the federal government should intervene? “I can’t think of any now,” she replied.

In fact, American schools, by some measures, are more racially segregated now than when the federal government began to play an active role in desegregating them in the 1960s.

Some advocates have called on the U.S. Department of Education to play a stronger role in desegregating schools. DeVos’s comments suggest her worldview is one in which the major fights over civil rights in American education have already been fought and won, and almost all remaining issues can be addressed best by states and local districts.

Meanwhile, in an interview with a conservative news site, DeVos was also quick to offer her ideas about why teachers struggle — and criticize some of the first public school teachers she encountered on the job. (Cue her critics, who are concerned that she does not have any experience as an educator or working in schools.)

Here’s how she described the discussion she had during her one of her first school visits in Washington, D.C.:

I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success[ful] from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.

In the same interview, DeVos signaled interest in a tactic more commonly used by activists than agency leaders.

She was asked,

Have you considered some political theater of your own, like bringing poor and minority kids trapped in failed public schools to Washington so Congress can tell them why they have to stay in failing schools while their kids attend private schools?

She recalled a march in Florida that drew thousands to protest a lawsuit meant to block a voucher program that she supported. “I think that is an idea worthy of consideration,” she said.

Update: Jefferson Academy Middle School, the DeVos made the “receive mode” comments about, hit back on Twitter late Friday — as did the current and former chancellors of the D.C. school systems. Read what they had to say.