"a new view"

Rosa, new head of New York education policy: As a parent, ‘I would opt out’

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

The newly elected head of New York state’s education policymaking body said if she were a parent, she would likely opt her child out of the state tests — and would not say if she hopes the boycotts shrink in number this year.

Instead, Betty Rosa spoke about the need to retool the tests to rebuild trust with parents, and said that families have the right to choose what is best for their children.

“If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time,” Rosa told reporters Monday, shortly after she was elected chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Rosa’s statements underscore the striking nature of Monday’s leadership shift. Former Chancellor Merryl Tisch was a staunch defender of the exams, which grew more difficult to pass under her leadership as they incorporated the Common Core standards. Last year, frustrations about testing led to one in five eligible students not taking the tests statewide.

[Read more about Rosa’s selection here.]

The statements also illustrate the somewhat precarious position Rosa now occupies as a critic of state education policy. As chancellor, she oversees the State Education Department — which administers the state tests — and whose leader, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, has been campaigning to minimize the opt-out movement’s growth.

Rosa chose her words carefully Monday. In response to a question about whether she would like to see the number of opt-outs decrease this year, Rosa talked about restoring trust between the State Education Department and parents.

“I want us to get to a place where we comfortably take and examine the current tests and move forward in a way that parents have a sense of full trust,” Rosa said.

But as the chancellor-elect, she stopped short of telling parents they should have their children take the tests.

“My recommendation is that parents should be informed and that parents should make their own personal decisions,” Rosa said.

That was a positive sign to opt-out leaders like Lisa Rudley, a parent and founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, the group that endorsed Rosa. “Dr. Betty Rosa recognizes the rights and responsibility of parents to protect their children while the changes to these inappropriately flawed tests and standards are being discussed and planned,” she said.

Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of organizations that advocate for learning standards like the Common Core, said he was troubled.

“It’s concerning to us that she wasn’t more definitive about that, and that she said she would opt her own children out,” he said. “But we’re hopeful that, as she said, as the tests continue to improve that her point of view will change.”

New York’s opt-out movement has been expanding its political influence in recent months as it tries to gain a lasting foothold in state politics. Its leaders distributed surveys to candidates for open Regents seats in recent months, endorsed candidates for those seats and voiced support for Rosa’s bid for the chancellorship.

“They are going to think that this is a big win for their movement,” Regent Roger Tilles said this month, of Rosa’s selection and the opt-out movement.

During the press conference, Commissioner Elia underscored the changes she has made to the state tests this year to make them more palatable for students and parents, including shortening the exams, granting students unlimited time to complete them, and involving more educators in revamping the tests.

And the new vice chancellor-elect, Regent Andrew Brown, was clear that he would like to see fewer opt-outs in the coming years.

“Hopefully we will see less, but certainly we want to continue to move in the direction where we are seeing less over time,” Brown said.

Want more New York City education news? Try Chalkbeat’s morning newsletter

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.

under study

Tennessee lawmakers to take a closer look at school closures

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
The once-bustling sidewalks outside of shuttered Lincoln Elementary School are empty today. Shelby County Schools closed the school in 2015.

In five years, more than 20 public schools have closed in Memphis, often leaving behind empty buildings that once served as neighborhood hubs.

Now, Rep. Joe Towns wants to hit the pause button.

The Memphis Democrat asked a House education subcommittee on Tuesday to consider a bill that would halt school closures statewide for five years. The measure would require the state comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability to study the impact on students and communities before allowing local districts to shutter schools again.

The panel will review Towns’ proposal during a summer study session.

Towns said empty school buildings hurt property values, lower tax revenue, and hit local governments in the pocketbook. Currently, there’s no Memphis-specific research on the economic impact of shuttering schools.

“There are unintended consequences,” Towns said. “What this does to a community is not good. Who here would want to live next to a school that’s been closed?”

Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said he sympathizes. But pausing school closures might make it more difficult for Shelby County Schools to balance its budget, he said.

“Our superintendent is faced with buildings that hold a thousand kids, and they’re down to 250,” White said. “I don’t want to put one more burden on them.”

Last fall, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the district may need to close 18 schools in the next five years if student enrollment continues to decline. Hopson recently unveiled a framework for investing in struggling schools before being considering them for closure.

Any future school closures in Memphis won’t be just to cut costs, district leaders have said. And for the first time since the historic merger, Shelby County Schools is not grappling with a budget deficit.