From the Statehouse

Lawmakers finish with educator ID

The House Tuesday agreed to Senate amendments to House Bill 09-1065, the proposal to create an identifier system for principals and teachers, and repassed the bill 65-0, sending it to Gov. Bill Ritter.

The idea behind the educator identifiers is that they can be used in conjunction with other data, such as individual student performance, to evaluate teacher performance, the effectiveness of teacher training programs and the distribution of high-performing teachers in different kinds of schools.

The bill, developed by an advisory group named the Teacher Quality Commission, originally was proposed as a pilot program in a few districts so the Department of Education could evaluate use of the identifiers. A major goal was to gain data about the “teacher gap” – the problem of low-performing schools being disproportionately served by inexperienced teachers.

But HB 09-1065 gained more importance after announcement of the federal stimulus program, with its emphasis on education reform. Creation of a statewide identifier program is now seen as a way to improve Colorado’s chances for stimulus money.

And the bill set up something of a tussle between the governor’s office, CDE officials and other researchers and the Colorado Education Association over use of the data. Researchers want maximum flexibility to use the data, while teachers’ groups want protections to ensure that teachers aren’t evaluated or disciplined solely on the basis of student test scores.

Negotiations, which also involved the Denver Public Schools, went through several fits and starts, but an amendment approved by the Senate Education Committee two weeks ago has the support of CDE, the governor’s office and CEA and other education groups.

The language allows use of the data for research, contains various protections but doesn’t restrict districts from continuing to use existing data systems and programs in evaluation, assignment and compensation of educators.

CDE would start the program with just a few districts, but the identifier program would be expanded statewide when education officials felt it was ready.

It could be a couple of years or more before it’s operational. Private or federal funds will have to be raised to fund it, and state data systems will need upgrading for the program to work.

In other action Tuesday:

The Senate passed and the House concurred in amendments to House Bill 09-1319, the important dual enrollment legislation.

After much wrangling and GOP hand wringing, the Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 09-1366, which would close some loopholes in Colorado capital gains taxes. Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, endlessly touts this as the first in a series of tax bills (the rest to come next year) the legislature can pass without voter approval, thanks to a recent state supreme court decision.

House approval of Senate amendments:

  • House Bill 09-1039, resident tuition eligibility for veterans
  • House Bill 09-1290, increased financial aid for National Guard members
  • House Bill 09-1267, statutory cleanup of provisions affecting religious colleges
  • House Bill 09-1343, creation of a legislative early childhood commission

    Resolutions

    Passed were HJR 09-1025, the school safety study; SJR 09-044, the study of state fiscal stability; SJR 09-056, the Race to the Top attaboy resolution, and HJR 09-10120, the interim study of school finance, were all approved in the House.

    Still hanging for the last day

    • Senate Bill 09-226 – The House accepted the conference committee report on the food allergies bill, but the Senate has yet to act.
    • House Bill 09-295 – Final consideration of the career-tech dual enrollment bills is pending in the House.
    • Higher education financial flexibility – The House gave final approval to Senate Bill 09-290 but has yet to act on its companion, House Bill 09-295
    • Consideration of governor’s footnote veto of Senate Bill 09-259, the 2009-10 long appropriations bill.

      legal opinion

      Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

      PHOTO: TN.gov
      Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

      Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

      The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

      PHOTO: TN.gov
      Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

      McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

      “If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

      Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

      Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

      Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

      The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

      The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


      To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


      The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

      However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

      A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

      Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

      Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

      First Person

      I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

      PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
      Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

      For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

      Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

      1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

      I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

      2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

      I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

      3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

      During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

      4. Money matters.

      Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

      5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

      More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

      6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

      If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

      Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.