Who Is In Charge

Key education bills raise hopes and uncertainties

Education legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Bill Ritter included bills that represent some of the highest policy hopes of the 2009 legislative session but that also illustrate the limitations Colorado faces.

As the governor noted, “Education reform is never easy or fast, but we are making great progress and are leading the nation with our reform agenda.”

Here’s a rundown and analysis of those major bills.

Education Accountability Act of 2009 (Senate Bill 09-163)

Snapshot: The measure creates a new accountability system for Colorado schools and merges the way schools are accredited and the public reporting of individual school and district performance.

What it does: Districts will be accredited at different levels, with improvement plans required and state assistance offered to districts at the lowest levels. Those levels will translate into how districts and schools are “ranked” in information available to the public. The philosophy behind the bill is an intention to offer more help to struggling schools, in contrast to what many have seen as the punitive tone of the CSAP-based system.

When it goes into effect: July 1.

When it will have an impact: The public will see a new way of reporting school performance in August when 2009 CSAP scores are rolled into the Department of Education’s online reporting system, which places greater emphasis on year-to-year academic growth of students, schools and districts than on one-year snapshots of CSAP scores. The full rollout of the new system, which eventually will include other performance measures in addition to test scores, will take two to three years.

How it’s funded: Some of program is being paid for with savings from reduction in the number of School Accountability Reports printed, but officials also hope to gain federal stimulus funds to help with implementation.

Takeaway: SB 09-163, along with 2008’s Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, marks the end of an accountability system that basically relied on schools’ CSAP scores for a given year. Over time new performance measures such as student and school improvement over time, dropout rates, student performance on pre-collegiate tests and other measures will determine a district’s accreditation – and what’s reported to the public.

The ultimate impact of SB 09-163 – and CAP4K – ultimately will be determined by how effectively it’s implemented, whether sufficient funding is available to effectively assist schools and whether there’s appropriate training and professional development in every school.

Educator Identifier System (Senate Bill 09-1065)

Snapshot: The bill is considered an important piece of education reform, but it will be at least a few years before its effectiveness can be gauged.

What is does: Authorizes the state Department of Education and the Teacher Quality Commission to create unique identifying numbers for teachers and principals.

Data about individual educators can be correlated with student and other data to study such issues as the teacher gap and possible solutions to it; teacher training and development; teacher mobility and retention; recognizing, rewarding, and developing the careers of teachers; identifying ways to improve teacher and student learning, including teacher placement based on skills and students’ needs, and helping teachers enhance instruction using performance and growth data.

The bill was passed after prolonged interest-group negotiations reached a compromise allowing extensive use of the data for research, protection of teachers from punitive use of the data and protection of existing school district systems that do allow use of such data for teacher evaluation.

When it goes into effect: CDE is supposed to have a pilot program for assigning numbers and using data in place for the 2009-10 school year in just five districts. Based on the experience in those districts, it will be up to the State Board of Education to decide when to take the program statewide. But, the bill includes a repeal date of July 1, 2012, which means the 2012 legislature will get a chance to review whatever’s in place, tinker with it and decide whether to continue it.

When it will have an impact: It likely will be two years or longer until such a program is up and running statewide and sufficient data has been gathered and analyzed to gauge its usefulness.

How it’s funded: It’s a sign of the state’s budget problems that such a seemingly major program was created with no state funding. The identifier is to be supported by “gifts, grants and donations.” In this case, CDE officials are counting on federal stimulus money and perhaps foundation grants to cover the estimated $1 million in 2009-10 costs and $331,538 in spending needed in 2010-11. Among other costs, the bill envisions $25,000 payments to each of the five school districts expected to participate in the first phase. If money isn’t raised, CDE isn’t required to implement the program.

Takeaway: Good data and lots of it are considered by many experts to be vital for effective school reform. Creation of this program could give Colorado an advantage in the competition for federal Race to the Top funds. But, it will take awhile for the program to have an impact.

Concurrent Enrollment Programs Act (House Bill 09-1319)

Snapshot: The program will offer dual high school and college enrollment to all Colorado high school students once their school districts make agreements with colleges. The bill also creates a way (named ASCENT) for fifth year high school students to participate, with certain special requirements.

What is does: Students will have to apply to and receive approval from their school district or charter to enroll in college classes. (There will be a standard application form statewide.) Districts are required to notify families annually of the program’s availability. Districts also need to approve students’ plans of study, and students can enroll only at colleges with which their district has a written agreement. (Individual colleges are not required to participate.)

When it goes into effect: The bill requires creation of an advisory board, which must be appointed by Oct. 1 and meet for the first time no later than Nov. 15. The SBE must issue rules for the program by July 1, 2010, and the first report on the program isn’t due to the legislature until Feb. 1, 2011.

When it will have an impact: Expect to see some activity in the 2010-11 school year, with more participation in 2011-12.

How it’s funded: Districts will pay college tuition for their students, based on community college tuition rates. Students are eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends and college financial aid. School districts will be able to continue counting such students in their pupil base, and colleges also can include them in enrollment counts. Some $30,031 in CDE administration costs is expected to be covered by federal stimulus funds in the first year.

Takeaway: The policy goal here is to encourage more students to stay in high school and get a head start on college. For this bill to have a significant impact, it probably will depend on hard work by teachers and already-pressed counselors to recruit students and help them through the application process.

Dropout Prevention and Student Re-engagement (House Bill 09-1243)

Snapshot: The bill creates a two-person Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Re-engagement in CDE.

What is does: The office is assigned to review data on dropouts and student return to school, work with other agencies and organizations involved in the issue, identify districts that require special assistance, help school districts and administer a student re-engagement grant program. The office also is required to make annual reports.

When it goes into effect: The office is supposed to prepare a study on dropout prevention best practices by Dec. 31 and a report to the legislature by Feb. 1, 2010.

When it will have an impact: (See Takeaway below)

How it’s funded: This bill is another classic example of the Colorado education dilemma –trying to meet a perceived need without any money. Although the bill authorizes spending next year of $157,772, no state funding is provided. It’s intended that the money will be raised from “gifts, grants and donations” and the federal government. The program doesn’t have to be implemented if sufficient money isn’t raised.

Takeaway: Good idea, but only time will tell if enough resources can be mustered to have an impact. About 4-5 percent of Colorado high schoolers drop out each year.

Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education (Senate Bill 09-090)

Snapshot: Creates an Advisory Council for Parent Involvement in Education within CDE. The bill also specifies parent membership on a wide variety of state and local district volunteer committees. (The bill replaces school advisory committees with accountability committees.)

What is does: The council is assigned to advise school districts on best practices for improving parent involvement and administer a grant program. The hope is that changing the composition of various advisory committees will involve more parents directly in districts and schools.

When it goes into effect: The board is supposed to be appointed by Oct. 1 and meet no later than Nov. 15.

When it will have an impact: (See Takeaway below.)

How it’s funded: You guessed it – “gifts, grants and donations.” The program can’t start until at least $20,000 is raised.

Takeaway: The value of parent involvement is one of those received truths that almost everyone in education accepts. Whether this bill ultimately will affect nitty-gritty parent involvement like attending teacher conferences, making the kids do their homework or visiting classrooms is anybody’s guess – and probably impossible to measure.

Alternative Teacher Licensing (Senate Bill 09-160)

Snapshot: The bill aligns and standardizes the state’s two existing programs for alternative teacher preparation.

What is does: The State Board of Education is required to establish common content and coursework requirements for the teacher and residence (two-year) and alternative teacher (one-year) programs that currently are operated by school districts, BOCES, colleges and other agencies under state supervision. (The one- and two-year options will remain available, however.)

When it goes into effect: The bill goes into effect for the 2009-10 school year.

When it will have an impact: When the first teachers finish the revised programs.

How it’s funded: $5,500 for CDE administrative costs, taken from teacher licensing fees.

Takeaway: Teacher development is one of Colorado’s top education issues, so any improvement in the preparation process is welcome.

School Finance Act for 2009-10 (Senate Bill 09-256)

Snapshot: The annual school finance act is designed to pay for “extra” education programs not included in the base state support of schools. (That money is contained in the annual state budget bill.) The finance bill is very different year to year, depending on available funds, which political party is in power and the perceived needs of education at any given time.

What is does: The bill includes funding for a boarding school for at-risk students – if a Department of Education study decides it’s a workable idea and comes up with a plan – and creates more predictable (but not larger) funding for charter school facilities. It also provides a modest amount of at-risk incentive funding. A key feature “escrows” $110 million in state school aid until January, allowing the 2010 legislature to cut that amount if revenue conditions require.

When it goes into effect: July 1

When it will have an impact: School year 2009-10.

How it’s funded: Tax dollars from the State Education Fund.

Takeaway: The most interesting things about the bill are what’s not in it. The original Senate version shifted some types of funding to devote more money to at-risk schools, creating winners and losers among the state’s 178 school districts. That turned out to be a political non-starter. Ideas such as that and a lot more will undoubtedly be aired in the interim committee on school finance, due to begin working within the next couple of weeks.

DPS-PERA Pension Merger (Senate Bill 09-282)

Snapshot: Merges the Denver Public Schools Retirement System into the state Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

What is does: Puts DPS employees into a separate PERA unit and makes possible for teachers to move into or out of DPS without losing pension earnings. This culminates a years-long effort to bring Denver, the state’s only stand-alone district, into the state system.

When it goes into effect: Jan. 1, 2010

When it will have an impact: It probably will take a few years to assess the merger’s impact on teacher mobility.

How it’s funded: No new money is required. But, both pension systems face significant pressures, and PERA this fall is scheduleed to make recommendations to the legislature for future reforms, which could involve benefit reductions, contribution increases and other changes.

Takeaway: Almost everybody agrees this should have been done years ago, but that the overall future may not be bright for public employee pensions.

Healthy Choices Dropout Prevention Pilot Program (Senate Bill 09-123)

Snapshot: The bill creates a structure for operation of after-school programs designed to improve the academic achievement and health of at-risk middle school students.

What is does: Grants for the programs would be available to middle schools with specified at-risk profiles.

When it goes into effect: Once the SBE issues rules.

When it will have an impact: Hard to predict.

How it’s funded: Yes – gifts, grants and donations again.

Takeaway: Yet another example of starting a program with no money.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: