Who Is In Charge

Nearing finish line on key CAP4K task

What does a Colorado kid need to know to successfully move from high school to college, other training or the workforce?

Teams of Colorado educators and others think they’ve managed to answer that question in three pages that list the content knowledge and learning and life skills necessary for what’s called in current jargon “postsecondary and workforce readiness.” (The unavoidable acronym is “PWR.”)

Creation of that document is required by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law, which calls for descriptions of school and postsecondary/workforce readiness, new K-12 content standards, new statewide tests, adoption of high school graduation requirements by school boards and general alignment of the K-12 and postsecondary systems.

The State Board of Education got a look at an almost-final version of the PWR description Wednesday. The board and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education will meet together on June 30 to jointly adopt a final version. (Further tweaking is expected before that meeting.)

In broad terms, the document lists the content skills high school graduates should have in literacy, math, science, social science and the arts and humanities. The description also lists learning and life skills in nine areas.  (For more details, see the diagram on this page and the link below to the full document.)

According to the description, “Postsecondary education and workforce readiness assumes that students are ready to demonstrate the following without the need for remediation.”

Some may see the document as a statement of the obvious, but it’s meant to provide the broad guidelines for the more detailed requirements of CAP4K. Those include a total update of state content standards, due to be finished and approved by SBE in December, and selection of new state tests by December 2010. Following that school districts will have to align graduation requirements and curricula to the new state system.

The PWR description was developed by staff at the departments of education and higher education. Several public meetings on the issue were held around the state, and various K-12, higher ed and business groups also were consulted.

Do your homework

Draft description of postsecondary and workforce readiness
More information about CAP4K (CDE)

SBE cautious about national standards

Some board members Wednesday raised some concerns about the current push for national content standards.

Gov. Bill Ritter and education Commissioner Dwight Jones last month enlisted Colorado in a 49-state effort to develop common K-12 core content standards in English and math.

The project is organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers. National standards, at least voluntary ones, have drawn increasing interest recently as part of the broader debate about improving achievement and making American education more competitive internationally.  (Go here for more information from the NGA.)

Member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, remarked that the project “was not well met” by several people she had talked to in her district. “The idea that we would do this … kind of blew my mind,” Neal said, adding that she thinks the board should pass a resolution saying Colorado won’t be bound to adopt any eventual national standards.

Jones was quick to note that “just because we joined the effort … we are not bound to participate.” (Jones’ June 1 news release about the project did specify, “engagement in the effort in no way forms an obligation to adopt the proposed common core standards but potentially provides a way to leverage the good work already underway in the state.)

SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, noted that such voluntary national changes have a way of turning into federal requirements.  “It’s easy to say we’re not obligated” now, Schaffer said, but there could be problems down the road if national standards tied to federal money emerge. He cited No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top portion of the stimulus as examples.

So, Schaffer said, it wouldn’t hurt to pass a resolution. Member Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, agreed. Neal is expected to prepare a draft for consideration at the board’s August meeting.

Member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, was skeptical, saying, “We can’t speculate on what’s going to happen 10 years from now.”

Full text of Jones and Ritter June 1 standards announcement

A few words on school finance

The board took a few minutes in a packed agenda to meet with members of the legislative interim committee that will study the school finance system this summer and fall.

Board members had several pieces of advice.

“What we’re doing now isn’t going to get us” to significant education improvement, DeHoff said, urging finance reform but warning, “There is not this huge pot of money out there.”

“I really think you have an incredible opportunity … to make some pretty big changes,” said Gantz Berman. “Everything needs to be on the table,” including Amendment 23.

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, urged the committee to take a look at the cost of state-imposed mandates on school districts.

There also was brief discussion of outcome-based funding – supporting education based on student results rather than just enrollment and school days.

Schaffer urged the lawmakers to think “outside the box” but warned that interim committee recommendations often get drastically changed in the full legislature.

Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, had a blunt piece of advice about controlling education costs. “No new education bills – stop,” she told lawmakers in the audience.

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.

parent voice

It’s not enough just to stay open, say Memphis parents of their struggling elementary school

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Sonya Smith, a longtime community organizer in Memphis Frayser, speaks to parents at Hawkins Mill Elementary School on Thursday during a community meeting about state intervention plans.

For six years, Hawkins Mill Elementary School has been on the state’s radar because of students’ low scores on standardized tests — an issue cited again last month when Tennessee officials urged local leaders to close the Memphis school.

Shelby County Schools is passing on that recommendation, but agrees with the state on one thing: Hawkins Mill faces big challenges, including declining enrollment and a mostly impoverished student population.

Now the question is what to do about it. Among the issues is whether Principal Antonio Harvey should stay on for a sixth year, and if the district’s first $300,000 investment in Hawkins Mill went toward the right interventions this school year.

During a Thursday evening meeting, about 50 parents and community members got their first opportunity to ask questions about competing visions for their Frayser school.

What parents like

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Principal Antonio Harvey, front, and parents listen to a Shelby County Schools presentation on the state’s new accountability model.

Parents applauded the district’s stance to keep Hawkins Mill open, in defiance of the state’s recommendation, in order to give their school a fair chance to improve.

Many also spoke in favor of Harvey, describing him as a stabilizing and nurturing force who has ushered in new opportunities in the arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities. The school’s suspension rate also has declined in recent years, except for a slight uptick last year.

“I saw how he took unruly, disrespectful kids and they shake his hand now. He sits down and talks to them. … We’re constantly adding programs,” said PTA member Sharanda Person. “Doing things that way makes me think he cares about the kids.”

Several spoke favorably of their children’s school experience.

“Since she’s been here, I’ve seen exponential growth,” said Tonyas Mays, who transferred her daughter from a state-run school last August. “My child’s potential has been recognized here and she’s testing out of (special education) now.”

What parents didn’t like

A presentation on the low percentages of students on grade level in reading and math drew moans from parents as the data was explained by Antonio Burt, the district’s assistant superintendent for its lowest performing schools.

Notes: 2013-14 science and 2014-15 social studies test scores were not listed in the state report card. Elementary students did not take TNReady in 2015-16. The 2016-17 social studies test did not count toward school accountability measures.

But some questioned the validity of the state’s new test called TNReady, which has been marred by technical glitches in administration and scoring during its first two years.

“The state of Tennessee has made excuses as to why the test wasn’t ready. They get a pass while our children don’t,” said Sonya Smith, a community organizer. “Every time our children meet the test, they tell us that test was no good.”

Another disappointment is declining enrollment. Hawkins Mill had 357 students when Harvey started in the fall of 2013. Last month, enrollment was at 314.

What parents aren’t sure of

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Antonio Burt, assistant superintendent for low-performing schools, speaks to parents.

Burt said some assessments and attendance data show “some positive trends” this school year.

His presentation was void of nitty-gritty detail on progress as outlined under the school improvement plan that went to effect this school year. However, information provided to Chalkbeat on Friday showed that student growth this school year was higher than average in reading and math — a measure key to showing whether students can catch up. Also, the school’s suspension rate so far this school year is about 4 percent of students, compared to almost 13 percent at this time last year.

Several parents asked whether Harvey would remain as principal, worrying that a new leader could set the school back because of the adjustment in getting to know the students and faculty.

Burt responded that leadership is being reviewed, but that no decisions have been made. “To be completely transparent, we have to reassess everything,” he said.

Because Hawkins Mill is a priority school on track for state intervention, the state Department of Education must approve any plan outside of its recommendation to close.

The school is slated to continue under Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them. District leaders are still discussing the amount of new funding and where to invest it.

Burt thinks the district’s plan has a “50/50 chance” of state approval since it’s new.