Who Is In Charge

Ritter: Money not sole answer for higher ed woes

The present financial crisis in higher education may be an opportunity for meaningful reform, Gov. Bill Ritter told an audience of educators and administrators Thursday.

“It is a chance to consider a desired future,” not just a opportunity to shore up the status quo, Ritter told the group, referring to declining state support for public colleges and universities. Colorado has been particularly hard hit by that trend.

“In times of limited resources we have to have the courage to adjust” how resources are allocated, the governor said, with a new emphasis on “quality and productivity.”

And, the word reform can’t just be used as a “euphemism for more resources.”

Ritter also noted that Colorado is preparing to write a new master plan for its higher education institutions. He said part of that process will examine what tradeoffs might be necessary to make the system more productive. (For more on the emerging master plan proposal, see this exclusive EdNews story.)

Ritter also used his 20-minute speech at a Denver Tech Center hotel to emotionally stress the importance of higher education.

As he has done in other education speeches, Ritter told a bit of his personal story – talking about how his parents didn’t go to college and how he worked his way through Colorado State University and the University of Colorado law school.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “Because of our public education system … we offer in this country the opportunity for people to change their status in life. … We have to make sure that continues to happen.”

He also noted, “There is a change of demographics, and we need to respond to it.”

Ritter spoke to a conference sponsored by the Lumina Foundation, which is funding a nationwide project called Making Opportunity Affordable. As part of that effort, 11 states (including Colorado) have received grants of $150,000 each to work on college access and affordability.

According to the Making Opportunity Affordable website, “Colorado sees the Making Opportunity Affordable grant as an opportunity to implement ideas and advance broader policy goals. In terms of implementation, Colorado will use MOA funds to launch an innovative test program to encourage select pilot institutions to a) enroll adult-ready students to take a positive step toward completion, and b) enroll underserved populations to take steps toward closing the achievement gap in the state.  Colorado also will work on the broader goal of advancing state-level funding changes in the state, to specifically include productivity measures of performance as a component of institutional allocations.”

The phrase “specifically include productivity measures of performance as a component of institutional allocations” is higher ed-speak for “pay for performance,” a concept that will spark nervous and lively debate as the Colorado master plan process takes shape.

Colorado colleges currently are funded based on enrollment and a variety of other factors (plus ever-rising tuition), but none of those factors are particularly based on student performance, such as graduation rates and program completion.

The state does have a system of performance contracts for its public colleges, but it hasn’t been considered particularly effective. All but one of those were set to expire this year, but the Colorado Commission on Higher Education last week voted to extend all contracts until after the master plan is finished.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”