Who Is In Charge

Stats give stark view of higher ed challenges

The good news is that in terms of degrees given for dollars spent, Colorado’s state colleges and universities are very efficient. The bad news is that such a system probably isn’t up to the challenges of the future.

That was part of the message in a presentation given Thursday to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education by Dennis Jones of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a Boulder-based research organization.

“We can’t continue this way in terms of productivity,” said CCHE Chair Jim Polsfut after Jones’ presentation.

Much of the data in the PowerPoint is familiar to Colorado educators and policymakers – the connections between an educated population and economic growth, the weak job Colorado does of educating those born here, college completion gaps and all the other elements of what’s called the Colorado Paradox.

But, the presentation has fresh relevance because it may serve as a baseline for the higher ed strategic planning process due to start later this year.

In fact, the presentation was prepared for use at a Sept. 21 “summit” that was scheduled to kick off an 18-month process of creating a new master plan for higher education.

That summit has been cancelled and David Skaggs, director of the Department of Higher Education and chief public face of the initiative, has resigned. Thursday was his last CCHE meeting. (The circumstances of Skaggs’ departure remain murky, but the conventional wisdom in higher ed circles is that it may have been due to disagreements over the master plan.)

The effort, now styled in DHE documents as a “Strategic Planning Initiative,” will go forward, but it’s still taking shape.

Matt Gianneschi, Gov. Bill Ritter’s top education advisor, told EdNews Thursday that no date has yet been set for a rescheduled kickoff event. Skaggs originally had described the process as an 18-month one, but Gianneschi said the duration also is still to be determined. He said it shouldn’t be “too rushed” but ideally should finish up by the autumn of 2010, early enough to make recommendations to the 2011 legislative session.

Whenever the planning initiative kicks off, participants could do well to review Jones’ findings.

Some highlights follow.

The question Jones started with was, “What must the state’s system of postsecondary education do to help ensure that the Colorado of the future is among the most desirable states in the nation in which to live and work?”

Jones noted that goals such as a globally competitive economy, a high quality of life and uniform availability of those benefits across the state are “strongly correlated with the education attainment levels of a state’s citizens.”

About 36.5 percent of Coloradans aged 25-64 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, but educational attainment and personal income vary widely across the state.

Colorado has a huge gap in educational attainment between whites and Hispanics (see slide 23) – the largest in the nation. In the next 15 years the state’s white population will decline while the Hispanic population will grow, meaning that there’s a danger that most workforce entrants will be less educated than now.

“Colorado has no choice but to figure out how to educate its Latino population,” Jones said.

While attainment of four-year degrees is relatively high, Colorado is in lower half of states for high school graduation rates (slide 29). “We import so much talent,” Jones said.

He summed up by saying, “Colorado has strengths, Colorado has weaknesses, Colorado has opportunities and Colorado really has challenges.”

(On that question of efficiency, the presentation noted that Colorado is the lowest state in the nation for per-student revenues but is second-least expensive for the amount spent per degree or certificate given,)

Thursday’s meeting was a bit of a love-fest for the departing Skaggs, who choked up four times as he thanked commissioners and his staff for their work and Ritter for the opportunity to serve as DHE director.

Polsfut announced that in Skaggs’ honor the commission has started a Congressman David E. Skaggs Scholarship Fund for students in civics, public policy and government at Colorado public colleges. Skaggs is a former member of the U.S House, state legislator and U.S. Marine.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”