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.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: