Who Is In Charge

Is Round 2 Colorado’s best shot?

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien Wednesday continued to sound cautious about Colorado’s chances in the Race to the Top, telling legislators the state may have a better chance in the second round of competition for a share of $4 billion in federal stimulus dollars.

Dwight Jones and Barbara O'BriendColorado Tuesday filed its first-round application, asking for $377 million. (See detailed story.)

“I’ve been trying to manage expectations a bit about phase 1 because they may select only two or three states, and there are states that are ahead of Colorado,” O’Brien told members of the House and Senate education committees and other lawmakers during an early-morning meeting Wednesday.

“There are states that are ahead of just because of their ability to invest … [but] we continue to be optimistic about chances” in the second round, O’Brien said.

When they unveiled the plan on Tuesday, O’Brien, Gov. Bill Ritter and education Commissioner Dwight Jones all were careful to note that the competition is stiff and that Colorado might not win a grant but still had created a good blueprint for future education reform with its R2T plan.

“It’s not perfect, but we think it’s a really solid plan for Colorado. … It’s a really good plan for Colorado no matter what,” O’Brien said Wednesday.

Jones also spoke to legislators Wednesday, and he defended the Ritter administration’s decision to put development of a new educator evaluation system in the hands of an appointed commission that won’t report back to the legislature until September 2011.

“I know we continue to get criticism in this area, and frankly I don’t agree with the criticism,” Jones said. He said the commission process is “an opportunity to get to a place we all want to get to.”

Many state R2T applications seem to fall into one of two models – collaborative or top-down – and in the last two days Colorado officials have clearly said they chose the collaborative model because they believe it will make reform more achievable. (For more background on the issue, see this EdNews analysis.)

“We have taken a collaborative approach; the governor demanded it,” Jones said. “Hopefully the folks who are scoring our application will take note.”

Jones added later, “’Some may not think it is bold enough, but I think we will be one of the few states that will get it done.”

The Colorado plan proposes to significantly increase math and reading proficiency among Colorado students by 2014 and to trim achievement gaps, which now are about 30 percent, to 10 percent, Jones noted.

Several legislators used the meeting to raise concerns about favorite issues.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, lamented that the state’s application doesn’t say enough about the role of parents. “I would encourage you to think a little more broadly about parent involvement,” she told Jones.

Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs and chair of House Education, agreed with that and also complained that the R2T program doesn’t place enough emphasis on “a well-rounded curriculum” or the arts. (Merrifield is a retired music teacher.)

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton and House Ed vice chair, in turn agreed with Merrifield and also was concerned that R2T doesn’t seem to place much emphasis on the importance of early childhood education.

O’Brien said the federal government is expected to roll out a separate early childhood grant program in the spring, and “We are going to be applying for that.”

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs and a charter school administrator, asked what the department was doing to ensure charters get a fair shot at R2T money. The program will split grants equally between the state and local school districts. King said his heard complaints that some charters have been shut out of Title I grants, a separate part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Jones said, “I’m not sure I would say charter schools have been excluded” and that “the department does have an obligation to intervene” if that’s the case.

O’Brien and Jones explained that if Colorado passes an initial review, state officials will be invited to Washington in March to make the case for their bid.

That caught the attention of Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, who asked, “So that’s an appropriate place to report on progress we’ve made since Jan. 19?”

Johnston’s planned teacher evaluation and tenure bill has been somewhat sidelined by Ritter’s commission plan, and the senator is now considering what kind of legislation to introduce instead.

Do your homework

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.”

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.