Who Is In Charge

State board endorses teacher evaluation bill

The State Board of Education Wednesday unanimously endorsed Senate Bill 10-191, the bipartisan proposal to reform teacher and principal evaluation and teacher tenure.

Senate Bill 10-191 sponsors
PHOTO: Submitted
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and other prime sponsors pitched Senate Bil 10-191 to the State Board of Education on April 14, 2010. From left: Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock; Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon.

The vote came after a chummy one-hour meeting between the board and the four prime sponsors of the measure, which was introduced Monday and will have its first legislative hearing next Wednesday.

Two of the prime sponsors, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, told the board that they’re willing to negotiate the timelines in the bill.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has come out publicly against the bill, complaining that it derails the process and timeline for studying educator evaluation and tenure established in an executive order issued by Gov. Bill Ritter in January.

Three top CEA officials and two lobbyists were in the audience as the board and Johnston, Scanlan, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, discussed the bill.

Johnston and Scanlan seemed to go out of their way to be conciliatory.

“We’re open to discussing reasonable changes in the timeline,” Johnston said.

“We are still open, particularly with the teachers’ union, about the specifics of the time line,” Scanlan told the board. “We can’t make this happen without our teachers, so we still are continuing that discussion.”

The CEA, however, seemed less conciliatory with a letter it sent to education Commissioner Dwight Jones on Wednesday, saying it won’t sign on to the state’s bid for round two of Race to the Top because of a newspaper commentary Jones wrote supporting SB 10-191. (See this article for details and links to the CEA letter and Jones’ column.)

Board members comments about the bill were generally positive and, in some cases, glowing.

  • “I want to thank you a lot for bringing this forward. … It’s so exciting.” – Marcia Neal, R-3rd District.
  • “This bill, as we all know, has been a long time coming.” – Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District.
  • “I want to thank you for the courage it’s taken to do the right thing for kids in Colorado.” – Peggy Littleton, R-5th District.
  • “We have been talking about this for years and years and years. … We can keep talking about it [but] if we can’t take a step like this now, frankly I don’t think we ever will.” – Randy DeHoff, R-6th District.
  • “Thank you for the leadership.” – Jane Goff, D-7th District.

“We feel like there is a lot of momentum building … this is an important opportunity for us,” Johnston said.

The two other big mainline education interest groups, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives, haven’t taken formal positions on SB 10-191, although leaders of both groups have spoken favorably about parts of the bill.

Each group’s legislative committee reportedly is meeting Friday to discuss the bill.

Johnston has gathered endorsements from a variety of civic and education groups around the state.

See this story for more details on SB 10-191.

Online charter loses appeal

The board voted 6-0 Wednesday to deny an appeal by the Colorado Distance and Electronic Learning Academy. In January the Charter School Institute voted to not renew the academy’s charter for financial and achievement deficiencies. The state board’s decision is final. The case was the first appeal of a CSI action. (Charter appeals of school board decisions are fairly common.)

The four-year-old school has about 400 students. It has a local board based in Adams County but is operated by White Hat Management, an Ohio-based, for-profit charter management company.

The school’s lawyer, Barry Arrington, argued that “The plain fact of the matter is that CSI is massively mistaken” in its analysis of the school’s financial condition. The school overestimated enrollment in the past and had to pay back money to the state.

“This is a school that is just not performing,” said Tony Dyl, the state lawyer who represented the institute.

The board seemed to need little convincing. Even Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, after emphasizing his general support for school choice, said he felt compelled to support the institute’s decision.

Go here for links to documents filed by both sides in the case.

Hearing on notification rules goes smoothly

The board Wednesday took testimony on a proposed regulation that would require school officials to notify parents when a school employee is arrested.

Representatives of CEA, CASB and CASE all testified and raised concerns about the proposal, including questions about whether the board has the authority to issue such a rule and how police agencies and school districts could implement such a policy. They also expressed worries about possible unfair stigmatization of employees who were arrested but never charged or convicted.

The rule would require that parents be notified if a school employee is arrested or charged for any felony, misdemeanor offenses involving children, sexual behavior or indecent exposure or for drunken driving. Notice would have to be made regardless of whether the alleged offense was committed while the person was working.

The proposed rule has been pushed by Schaffer and was sparked by incidents in the Poudre School District.

A former paraprofessional at a Poudre middle school was arrested last November in a sexual crime involving a student. The district didn’t inform parents of the arrest until after administrators learned the case was about to be reported in the local media. And, the district never gave notice of the September arrest of a Poudre High School teacher for providing liquor to two students.

Schaffer said Wednesday he appreciated the comments made on the proposal. “I’m willing to entertain reasonable suggestions by anyone,” he said.

The board won’t vote on the proposed rule until its May 12 meeting and will accept further written comments before then.

Click here for the text of the proposed rule and comments filed on the issue.

Also: State board receives first CAP4K cost estimate

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: