Who Is In Charge

Teacher bill gets out of House Ed

The educator evaluation and tenure bill was approved by the House Education Committee on a 7-6 vote early Friday morning.

Democratic Reps. Christine Scanlan of Dillon (a prime sponsor) and Karen Middleton of Aurora voted for Senate Bill 10-191, along with all five committee Republicans.

The early hours of the House Education Committee's May 6 hearing on Senate Bill 10-191 played to a packed house at the Capitol.

Voting no were Democratic Reps. Debbie Benefield of Arvada, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Judy Solano of Brighton, Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge, Nancy Todd of Aurora and chair Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs.

Some of them, particularly Solano and Todd, had sometimes-harsh comments about the bill, the process of drafting it, standardized testing and about the whole course of Colorado education reform in recent years. All are former teachers except Benefield, a longtime parent activist.

“I can’t support a bill that I think is an insult to my profession,” said Merrifield, a retired music teacher serving his last session in the legislature.

“This bill has nothing to do with improving the effectiveness of teachers,” said Solano. “This bill scapegoats teachers for all the inadequacies of public education.”

Scanlan, a former Summit County school board member, defended the proposal in her closing remarks. “I believe it’s what we need to do. I believe it will make the difference we’re seeking for our kids. I believe it’s the start of a new era.”

Key amendments added by the committee included:

  • Teacher effectiveness, then seniority, will be considered when layoffs are made.
  • Non-probationary teachers with good evaluations can carry their non-probationary status to other districts, although that won’t necessarily affect pay.
  • Teachers as well as the principal will participate in the mutual consent process for teacher placement that the bill would mandate.
  • A strengthened appeals process for teachers who receive ineffective evaluations.
  • Costs for the initial steps of implementing the law will be covered by a Department of Education contingency fund, if federal funding, such as Race to the Top money, isn’t available.

The bill requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth, measured by multiple assessment. Merrifield proposed an amendment proposes a figure on one-third but then withdrew the idea, saying he’ll likely propose it during floor debate.

The committee decision came at the end of an 11-hour meeting, 10 hours of which were devoted to testimony, debate and – at times – high emotion on SB 10-191.

Both sides mustered teachers and parents to speak for their sides, some telling personal stories. Administrators and business leaders supported the bill. There even was testimony from people who weren’t there.

Merrifield read a letter from education scholar and author Diane Ravitch, who wrote, “Colorado can’t fire its way to better teachers.”

Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller, president of A+ Denver, read a letter from former Denver Mayor Fedrico Peña, who had testified passionately at the Senate Education Committee hearing on the bill.

“I’m so sorry Federico wasn’t here because I was armed and ready for him,” Merrifield said.

The last witness, Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning of the Colorado Department of Education, took the brunt of sharp comments from committee critics but cooly defended the bill.

“We are dealing with a major systemic reform. … It’s really comparable to the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. … Statutes catalyze change.”

The bill must go to the House Appropriations Committee before it can go to the floor. It’s expected to be heard in committee Monday and, if passed, on the floor shortly thereafter. Lawmakers have a Wednesday adjournment deadline.

While the bill has broad support among education reform groups, business leaders, the state Board of Education, Commissioner Dwight Jones and Gov. Bill Ritter, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is strongly opposed.

The American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, which represents Douglas County teachers, came out in support of the bill this week. Its witnesses led off the marathon testimony session that started at 1:30 Thursday afternoon. Testimony from dozens of witnesses lasted more than eight hours.

Interest groups on both sides have lobbied this issue heavily with e-mails and personal contact with lawmakers. The CEA is a traditional contributor to Democratic legislative candidates, giving it a certain amount of clout. The union has been running radio ads, and groups supporting the bill ran a full-page ad in a Denver newspaper Thursday morning.

Both sides also have carefully selected their witnesses for the hearings in the House and Senate education committees. (Many of the witnesses at Thursday’s House hearing were repeaters from the earlier hearing before the Senate Education Committee.)

Sponsored by a bipartisan team of senators and representatives, the major provisions of the bill would create new teacher and principal evaluation systems and tie evaluations to gaining – and losing – non-probationary status.

The bill is similar to legislation being discussed in other states and is part of a national push for reforms in educator evaluations. Some observers feel passing the bill could help Colorado’s bid for round two of Race to the Top.

If passed, the system wouldn’t fully go into effect until 2014-15, after a lengthy process of development by the already-existing Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness, issuance of rules by the State Board of Education, legislative review and two years of development and testing.

(The council was created by a governor’s executive order in January and assigned to develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, study other issues of educator effectiveness and make recommendations to the legislature. SB 10-191 basically retains that role for the council but adds specific policy guidelines for evaluation and tenure and creates larger roles for the state board and the legislature. The council has met twice and already is working on effectiveness definitions.)

The bill would require annual teacher and principal evaluations (more frequently than generally is done now) and tying 50 percent of the evaluations to student academic growth. The state Department of Education would assist school districts in developing a variety of student assessments in addition the annual statewide CSAP tests. (The CSAPS, scheduled to be replaced in a few years, don’t cover all grades or all subjects, requiring additional kinds of tests if all teachers are to be evaluated based partly on student growth.)

The bill also would require that tenure be earned after three consecutive years of effectiveness as determined by evaluations. Tenured teachers could be returned to probation if they didn’t have good evaluations for two years. (This part of the bill is particularly worrisome to CEA, which feels it would take away due-process rights for non-probationary teachers and expose them to removal by administrators who unfairly use bad evaluations.)

The bill also would require the mutual consent for placement of teachers in specific schools and establishes procedures for handling teachers who aren’t placed. It also specifies that evaluations can be considered when layoffs are made, in addition to seniority. (CEA doesn’t like this part of the bill either.)

A Senate amendment would create an appeal right for non-probationary teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations, although the bill’s sponsors intend that detailed appeal procedures would be left up to district-union contract negotiations.

The bill also includes external factors that could be considered in evaluations, such as student mobility, the percentage of at-risk students in a school and numbers of special education students.

Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.

The bill estimates about $240,000 in administrative costs for each of the next two years.

CEA has expressed a strong preference for a different process for changing the current system. Once definitions of effectiveness are created, then a new evaluation system should be set up and tested. Only after that, the CEA believes, should the decision be made about how to use the evaluation system in probation, school placement and layoff decisions.

The union also has raised concerns about the potential costs of effective and fair new evaluation systems, both for the state and for school districts.

Text of the bill as passed by the Senate but before House Ed amendments

Texts of amendments adopted by House Ed

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
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:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.