Who Is In Charge

State board turns to common standards

The clock is ticking for the State Board of Education to decide whether to enroll Colorado in the growing number of states that have adopted the national Common Core Standards in language arts and math.

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones is scheduled to give the board a telephone briefing Wednesday on differences between the common standards and recently adopted state standards in those subjects.

The board is scheduled to meet again by telephone on Aug. 2 to vote on adoption. That’s the deadline for states to adopt the standards if they wish to remain eligible for the second round of Race to the Top funding, for which Colorado has applied.

The core standards were not created by the federal government but rather were developed under the leadership of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. But, the U.S. Department of Education has made it clear it supports the effort.

While many in the education world are backing the common standards, some conservative and libertarian groups oppose them, arguing that they would lead to an unwise federalization of K-12 education and that the proposed standards aren’t sufficiently rigorous.

State board member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, has publicly criticized the common standards for those reasons. Some groups are trying to make a test case on the issue in Massachusetts, where the state board is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

Colorado’s reading and math content standards are about 90 percent aligned with the proposed national standards in those subjects, according to an analysis prepared for the Colorado Department of Education.

The final draft of the standards was released June 2, and CDE contracted with WestEd to do a line-by-line comparison of Colorado’s math and language standards with the common core. (WestEd is a California-based non-profit education research and consulting organization that has worked with CDE on a number of reform projects, including creation of the new Colorado standards.)

The WestEd analysis also was reviewed by subcommittees of experts that helped develop the Colorado standards. The documents were released late last week.

Jo O’Brian, CDE assistant commissioner, said, “The bottom line is that 90 percent of the two standards align. … There is extreme similarity.”

The primary differences are “only in two or three grades in mathematics,” O’Brien said. She noted that in some areas the common standards are more detailed and more like curriculum than are the Colorado standards. In some cases the two sets of standards differ on what things students should learn in which grades.

“The state board is going to have to talk that one through,” she added.

The federal R2T requirement for the common standards allows a 15 percent variation between a state’s standards and the common ones. Given that, O’Brien said, “We already are adoption-ready.”

Half the states have adopted the common standards, and advocates hope another 15 or so will do so by Aug. 2. The only other Western states to adopt so far are Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming. In California an advisory panel has recommended adoption.

Supporters of the common core envision that the standards will be the foundation for multi-state achievement tests that may roll out in 2014. Colorado has been a participant in both common standards development and in groups that are working on the multi-state tests.

That sort of multi-state standardization is what worries critics of the common standards. In a May 27 audio interview with Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute, Littleton said, “Education should be taken care of by parents and states” and that the common standards push “flies in the face of choice in education and local control.”

Littleton also debated common standards with state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, in a June 4 Independence Institute video.

Last December the state board unanimously adopted new standards in 11 content areas, dance; comprehensive health and physical education; math; music; reading, writing and communicating; science; social studies; drama and theatre arts; visual arts; world languages; and English language proficiency.

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: