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.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”