Who Is In Charge

Bullying bill passes House

Updated – The House voted 47-18 this morning to pass House Bill 11-1254, the proposed anti-bullying measure.

There was no additional debate on the measure. All the no votes were Republicans except for Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh.

Text of Tuesday story below

The anti-bullying bill received preliminary approval Tuesday in the House, which also voted for final passage of a measure designed to streamline the educator licensing process.

The bullying measure, House Bill 11-1254, would expand the legal definition of bullying, create a donation-funded grant program for “evidence-based” district anti-bullying efforts and encourage all districts to conduct biennial surveys on bullying and to create anti-bullying teams.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker

The existing legal definition of bullying would be updated to include electronic forms of harassment and to specify that bullying is prohibited against students who are covered by state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

As originally introduced, the bill proposed several mandates on school districts. But the sponsors had the measure heavily amended in the House Education Committee, and most of the remaining requirements would apply only to districts that receive the anti-bullying grants.

The House spent half an hour discussing the bill, with 14 members speaking – several of them more than once. Most of the speakers were in support; Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, even said, “This may be the most important thing we do for our schools this year.”

But there was one dissenting voice. Freshman Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said, “I think this is the wrong answer to the right problem.

“The fundamental problem is that we’ve taken discipline out of our public schools. … As a society we have withdrawn that corporal punishment, that discipline in the schools. … This void of discipline sets up a framework that is destined to fail.”

House Bill 11-1201, the licensing measure, was passed 65-0. It streamlines the licensing process primarily by ending the requirement that the Department of Education verify that applicants had completed the academic work they need to qualify for various license endorsements. Instead, applicants would provide affidavits that they had completed the work.

The bill also gives CDE some additional flexibility, although not as much as originally proposed. The bill would allow the department to spend fee revenue without annual legislative approval through 2013-14. The department wants to hire additional employees to speed up licensing work, but the bill specifies those workers be contractors, not state employees, and that they work only through July 1, 2014.

A stated goal of the bill is to reduce the application turnaround process to less than six weeks. The department currently is several months backlogged.

The State Board of Education last month approved increased license fees, in some cases of more than 30 percent, to provide the extra revenue needed to help speed up the licensing process. Those went into effect March 1. CDE also is working to update the licensing office’s computer system, a project expected to be completed later this year.

The Senate Tuesday gave 35-0 final approval to Senate Bill 11-188, which modifies existing state law on a bond program for charter school construction. The bill proposes various procedural safeguards for oversight and conversion of charters that have bond debt and are in financial or other trouble.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information

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: