Who Is In Charge

State makes its waiver bid

The Colorado Department of Education on Monday filed its formal application for waiver from some provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law, asking for exemption from NCLB’s requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress and for greater flexibility in spending of some federal funds.

NCLB logoThe application has been in the works for more than three months, with Colorado among the parade of states seeking waivers from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was modified in 2001 with passage of the NCLB law.

Passage of that law was a landmark event in the first term of President George W. Bush. But in recent years many states and districts have found it increasingly problematic, especially with the approach of the law’s 2014 deadline for universal student proficiency in reading and math, a requirement that’s widely seen as unrealistic.

The Obama administration last year proposed a NCLB overhaul that would shift the law’s focus away from AYP and the 2014 deadline toward an emphasis on new state content standards and college and career readiness for students by the time they leave high school.

But lack of congressional progress in updating the law has raised the frustration level in many states and in the Obama administration, which earlier this year announced the waiver process. On Sept. 14 the State Board of Education approved education commissioner Robert Hammond’s recommendation that Colorado seek a waiver.

Key points of Colorado’s application include:

  • Allowing the state to use its own accreditation and rating system for districts and schools in place of AYP. The state system, created in 2009, basically sets a five-year horizon for the lowest-rated schools and districts to improve.
  • Increased flexibility in using federal funds to target them to a broader selection of struggling schools than is allowed under NCLB.
  • More control over the designation of highly qualified teachers, another part of NCLB that has created problems for states and districts.
  • Flexibility in requirements and programs for English language learners.

Colorado’s application places heavy emphasis on and provides exhaustive detail about state reforms since 2008 as evidence that the state has the tools – in fact has better tools – to reach the broad federal goals of school improvement and closing of achievement gaps.

Here’s how the application puts it:

“The thrust of Colorado’s education reforms of the past three years demonstrates our commitment to the implementation of rigorous college- and career-ready academic standards, strong assessments that measure progress toward high standards, thoughtfully constructed accountability tools, an educator effectiveness program with a formative focus, and the integration of all these components into a meaningful accountability system that targets supports where needed.

“The Colorado system not only delivers the required components, but extends the vision of this ESEA flexibility package in its promise to foster continuous improvement and ensure that all students are college- and career-ready by the time they graduate.”

The waiver application required documentation of public and interest group involvement in the process, which the application details with a lengthy recitation of the consultations and meetings that led up to such reforms as adoption of new state content standards.

Previewing the waiver application for the State Board of Education on Nov. 9, Hammond said, “We have one of the stronger waiver requests” and said he expects a DOE decision by January.

Here’s a rundown of state reforms in the last three years:

  • The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids required new state standards (which have been implemented), definitions of school readiness and postsecondary and workforce readiness (also done), new state tests and alignment of the new K-12 system with state college admissions requirements.
  • A 2009 reform of the state system for accrediting and rating schools and districts has been implemented, and the second set of ratings will be issued next month.
  • The state also has implemented the Colorado Growth model, which tracks student achievement scores across multiple years to see if kids are improving and also predicts how much growth is needed over time for students to reach proficiency.
  • A new principal and teacher evaluation system became law in 2010, but full implementation is still several years away. And the CAP4K requirement for new state tests may have to be delayed for budgetary reasons.

Hammond has said failure to launch new state tests in 2014 could threaten the effectiveness of the entire reform program.

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.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.