Who Is In Charge

State board opposes testing bill

Updated 4:15 p.m. April 27 – The State Board of Education has voted 4-3 to oppose Senate Bill 12-172, the measure that would require the board to join one of two groups that are developing multi-state achievement tests.

The board spent more than two hours on the issues, including a lengthy discussion with legislative sponsors of the bill. The exchange was friendly, but it doesn’t appear that minds were changed.

The board’s four Republicans voted to oppose the bill, while the three Democrats supported it.

Text of original Thursday story follows.

The low-grade disagreement between the State Board of Education and key legislators over the future shape of state testing is threatening to flare up as the legislature enters its final nine days.

Pencil on test paperThe spark is Senate Bill 12-172, passed 4-2 Thursday night during a Senate Education Committee meeting that was delayed for some four hours because of prolonged floor debate on the civil unions bill and a school discipline measure.

The measure would require the state board to choose between one of two groups that are developing multistate achievement tests in language arts and math.

Making such a choice would commit Colorado to using multistate tests instead of the developing its own, which is what the state board has wanted to do.

Colorado is participating in both the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests. Both are expected to be available in 2015.

The bill doesn’t specify a consortium, nor does it set a deadline for the SBE to decide.

The legislation, introduced quietly just a week ago, seemed to catch some committee members by surprise. “I didn’t realize this bill would be up today,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver / File photo

After sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, explained the measure, Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, said, “I’d like to know where the state board is on this.”

A little later in the meeting, he asked Anne Barkis, lobbyist for the board and Department of Education, to take the witness seat.

Barkis said the board hasn’t taken a position because it hadn’t met since the bill was introduced but that it was meeting Friday afternoon.

“I anticipate we will have a slightly divided board and that the majority will come out opposed to the bill,” Barkis said in very measured tones. “Generally speaking, the state board would prefer not to be told what decisions to make.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Senate Ed chair Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins.

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs
Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs / File photo

“It seems to me there should be some sort of collaboration between the state board and the legislature,” King said.

But Johnston, Bacon and Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, all made the argument that the General Assembly is constitutionally superior to the board.

The state constitution says, “Their duties will be defined by law,” said Hudak, a former member of the board. “That means us.”

“I do see it as a function of this body,” said Johnston, noting that while the board can vote on what tests it wants, the legislature has to come up with the money to pay for them.

Money has been at the root of the testing dispute since last November, when the board requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration requested exactly zero dollars for new tests, indicating the state could use the transitional TCAP tests for an extra year and then sign on to multi-state assessments.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed with the issue for months, with members complaining about the mixed signals from the board and the governor’s office.

Senate Education weighed in with advice to the JBC that a smaller amount of money should be spent on some specialized tests but that the state should develop its own reading and math assessments.

Coincidentally, the budget question was answered Thursday with final votes in the House and Senate on House Bill 12-1335, next year’s main state budget. The bill includes some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster / File photo

Hudak, who last week tried to strip all testing money from the budget bill, voted for the final version Thursday. But she took five minutes at the microphone to criticize her former board colleagues.

While saying she understood the need for new science and other tests, “What troubles me is the $2.5 million to develop a whole new set of tests, the social studies tests.

“This is sort of a case of the tail wagging the dog. … That was a decision made by the State Board of Education in a discussion with the commission on higher education. We the legislature tell the state board what they must do. This is not what happened with social studies. They decided that they would like them, and now we are funding it,” Hudak told her fellow senators.

Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, sounded a similar note during the floor discussion.

While the legislature may have constitutional authority on its side, the state board could have a political ace up its sleeve. Lame-duck SBE chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, reportedly has been lobbying against the bill and could well have some influence with the Republican majority leadership in the House.

The measure’s prime sponsors are Johnston and Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, plus the other three Democrats on Senate Education. But as yet the measure has no House sponsor from either party.

Senate Ed members struggled a bit when it came time to vote. Both King and Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, passed when the roll first was called, and paused a moment when their turns came up again.

Heath paused again and voted yes. King finally said, “I just don’t know which side of the fence to fall off of. … I think I’ll go no today, a weak no.” Also voting no was Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

Johnston, Hudak and Bacon all voted yes to send the bill to the full Senate.

The next round in the fight comes Friday at 2 p.m., when the state board convenes its regularly scheduled legislative meeting at the Department of Education, 201 E. Colfax Ave. The seven-member panel has four Republicans and three Democrats.

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.