Who Is In Charge

What four more years means for education

President Obama’s victory on Tuesday gives him a chance to build on the education policies he has pushed since 2009 and ensures that the federal government’s role in education will not diminish over the next four years.

Photo by Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America, courtesy <em>The Hechinger Report</em>.

In his victory speech, he promised to expand “access to the best schools and best teachers” and spoke broadly about hope for America’s future, particularly for children, but did not offer specific policy ideas.

“It’s clear the Obama administration will continue to make education a priority,” said Jeffrey Henig, a political scientist at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It’s been a winner issue for them even though teachers unions and some elements of the parent community are unhappy about some aspects.”

Obama steered the conversation to education whenever possible throughout the campaign – even during the final presidential debate focused on foreign policy. In particular, he touted his success in passing Race to the Top, a competitive grant program that incentivized 46 states to initiate education reforms. He also hinted about what his second-term priorities will be.

The need to invest more money in education, from early childcare to colleges and universities, was an overarching theme of the president’s campaign. Obama repeated several times that he wants to create 2 million slots in community colleges for job training and recruit 100,000 math and science teachers.

“I want to build on what we’ve done with Race to the Top, but really focus on [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math],” he told the Des Moines Register. “And part of that is helping states to hire teachers with the highest standards and training in these subjects so we can start making sure that our kids are catching up to some of the other industrialized world.”

Karen White, political director at the National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teachers union, said she expects to see Obama focus on early education and college affordability during his second term.

Despite disagreeing with some of Obama’s central policies, such as tying teacher evaluations to test scores, both the NEA and the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, threw their support behind the President and urged members to volunteer for his campaign. While there may be lingering disagreements over specific reforms, White was confident that there would be cooperation between the unions and the White House.

“We’ve had a great relationship with the administration,” she said. “We don’t have any reason to believe that won’t happen going forward.”

Obama’s first term was focused on increasing accountability for teachers and principals based on how their students perform academically. Henig predicts that in the second term, the administration will look to improving how that academic performance is measured, including designing new assessments. This will undoubtedly be driven by competitive grants.

“Race to the Top represented, in my mind, not just an education program but a philosophy about how you wield influence from Washington, D.C.,” Henig said. “They’ll still use the money to leverage change because – I think – they think they made a bigger impact with that than [No Child Left Behind] did.”

While Obama has consistently sought a large influence for the White House in the country’s public schools, Romney spent the campaign arguing that education policies were best left to states and local school districts. The stark contrast between Romney and Obama over the federal government’s role in education suggests the era of bipartisan agreement on education policy—begun a decade ago with the passage of No Child Left Behind—has waned, and that Obama may have less success with his education agenda in his second term.

In his first term, education was one of the few areas where Obama found some common ground with Republicans. He supported traditionally Republican ideas like charter schools and merit pay, for example. But he was also unable to pass a new version of the federal education act, which is long overdue for reauthorization, and Republicans blocked an Obama bill that would have reduced teacher layoffs.

“If you work your way through the rhetoric and fuzzy language on both sides … what appeared to be a new bipartisan approach to education a la No Child Left Behind is proving to be more easily unraveled than people expected,” Henig said. “It’ll be a lot harder to make non-incremental changes in education policy.”

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.