Who Is In Charge

Lively fight waged against sex ed bill

Already hyped up from nearly two days of gun-control debate, the Colorado House Tuesday leapt into a morning-long wrangle over sex education.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver
Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver

The Democratic-controlled House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 13-1081, but not before Republicans tried a blizzard of amendments to remedy what they see as the bill’s weaknesses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, would create an expanded set of standards for human sexuality education that schools and districts would have to follow if they used grants from a fund that also would be created by the bill. The new requirements wouldn’t affect districts that continue to use existing health and sex education standards. Parents would have to be informed about use of the new program and could opt their children out of classes.

Supporters believe current sex-education efforts are not as effective as they could be and that stronger programs are needed to reduce teen pregnancy and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.

The measure is supported by groups such as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains; One Colorado, a LGBT advocacy group; the Colorado Association of School Nurses; and Denver Health.

It’s opposed by such groups as Colorado Family Action, the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Douglas County schools.

Republican opponents of the bill were unhappy with what they see as insufficient emphasis on abstinence (referred to during the debate as “sexual risk avoidance”), a lack of review mechanisms for the program’s effectiveness, a possibly biased oversight board and a lack of parent representation on the board. Some Republicans also are uncomfortable with the bill’s requirement that sex education be inclusive of gay and lesbian students.

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument and a former policy analyst for Focus on the Family, led the charge against the bill. She repeatedly challenged Duran, often in a snide tone.

At one point Stephens referred to a Duran statement as “gobbledygook.”

During another exchange, Duran said, “Representative Stephens, I answered your question.”

“No you didn’t, no you didn’t,” Stephens responded.

Late in the debate, Duran just stopped answering Stephens’ questions (as is allowed by House rules).

Here are some other sound bites from the nearly four hours of debate:

  • “This is just a Planned Parenthood jobs bill,” Stephens said. It’s an outrage of epic proportions.”
  • Defending the bill’s inclusiveness, Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge, said she was speaking as “a gay mother and a gay grandmother.”
  • Arguing against sex education in early primary grades, Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said, “Don’t take away the innocence of children.” At another point Priola said, “As a practicing Catholic I feel it abhorrent that birth control is even used.”
  • “First-graders should not be taught sex in our public schools,” agreed Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.
  • “There’s a radical individualism in this bill. … It undermines the natural rights of parents,” said Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance.
  • “I’m amazed that in 2013 … we’re going on and on about this issue. I think we need adult sex education,” said Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, who holds a doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from Colorado State University.

The debate also was marked by multiple parliamentary time-outs as House leaders decided whether various amendments and maneuvers were within House rules. At several points Republican members were making substitute amendments for changes proposed by their own colleagues.

Three amendments were passed, all with Democratic approval. One clarifies that the bill doesn’t change state health education standards and the second would add one parent to the oversight board created by the bill. As a nod to McNulty, Duran also allowed what she saw as a meaningless amendment about sex ed for students in early grades.

The bill will need a final House roll call vote before moving the Senate.

For the record

Here’s a quick look at action on other education-related bills Tuesday:

Senate Bill 13-015 – This bill would allow school boards, if they so choose, to allow members to participate in meetings electronically, such as via telephone or Skype. Received final approval by the Senate and moved to the House Education Committee

Senate Bill 13-090 – This mid-year budget adjustment bill would spread an extra $9.3 million boost among college and university budgets in the current year. Signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper

House Bill 13-1170 – Proposed authorization for school districts to set policies for carrying of weapons at schools by staff members. Killed by the House Judiciary Committee

House Bill 13-1175 – The measure would have banned state spending on expansion of the Medicaid program until state higher education funding was restored to above $700 million a year. Killed by the House Public Health Care Committee

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: