Who Is In Charge

ASSET bill clears the Senate

The Senate Monday morning voted 23-12 to pass the bill that makes undocumented students eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa
Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa

Senators spent just a few moments making some last rhetorical points about Senate Bill 13-033 before taking the final roll call vote. Three Republicans joined all 20 Senate Democrats in voting for the measure.

“This is a bill that will today light up cell phones in high school classrooms across Colorado,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a prime sponsor. “There is a profound ripple of hope being sent from this chamber today.”

Republicans supporting the bill were Sens. Greg Brophy of Wrap, Larry Crowder of Alamosa and Owen Hill of Colorado Springs.

The bill was introduced in the House later Monday and is expected to be considered by the House Education Committee Wednesday morning.

Daily roundup

The Senate spent three hours last Friday fully debating the measure during preliminary consideration, known as “second reading” in legislative jargon. Full debate generally takes place on second reading, not before a final vote.

Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, opened the arguments for the bill on Friday, saying in a quavering voice, “It will certainly change the lives of young aspiring students. … ASSET stands to raise millions of dollars in annual revenue for our financially strapped colleges and universities.”

ASSET supporters argue that making college less expensive for undocumented students will increase enrollment of such students, generating more tuition revenue for state institutions. Previous versions of the proposal have proposed undocumented tuition rates higher than in-state tuition but below out-of-state rates, which is what undocumented students have to pay now if they choose to attend.

To be eligible students must have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduation or finished a GED, be admitted to a state college or university and provide an affidavit stating they have applied for lawful residency in the U.S. or will apply as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Three Republican senators went to the podium Friday to speak in support of ASSET, including two freshmen.

Crowder said, “I’m of the opinion that this is a very conservative idea. … We need to do everything we can for everybody we can. … I will have no problem whatever supporting this bill.” Sen. Owen Hill of Littleton said the bill “moves us forward to a future that is consistent with our past” of individual liberty and opportunity.

Brophy noted, “I’ve had a hard time arguing against this bill,” mentioning bright, undocumented students he’s met in his sprawling Eastern Plains district.

He said he thought again about the issue last year after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about illegal residents “self-deporting” themselves. Brophy said he thought about students in his district. “They can’t leave here to go home because they are home.”

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, spoke against the bill more than once. “It is a step toward amnesty,” he said. “When I see the word ASSET I see amnesty.”

Johnston closed out the arguments Friday with the story of a former student who ultimately joined the military so he could stay in the U.S. “These kids are kids who grew up knowing they’d have to fight for everything, and they are the most grateful,” he said, “That’s all they’ve asked, that opportunity be open to them.”

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill will raise $2 million in additional tuition revenue in 2013-14 and $3 million in 2014-15. The analysis projects 500 students would take advantage of the law next school year, with 250 more a year joining the program through 2016-17.

Republicans objected that the bill would cost colleges money, dismissing Democratic arguments as a “Jedi mind trick.” But GOP efforts to add what’s called an appropriations clause to the bill were rebuffed.

Parent trigger bill saved from “kill committee”

The House State Affairs Committee Monday passed House Bill 13-1172 on to the House Education Committee rather than give it a polite hearing before killing it. (The State Affairs panels in both houses are where leaders of the majority party send bills to die.)

The measure isn’t expected to suffer a different fate in House Education, but at least the discussion may be more informed than it would have been in State Affairs, which was busy with other things Monday.

The bill would allow parents of students at schools that have been tagged with the lowest state ratings – “priority improvement” or “turnaround” – for two or more years to petition the State Board of Education to take action to convert the school. The board could deny the petition, direct the local school board to act or defer a decision for a year. The measure is similar to a 2012 bill that passed the House but died in a Senate committee.

This year’s version comes with a twist – it also proposes to convert the state’s district and school rating categories to a system of A-F letter grades. The measure is sponsored by 10 Republican lawmakers. (See this story for more details.)

Evaluation confidentiality bill advances

The House Education Committee Monday gave 10-2 approval to House Bill 13-1220, which would clarify state law to ensure that individual teacher and principal evaluations remain confidential.

Evaluations and related materials would be available to administrators and others authorized to see them. Aggregate data about evaluations (without individual identification) would be available for use by the Department of Education and researchers and could be released publicly.

The bill was supported by witnesses representing the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Administrators, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Quality Teacher Commission, a state advisory body.

ep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster
Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster / File photo

The committee gave the bill a moderate amount of discussion and passed it with only one technical amendment. (Read the bill text and a legislative memo summarizing it.)

The education committee also voted 7-5 to pass House Bill 13-1007, which proposes to resurrect the Early Childhood and School Readiness Legislative Commission, which expired last year, and continue it until July 1, 2018. The amended bill would reduce the membership from 10 to six lawmakers.

The bill is a priority for Rep. Cherylin Peniston, vice chair of House Education, and Sen. Evie Hudak, chair of Senate Education, who both believe the legislature needs a focused, year-around committee on early childhood. The executive branch has its own such panel, the Early Childhood Leadership Commission. Proposed changes to that body are dealt with in another measure, House Bill 13-1117.

Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock, the ranking Republican on House Education, opposed the bill, noting the legislature doesn’t have dedicated committees for other levels of education and that she doesn’t like multi-year study committees.

a closer look

Fact-check: Weighing 7 claims from Betsy DeVos’s latest speech, from Common Core to PISA scores

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made the case for giving up on the type of school improvement efforts favored by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush. In its place, she argued, the federal government should encourage tech-infused innovation and school choice.

Looking to weigh her claims? Here’s a closer look at a few.

1. DeVos: “The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, with which you are all familiar, has the U.S. ranked 23rd in reading, 25th in science and 40th in math. And, you know this too: it’s not for a lack of funding. The fact is the United States spends more per pupil than most other developed countries, many of which perform better than us in the same surveys.”

This stats are accurate, but may not be fair. The U.S. does spend more per pupil, in raw dollars, than most other countries. But international comparisons of these sorts are complicated, and American spending is similar to countries with similarly sized economies.

As we’ve written previously, it’s also misleading to say that more money wouldn’t help American schools. A number of studies have found precisely the opposite, including a recent one showing how cuts to schools during the Great Recession lowered student test scores and graduation rates.

2. DeVos appeared to refer to Common Core as “federal standards,” saying, “Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem.”

That’s off the mark. As advocates for the Common Core never tire of pointing out, the creation of the standards was driven by state leaders through the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, with the support of several private organizations, most prominently the Gates Foundation. (Gates is a funder of Chalkbeat.) As DeVos notes earlier in the speech, the Obama administration did incentivize states to adopt the standards, though, and Secretary Arne Duncan was a vocal champion.

3. DeVos: “At the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

This is true, in a sense — the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed before DeVos became secretary, prohibits the federal government from pushing states to adopt specific standards. But DeVos doesn’t control what academic standards states adopt, and most states are still using use some version of the Common Core.

4. DeVos: “Throughout both initiatives, the result was a further damaged classroom dynamic between teacher and student, as the focus shifted from comprehension to test-passing. This sadly has taken root, with the American Federation of Teachers recently finding that 60 percent of its teachers reported having moderate to no influence over the content and skills taught in their own classrooms. Let that sink in. Most teachers feel they have little – if any — say in their own classrooms.”

The statistic DeVos pulled from this poll is accurate, though her framing may be more negative than the results suggest. It asked teachers to rate how much control they had over “setting content, topics, and skills to be taught.” The most common answer was “a great deal” (at about 40 percent of teachers), and another 30 percent or so chose moderate control. Twenty percent said minor, and only 10 percent said they had no control.

5. DeVos: “To a casual observer, a classroom today looks scarcely different than what one looked like when I entered the public policy debate thirty years ago. Worse, most classrooms today look remarkably similar to those of 1938 when AEI was founded.”

This statement is misleading but has a grain of truth. We examined a similar claim when the TV program produced by the XQ prize argued that schools haven’t changed in 100 years. In short, DeVos is right that many basic trappings of school — a building, a teacher at the front of the class, a focus on math, reading, science, and social studies — have remained consistent. But this glosses over some substantial changes since 1938: the end of legally mandated race-based segregation, the rise of standards for special education students, and the expanded use of testing, among others.

6. DeVos: “While we’ve changed some aspects of education, the results we all work for and desire haven’t been achieved. The bottom line is simple: federal education reform efforts have not worked as hoped.”

This is a big assertion, and it’s always tricky to judge whether something in education “worked.” As DeVos pointed out, a federal study showed the federal school turnaround program didn’t help students. She also highlighted relatively flat international test scores, and others have pointed to flat national scores in recent years.

That said, there were substantial gains in math in fourth and eighth grade, particularly in the early 2000s.

But raw trend data like this can’t isolate the effects of specific policies, particularly when other unrelated changes — like the Great Recession — can also make a big difference. Studies on No Child Left Behind have shown positive results in math, but little or no effect in reading. An analysis of Race to the Top was inconclusive.

One bright spot: a program that paid performance bonuses through the federal Teacher Incentive Fund led to small test score bumps, according to a recent study by DeVos’s Department of Education.

7. In response to a question about school performance in Detroit, DeVos said she shouldn’t be credited — or blamed — for the results in the city. “You’re giving me a whole lot of credit to suggest that whatever happened in Detroit was as a result of what I did,” she said. “We have been long-term supporters of continued reform and choice in Michigan.”

This one is up for debate, though it’s clear DeVos has long been a major player in Detroit’s education scene. She has supported charter schools, which educate about half the public school students in that city, and been a major donor to Republican politicians and causes in the state. She started an influential advocacy group in the state called Great Lakes Education Project.

She was also a key opponent of a commission that would more tightly oversee Detroit charter schools, which ultimately failed amid GOP opposition. It’s clear she has had an impact in the city, but that doesn’t mean she’s gotten everything she’s wanted: in 2000, Michigan voters rejected a DeVos-funded effort to fund vouchers for private schools. She also hasn’t gotten her wish that Detroit have a traditional school district eliminated entirely.

DeVos on offense

DeVos criticizes Bush-Obama policies, saying it’s time to overhaul conventional schooling

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking to the Council of Great City Schools.

One era of federal involvement in education is over, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Tuesday, in some of her most expansive public remarks since taking over the department last year.

DeVos used a speech at the American Enterprise Institute to hit on familiar themes: America’s schools haven’t changed in many years, failing to embrace technology while still spending more and more money. But she also offered a pointed skewering of the approach of her recent successors.

“Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem,” said DeVos. “Too many of America’s students are still unprepared.”

She also gave a harsh assessment of one of the most controversial policies of the period. “Common Core is a disaster,” DeVos said, echoing her boss, President Trump. “And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

In place of those efforts, DeVos offered a different framework for improving education: overturning a host of conventional approaches to schooling.

“Why do we group students by age?” she asked. “Why do schools close for the summer? Why must the school day start with the rise of the sun? Why are schools assigned by your address? Why do students have to go to a school building in the first place? Why is choice only available to those who can buy their way out? Or buy their way in? Why can’t a student learn at his or her own pace? Why isn’t technology more widely embraced in schools?”

Some of these questions dovetail with DeVos’s embrace of private school choice programs and tech-infused approaches to schools, including fully virtual options. The emphasis on technology is aligned with a number of wealthy philanthropies that have embraced computer-based “personalized learning.”

They also mark a departure from the paradigm of previous administrations. No Child Left Behind, the law signed by President George W. Bush, and the Obama-era Race to the Top program both focused on improving academic standards, instituting tests, holding schools and teachers accountable for results, and expanding charter schools, though generally not private school voucher initiatives.

DeVos’s vision is more aligned with a strain of conservative thought that has grown increasingly skeptical of test scores. “I talk about accountability more in terms of transparency and information that parents can access to find out how the schools are doing for their child,” DeVos said in a follow-up session with Rick Hess of AEI, the conservative think tank whose board DeVos previously sat on.

This rift is not entirely surprising. Former secretary Arne Duncan has sharply criticized DeVos and Trump, and left-of-center charter advocates have attempted to separate themselves from an unpopular and polarizing president and secretary of education.

In a rare agreement with the American Federation of Teachers, DeVos argued that federal involvement had put too much focus on test scores, citing a poll commissioned by the union. “The result was a further damaged classroom dynamic between teacher and student, as the focus shifted from comprehension to test-passing,” she said.

The AFT responded icily on Twitter: “More American educators feel disrespected by DeVos than anyone else in the entire world. You can’t blame Bush & Obama for that.”  

Debates about evidence continue

Earlier at the event, “Bush-Obama school reform: Lessons learned,” researchers and policymakers conducted a post-mortem of the last couple of decades of federal school reform.

The results weren’t always pretty. Virtually all participants agreed that well-meaning efforts had proven difficult to implement and sustain: No Child Left Behind had become widely reviled for increasing testing; teacher evaluations pushed by the Obama administration continued to rate most teachers as effective and faced stiff opposition from teachers’ unions; Common Core became the target of conservative ire and the associated tests were scrapped in most states; and a comprehensive study of the federal school turnaround program found that it made little impact on test scores or graduation rates.

Evaluating large policies, like Race to the Top or Common Core, is inherently challenging.  Nationwide test scores have been fairly stagnant in recent years, though that may be due to the effects of the Great Recession.

At one session, participants suggested that not enough had been done to incorporate teachers’ perspective into federal policy. (Notably, no current teachers or union representatives participated in panels at the AEI event.)

Still, research suggests that No Child Left Behind substantially improved math achievement. Studies in some districts have found benefits of their revamped teacher evaluation systems, too.

Joanne Weiss, chief of staff at the Department of Education under Duncan, cautioned against judging policies too quickly. “At some point you gotta say, the results should be in today,” she said. “[But] we have a history in education of calling it too early and moving on to something else, and then 10 years later the research comes in.”

Nevertheless, DeVos seized on the mixed results of past efforts to make the case for her favored changes: more school choice and more innovation at the school level, not driven by the federal government.

She didn’t mention the research on those approaches, which is decidedly mixed and even negative in some cases.

A number of recent studies on school voucher programs have found showed they hurt student test scores, though they bounce back for some students who stay in private schools for several years. In DeVos’s account of disappointing federal programs, she did not mention a recent study of Washington D.C.’s voucher program, which showed drops in math achievement. (A few studies have found positive impacts on high school graduation rates and college attendance.)

Fully virtual charter schools, which DeVos has long backed, have posted even worse results. And some math programs that blend technology with more traditional classroom culture have posted positive results, but as a whole, the evidence base for those approaches remains thin.

DeVos’s skepticism of federal involvement also highlights the central paradox of her job: As the leader of the very agency she is critiquing, how will she advance her agenda without expanding the federal footprint?

So far, DeVos has rolled back a number of Obama-era regulations and supported a new federal tax break for private school tuition, while acknowledging its impact would be modest.

We also fact-checked seven claims — from Common Core to PISA test scores — DeVos made during her speech. Read more here.