Accountability & paperwork

Rural paperwork relief bill advances; teacher incentive bill does not

A measure to give some small rural districts a bit of a break on state education paperwork won 12-0 approval Monday from the House Education Committee.

The committee also approved a bill that would make cyber bullying of young people a separate crime in the state law books. And the panel rejected a proposed $4 million pilot program that would have provided extra pay to highly qualified teachers who worked in low-performing schools.

The rural flexibility measure, House Bill 14-1204, was considerably more modest than rural districts would have liked, and the bill was trimmed down from the version originally introduced by Republican Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, a retired rural superintendent.

Rural superintendents, who often are the only administrators in their districts, “are focused more on reporting than on student achievement,” said Paula Stephenson, representing the Colorado Rural Caucus and the Colorado BOCES Association. She claimed there are 500-550 reports a year that districts must submit to the Colorado Department of Education.

The amended version of Wilson’s bill would provide two main benefits to districts with fewer than 1,000 students and defined as rural by CDE, based on remoteness from population centers.

First, districts rated as accredited or accredited with distinction would have to submit performance plans only every two years, instead of the annual plans required now. Just over 100 districts meet the small-and-rural definition. About 70 of those districts would be eligible, according to a Chalkbeat Colorado review of accreditation status.

Second, the bill would allow such districts to work with BOCES to obtain the services of literacy specialists for implementation of the READ Act, the state’s early-literacy law.

The paperwork requirements of state accountability law and READ Act mandates have been a sore point for small districts. Superintendent Paul McCarty of the 250-student Hanover district east of Colorado Springs testified that he has only four or five students who need the special services required by the literacy and gets only $4,300 in state reimbursement. He has no reading intervention specialists on his staff of fewer than 20 teachers.

Hopes by Wilson and the rural caucus to ease other paperwork requirements and even give rural districts access to the kinds of waivers enjoyed by charters schools fell by the wayside before Monday’s meeting because they conflict with federal requirements or faced opposition.

Strong support for cyber bulling bill

Consideration of House Bill 14-1131 consumed nearly 2 ½ hours of the committee’s four-hour session Monday.

The measure is fairly simple – it would establish cyber bullying of a minor as a specific misdemeanor in state law. The measure brought sometimes-emotional testimony from a long list of witnesses.

“Some kids — you’ve heard the terrible stories — even commit suicide” because of cyber bullying,” said sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “Now is the time for state of Colorado to add cyber bullying to the criminal code.”

Ashley Berry, a Littleton student who’s become an anti-bullying activist, said, “I went into complete depression” at one point because of cyber bullying.

It’s possible but not particularly easy to prosecute cyber bullying under current harassment and stalking laws, legal experts indicated, saying a specific new law will be more useful for prosecutors.

“It give me an extra tool, and a tool that I don’t have right now,” said Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. He said a cyber bullying law also would give prosecutors leverage to put juvenile offenders into diversion programs.

The bill passed 12-0

Teacher incentives bill fails the test

The one measure that didn’t make it out of House Education Monday was House Bill 14-1262.

The proposed pilot program would have provided stipends of between $3,000 and $12,000 a year to highly effective teachers who worked in low-performing schools. The $4 million program would have provided grants to about 100 teachers over four years.

The measure had bipartisan sponsorship (one Democrat and 10 Republicans) but was the brainchild of Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Brighton. The bill was backed by Colorado Succeeds, the business-oriented advocacy group, and the Colorado Children’s Campaign. It was partly inspired by a 2013 study by Mathematica Policy Research (more details on that report here).

Lobbyists for the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association opposed the bill, saying the money could be better spent on basic school support and that the bill is premature because the state’s teacher evaluation system isn’t fully rolled out.

Some committee Democrats went out of their way to compliment Priola’s effort. “While I support what you’re trying to do … I just haven’t heard the compelling evidence that this is the right strategy,” said Dillon Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, committee chair.

Majority Democrats killed the bill on a 7-6 vote.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

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.”