House Ed marathon

Data privacy protection bills die in committee

The House Education Committee late Monday killed two Republican-sponsored data privacy protection bills following a meeting that lasted more than eight hours.

Monday’s marathon session featured often-emotional testimony from parents expressing fears about intrusive school surveys and the dangers of detrimental information following children for life.

The bills were supported by a long list of witnesses, most of them parents with passionate arguments about what they consider to be intrusions on student and family privacy, particularly surveys that ask information about drug and alcohol use, sex, suicidal thoughts, and other personal matters.

“There’s a lot of mistrust, and there’s a lot of anger,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins activist. “This is profiling them forever.”

Both bills were “postponed indefinitely” on 6-5 votes, with majority Democrats opposing them.

Democratic committee members agreed that data privacy and security need to be dealt with, but in another way. “There are issues that need to be addressed. I just don’t believe this bill does it,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora and chair of the committee. “I am hopeful still that there will be a bill this session.”

The defeat of HB 15-1108 and House Bill 15-1199 leaves only one data privacy bill currently alive in the 2015 session, Senate Bill 15-173. That measure, introduced late last week, has bipartisan sponsorship and seeks to impose new privacy, distribution, and security requirements on outside vendors, such as database companies, that handle and process student information.

The two House bills sought to broaden parent control over student data and set new requirements on school districts.

“We need this bill to protect the personal and constitutional privacy rights of students,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument and prime sponsor of HB 15-1108.

But Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, testified, “It is far too prescriptive … and will tie the hands of our educators.” Other witnesses who opposed the bills warned they could hamper collection of data needed to identify and provide services to at-risk and special education students, as well as other special populations.

HB 15-1108 would have set new rules for protection of data privacy. It would have required individual parent consent to surveys and assessments and allowed parents to restrict distribution of data and have data destroyed. (Read unamended bill here.)

HB 15-1199 would have set detailed parent consent requirements, imposed limitations on vendors, restricted disclosure of data to third parties, required destruction of most data five years after students have left school, and set criminal penalties for violations of the bill’s provisions. It also would have set requirements for protection of teacher data (read bill).

School district witnesses who testified against the second bill warned that it could completely disrupt compiling data from statewide tests.

The committee Monday also killed a third Republican-sponsored measure, House Bill 15-1037. That bill from would have prohibited state colleges from denying student religious groups access to campus facilities and funding based solely on a group’s requirement that its leaders hold certain religious beliefs or standards of conduct.

The backstory to this bill is controversy over whether colleges and universities should support student groups that, because of religious convictions, discriminate against gays. Testimony and committee discussion on the bill consumed more than four hours. A similar bill by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, was killed by House Education early in the 2014 session.

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: