Who Is In Charge

A new test, $22 million for preschool and 5 other major education bills that lawmakers approved in 2017

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, presents on the budget bill to House lawmakers on Friday.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Indiana’s 2017 legislative session came to a close.

It ended with a plan to replace ISTEP, new rules for charter and voucher schools and a compromise on the state’s next two-year budget. Next, the bills all head to Gov. Eric Holcomb to be signed into law.

Earlier this week, lawmakers also came to agreements that would expand the state’s preschool program and make the next state superintendent appointed, rather than elected.

Here are the major education issues now under consideration to become law:

TESTING

A plan to replace the state’s hated ISTEP testing system with “ILEARN” was approved by lawmakers Friday.

The new test would be used for the first time in 2019, meaning ISTEP still has one more year of life. For the most part, the test plan in House Bill 1003 resembles what was recommended by the group of educators, lawmakers and policymakers charged with studying a test replacement.

There would be a new year-end test for elementary and middle school students, and high schools would give end-of-course exam in 10th grade English, ninth-grade biology, and algebra I. An optional end-of-course exam would be added for U.S. government, and the state would be required to test students in social studies once in fifth or eighth grade.

The plan does make potentially significant changes to the state’s graduation requirements. The bill would create a number of graduation “pathways” that the Indiana State Board of Education would flesh out. New options could include the SAT, ACT, industry certifications, or the ASVAB military entrance exam.

While teacher evaluations would still have to include ISTEP scores in some way, districts would have flexibility to decide specifically how to do that.

CHARTER SCHOOLS AND VOUCHERS

Two bills dealing with charter schools and vouchers that passed easily in the House and Senate would make it easier for struggling schools to get a second chance.

Rep. Bob Behning, the bill’s author, noted that public schools have the option to join “transformation zones” or “innovation networks” that allow them to avoid closure and make plans to improve, but charters and private schools don’t.

The bill that focuses on charter schools, House Bill 1382, would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row, among numerous other provisions. Even if the schools go beyond their four-year F-grade limit, authorizers can go to the state board to request a charter renewal.

The second, House Bill 1384, includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers. One would allow schools to waive D or F grades that prohibit the schools from accepting new voucher students. That waiver would be good for one year, and would be dependant upon the school’s ability to demonstrate that a majority of private school students made academic improvements in the prior year.

The bills would also …

  • Weakens the state’s “90 percent-10 percent” rule for licensing teachers in charter schools. Current Indiana law says that 90 percent of teachers must hold a traditional state teaching license, or be in the process of pursuing one, and 10 percent can hold an alternative teaching permit. Under the new language, the state’s specific charter school license appears to count toward the 90 percent, rather than the 10 percent as they have in the past (HB 1382).
  • Require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades and determine a definition for “high-mobility” schools (HB 1384).
  • Allow private schools to become accredited more quickly, and thus accept voucher students sooner (HB 1384).

STATE TAKEOVER

A plan that would have allowed the state to take control over finances and academics in Gary and Muncie has been significantly scaled back — and would release Muncie from academic takeover altogether.

The measure passed the Senate and House late Friday. While Muncie schools see some relief from earlier sanctions, Gary would be on track for the state takeover, although a few provisions called for by local lawmakers were added in — such as first considering a Gary or Lake County resident as the “emergency manager” in charge of the takeover.

Kenley said he specified in the compromise version of the bill that these measures are “not precedent for and may not be appropriate for addressing issues faced by other” districts.

Lawmakers came up with the takeover strategy to solve longstanding financial troubles in Gary Community Schools, which has racked up $100 million in debt and dwindled to fewer than 6,000 students. The district has also been labeled an F since 2011, with seven schools considered failing.

But Muncie educators and lawmakers made their opposition known when their C-rated district was added into Senate Bill 567 for its own significant debt issues.

The bill originally designated Gary and Muncie as “distressed political subdivisions” and moved them under the auspices of an emergency manager, a fiscal management board, and a chief academic officer. In the new plan, Gary would remain a distressed political subdivision, but Muncie would be considered a “fiscally impaired” district — a less harsh label that wouldn’t require the district to have a chief academic officer, but still places it under a stringent plan to shore up its finances.

SCHOOL FUNDING

The budget was the last bill to pass Friday night, with wide margins of support in both houses.

The two-year plan would increase funding by about 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2019, a boost of $345 million that brings total education spending to $14.2 billion over the next two years. The state also approved increased support for English-learners, students with severe special needs, and career and technical education.

All Marion County school districts will see increases to per-student funding and tuition support — the base amount provided by the state to educate children.

Indiana also recommitted to teacher bonus payments at $30 million per year, adjusting the formula so that high-performing teachers at struggling schools could see higher bonuses than they did last year.

PRESCHOOL

A preschool deal passed the House and Senate Friday morning that would expand the program to 15 additional counties, up to 20 from the current five.

The cost of the expansion will be $22 million per year, which is less than advocates had lobbied for but close to what House Republicans and Holcomb supported.

It includes controversial language allowing a new, limited voucher “pathway.” If a child used a preschool scholarship to go to a program at a private school that accepts vouchers, they could then automatically receive a voucher for kindergarten if they stay at the same school.

The compromise plan would set aside $1 million per year to allow families who use an “in-home” online preschool program to be reimbursed for their costs. Priority would be given to parents of children who live in counties with no high-quality preschool providers, and the state would agree to study the online programs.

STATE SUPERINTENDENT

Last week, House and Senate lawmakers approved a bill that would allow future governors to choose Indiana’s state superintendent.

The final version of House Bill 1005 includes a residency requirement and qualifications for the “secretary of education” position. It also delays the appointment until 2025, meaning Holcomb wouldn’t be around to make the pick and state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick could seek a second term.

You can find other education-related bills that passed this session here.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

saying goodbye

Here’s how the local and national education communities are responding to Boasberg’s exit

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As the news of Tom Boasberg’s departure ricocheted through the local and national education community, critics and champions of the Denver schools superintendent sounded off.

Here’s a roundup of comments from teachers, parents, school board members past and present, elected officials, and some of Boasberg’s colleagues.

Alicia Ventura, teacher

“I am shocked! I understand his decision as I have one (child) grown and out of the house and one in middle school. Time with our children is short and precious! I will always remember how fun and open-minded Tom was. He would do anything for children and truly lived the students first vision! We will miss you!”

Michael Hancock, Denver mayor and Denver Public Schools graduate

“I am saddened that DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg will be stepping down but full of gratitude for his close partnership with the city on behalf of Denver’s kids and families. As a DPS graduate and a DPS parent, I know firsthand that Tom has led DPS with integrity and commitment. His focus on success for all kids has greatly improved our schools and provided better opportunities for all students to live their dreams.

“We have much work still to do in DPS, but we have an incredible foundation for moving forward and we are committed to continuing in partnership with the next DPS leader.”

Corey Kern, deputy executive director, Denver Classroom Teachers Association

“We were a little surprised by it ourselves. For us, we obviously wish Tom the best. The big focus for us is making sure the selection process for the next superintendent is something that is fair and transparent and open to the public; that it’s not a political appointment but talking to all stakeholders about who is the best person for the job for the students in Denver.”

Anne Rowe, president, Denver school board

“He has given … 10 years to this district as superintendent, and it is an enormous role, and he has given everything he has. … My reaction was, ‘I understand,’ gratitude, a little surprised but not shocked, certainly, and understand all the good reasons why he has made this decision.

“With change, there is always some uncertainty, and yet I look at the people here and their dedication to the kids in DPS and I have full confidence in these folks to continue driving forward while the board takes on the responsibility to select the next superintendent. We won’t miss a beat, and we have a lot of work to do for kids.”

Jeannie Kaplan, former school board member critical of the district’s direction

“I was very surprised. … I wish Tom well. I still do believe that working together is the way to get things done. I’m sorry we weren’t able to do that.

“My one hope would be that one of the primary criteria for the next leader of the district would be a belief in listening to the community – not just making the checkmark, but really listening to what communities want.”

John Hickenlooper, Colorado governor and former Denver mayor

“Tom Boasberg has invested a significant part of his life into transforming Denver Public Schools into one of the fastest-improving school districts in America. As a DPS parent, former mayor, and now governor, I am deeply grateful for the progress made under Tom’s leadership. I applaud Tom and Team DPS for driving the innovations that are creating a brighter future for tens of thousands of young people in every corner of the city.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who preceded Boasberg as Denver superintendent from 2005 to 2009 and has known him since childhood

“As a DPS parent, I thank him for his commitment, his compassion, and his extraordinary tenure. As Tom always says himself, we have a long way to go, but his transformational leadership has resulted in extraordinary progress over the past 10 years. Our student achievement has substantially increased, the number of teachers and other school personnel serving our children has grown tremendously, and the school choices available to children and their families have never been greater.”

Bennet also penned an op-ed in The Denver Post with this headline:

Ariel Taylor Smith, former Denver Public Schools teacher and co-founder of Transform Education Now, a nonprofit that focuses on improving schools through parent advocacy

“I was a teacher during Tom’s first half of his tenure at DPS and was amazed at how often he would walk the halls of North High School during our turnaround. Tom has dedicated 10 years to this work and for that I am grateful. I also believe that we have a long way to go to getting where we need to be. I believe that we are ready for new leadership who operates with the sense of urgency that we need to see in our city. There are 35,000 students who are attending ‘red’ and ‘orange’ (low-rated) schools in our city right now. One out of every three third-graders is reading on grade level. We need a new leader with a clear vision for the future and an evident sense of urgency to ensure that all our kids are receiving the education that they deserve.”

Brandon Pryor, parent and member Our Voice Our Schools, a group critical of the district

“You have a number of people he works with that are reformers. They think he’s leaving an awesome legacy and he did a lot to change and meet needs of the reformist community. You ask them and I’m sure his legacy will be great. But if you come to my community and ask some black folks what Tom Boasberg’s legacy will be, they’ll tell you something totally different.

“I think he has time with this last three months in office to follow through with some of the promises he’s made us (such as upgrades to the Montbello campus) to improve his situation.”

Jules Kelty, Denver parent

“He personally responded to an email that I sent him about my school. I appreciated that.”

Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado

“On the one hand, I’m not surprised. And on the other hand, I’m surprised.

“I’m not surprised because he’s had a track record of pretty remarkable service for a decade, which is amazing. Nobody else has done that. The district has improved pretty dramatically. He deserves a great deal of credit for that. …The surprise is that we’ve all become so used to him being the superintendent, it’s just a little weird (to think of him leaving).”

Lisa Escárcega, executive director, Colorado Association of School Executives

“Tom’s longstanding commitment and service to DPS have made a significant impact on the district. He is strongly focused on ensuring student equity, and the district has seen improvement in several areas over the last 10 years under his superintendency. Tom is a strong and innovative leader, and I know he will be missed by the DPS community and his colleagues.”

John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education

“Under Tom Boasberg’s leadership for the past decade, Denver Public Schools has made remarkable academic progress and has become one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Tom has brought tremendous urgency and a deep commitment to closing both opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. For many school districts throughout the country, Denver’s innovative and collaborative approaches serve as a valuable model.”

Katy Anthes, state education commissioner

“I’ve appreciated working with Tom over the years and know that his personal commitment to students is incredibly strong. I thank Tom for his service to the students of DPS and Colorado.”

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, a national group of district and state superintendents 

“Tom Boasberg is an extraordinary leader who has dedicated his life to expanding opportunities for all of Denver’s children. During his tenure, the district has made remarkable gains on virtually every measure of progress. Denver Public Schools is a national model for innovation, district-charter collaboration, and teacher and school leader support. Every decision Tom has made over the course of his career has been focused on helping students succeed. No one is more respected by their peers. As a member of the Chiefs for Change board and in countless other ways Tom has supported education leaders across the nation. He leaves not just an impressive legacy but an organization of talented people committed to equity and excellence.”

David Osborne, author of the book “Reinventing America’s Schools,” which included chapters on Denver’s efforts

Share your thoughts on Boasberg’s exit here: