a whole new law

Coalition recommends laser focus on academics in state’s accountability system

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

A new coalition is urging the state to keep hard academic indicators front and center when judging schools — a counterbalance to some options state officials have been exploring.

Under a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have more flexibility to define what makes a school effective. So far, under the state’s draft guiding principles, officials appear eager to explore new options for rating schools, and committed to “multiple measures of progress and growth.”

But a policy brief released Tuesday by Education Trust and co-signed by a dozen advocacy groups, strikes a different tone. Its first principle — “make the main thing the main thing” — implores state officials to keep their eye on academic achievement and look at a “limited” number of other indicators.

“There have been a lot of conversations about standards and about assessments and about how we measure the effectiveness of schools,” said Ian Rosenblum, the founding executive director of EdTrust-NY. “We believe that if we don’t establish strong expectations for all students … then we’re not going to be able to improve equity and opportunity to students.”

This brief is part of a larger battle over the direction of state education policy. Though state officials have signaled a willingness to rethink policies that rely heavily on standardized test scores, groups like Education Trust caution there is danger in straying too far from current indicators.

Here are a few key areas of the report, which you can read here.

Do not adopt too many accountability indicators. The policy brief urges the state to use the “fewest possible” indicators and to “heavily weight” English and math proficiency. It offers some alternatives to academic indicators, such as chronic absenteeism or student suspensions, but emphasizes standard academics over “multiple measures.”

Do not replace overall school ratings with a “dashboard.” The policy brief argues that each school should have one overall rating, even if it is used in addition to a set of other measures to judge schools. The recommendation comes one week after the state’s Board of Regents listened to a presentation from Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who expressed support for a “dashboard” approach to rating schools, closer to New York City’s current system, which breaks ratings down into components.

Ensure that academic measures together represent 75 percent of each school’s rating. That percentage is key to making sure the state remembers “what matters most” when evaluating students, the report says. In its draft guiding principles, the state did not specify how much academic indicators might be weighted in each school’s rating, though all states are required to give academic factors the most weight under the law.

Include college and career readiness as a new indicator of school quality or student success. The report suggests judging schools based on enrollment and success in advanced classes. That’s not far from the state’s guiding principles, which also reference having access to advanced classes, and possibly rating schools based on how students succeed in postsecondary education.

Officials are still in the process of putting together a set of recommendations. “These are draft guiding principles which we have been seeking comment on; they are not yet official Board of Regents policy,” a said a State Education Department spokesperson in an email. He added that “all academic subjects” would be part of the accountability system, along with “non-academic measures of school quality and student success.”

The state has convened a think tank with dozens of organizations to get input from education leaders across the state. Rosenblum said his coalition intentionally released its report before any state measures were finalized.

We “wanted to do it before the Regents put out their initial framework because we wanted to provide input in the process,” Rosenblum said. “I think it’s too early to know for sure where the state is heading.”

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:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”