Politics & Policy

Colorado

From the publisher: Some random thoughts

Having stayed out of the fray for several months working on the business end of EdNews, I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the flashpoints that have been dominating the education reform debate. From a freshly detached point of view, a few things seem clear to me. In no particular order: *** Granted, it makes no sense to evaluate educators solely on how students perform on standardized tests, imperfect instruments at best. It makes even less sense, though, to escalate this to a generalized anti-testing frenzy, as some have done. Measuring progress and achievement is essential to improvement. So by all means, find some others measures to augment testing, and throttle way back on the test-prep and test-score obsession. But keep testing. *** Both “sides” in the reform debate like to use Finland as an example of a country that has solved the public education puzzle. On one side, advocates point out that Finnish teachers are unionized, effective and well prepared. They are a respected and admired pillar of Finnish society. Advocates on the other side point out that the teachers in Finland have had to clear some high bars to get into the profession. It takes more than a pulse and an inflated grade point average to get a Finnish teaching license. Until we can figure out how to make teaching a true profession in this country, and attract a larger number of highest caliber applicants, our education system will not match Finland’s results. What can we do to make teachers feel efficacious? How do we make  teaching a career as appealing as engineering, law or medicine? And then what do we do about current teachers who wouldn’t be able to clear the Finnish bar?
New York

'Restart' partners say they plan to ease into management role

The radical "restart" plans for 14 struggling schools seem likely to get off to a slow start. In exchange for millions of dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, the city announced this week that it would turn over the reins of 14 schools to nonprofit Education Partnership Organizations. But with the start of the school year just weeks away, those groups say that much of their first year will be spent assessing needs and adding support, not making drastic changes. “Whenever you’re in a position of partnering, you’re always balancing the need of that sense of urgency with the idea that there is a certain risk or downside to, say, overhauling the master schedule two weeks before school starts,” said Doug Elmer, the director of Diplomas Now, which will manage Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn and Newtown High School in Queens. The nonprofits put in their bids to take over schools — where they'll control everything from curriculum to hiring to budgeting — in May. But after a delay while the city and teachers union hammered out a deal over teacher evaluations in the struggling schools, the groups learned only in the last two weeks that the city wanted them to become EPOs. And they found only just this week which schools they would take over. The city had asked the schools and organizations to rank each other, then paired them off. "It was a little bit of a flurry," said Sheepshead Bay Principal Reesa Levy of the matching process. But she said she was excited to work with Diplomas Now. "We're actually thrilled. I think maybe this will give us that extra push." The federal government has promised up to $2 million a year for three years for the restart schools.
New York

As city names 'restart' partners, principals union sounds alarm

With just weeks to go before Labor Day, the city has announced the nonprofit groups that will help 14 struggling schools get a fresh start this fall. A deal between the city and teachers union last month cleared the way for 33 low-performing schools to receive federal School Improvement Grants starting this fall. In exchange, the city must overhaul the schools in accordance with one of four federally sanctioned processes, and one of them, "restart," requires schools to turn over the reins to an approved nonprofit organization. Six nonprofits, several with existing ties to the city Department of Education, will take over the management of two to three schools each. The groups, known as Educational Partnership Organizations, will control budgeting, personnel decisions, curriculum, student discipline, and other issues, and the principals of those schools will report directly to their EPO rather than a DOE superintendent. A matching process linked 11 of the schools with their first-choice EPO, and the other three were matched with one of their top picks, according to a DOE spokesman, Frank Thomas. The schools and nonprofits will begin working together as soon as the state approves the pairings, he said. The remaining schools set to receive the new federal funds will undergo "transformation." Transformation relies on replacing longtime principals and promising additional resources. In a statement, principals union president Ernie Logan said he had "intense discussions" with the DOE to make sure the 33 schools would receive adequate support but remained unconvinced.
Colorado

After a year, turnaround schools' performance lackluster

It got our attention: Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan “Announces $3.5 Billion in Title I School Improvement Grants to Fund Transformational Changes Where Children Have Long Been Undeserved” (August, 2009).  When we learned a year ago that over $37 million of that would come to 16 of Colorado’s lowest-achieving schools, over three years, to help raise student achievement, we again took note.  Another year has now passed. How’s that going? Any positive news for those “underserved” kids? One assumes the federal government is interested in seeing that the grants to Colorado, especially to Denver Public Schools and Pueblo City Schools, the two districts receiving most of these funds, ($14.8  and $12.9 million respectively over three years to turnaround six schools in each city) will be well used. One assumes the Colorado Department of Education is taking a careful look at how well year one funds, totaling over $10 million to our 16 struggling schools, have been used. One assumes DPS (about $4.6 million this first year) and Pueblo 60 (over $4.2 million), especially, are taking a close look at how these funds have been spent and how well improvement efforts are going. One assumes they are looking at a variety of measurements to gauge effectiveness and success.  For we all agree that in the complex effort to turn around or transform a low-performing school into a good place for students to learn and grow, there are many factors and variables to consider. However, one also assumes that CSAP data, while just one of the many measurements, is considered an important piece of the puzzle.  So here are the 2011 CSAP achievement results—the percentage proficient and advanced—compared to the previous two years, and compared to the goals set by the schools (and/or districts) when they applied for the turnaround or transformation funds (these goals are found here). Most folks will want to see growth scores too, and I am sure the state and districts will examine those.  But as I have written previously, let’s be careful not to exaggerate those 55 percent growth scores as great news.  The goal—yes?—is still proficiency.