Who Is In Charge

Carroll proposes charter standards study

House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, Friday introduced a revised charter school regulation bill, proposing the issues of charter school and authorizer standards be studied by an appointed commission for nearly a year and then decided by the State Board of Education.

The quality of charter school management and the rigor of charter authorization have been the subject of debate since the problems of the Pueblo-based Cesar Chavez Charter Network came to a head last year. (See Education News Colorado coverage of the controversy.)

Improvements in standards are a priority for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the state Charter School Institute and such national groups as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Carroll, a long-time charter supporter, introduced three bills on the issue earlier this session. House Bill 10-1343 proposes charter quality standards, House Bill 10-1344 sets out quality standards for authorizers and House Bill 10-1345 would grant a school board and the institute “the ability to request from the commissioner of education the power for an external entity to have control over a charter school that is considered to be in an emergency situation.”

But weeks of talks among various interest groups reportedly have failed to bring agreement on the detailed language in the first two bills and the new measure, House Bill 10-1412, is apparently the compromise that Carroll is proposing to replace them.

The bill creates a 13-member commission that will be appointed by Oct. 31 and have until Aug. 1, 2011, to make recommendations to the State Board of Education for school and authorizer standards. The bill also gives the board power to issue regulations in those two areas. The measure directs the commission to divide into two subcommittees, one to study school standards and one to focus on authorizer issues.

As is usual in situations where there are several contending interests, the bill lays out the appointment process for the board and the qualifications of its members in minute detail.

The speaker of the House will appoint a charter leader, a charter founder or board member, a charter administrator with finance expertise and a charter parent. (Although he’s term-limited, Carroll will remain speaker through the Oct. 1 appointment deadline.)

The president of the Senate will appoint a school board member from a district with exclusive chartering authority, a school district administrator with charter experience, a charter teacher and a member of a national organization with expertise in charter authorizing standards.

The minority leader of the House will appoint a public school parent who serves on a district accountability committee, and the minority leader of the Senate will appoint a board member from a district that shares chartering authority with CSI.

The governor will appoint a member of the CSI board and a school district administrator with authorizing experience, and the state board will appoint somebody to represent the Department of Education.

And just to make things trickier, the bill says, “the composition of the committee shall reflect, to the extent practicable, Colorado’s ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity.”

No hearing date has been set for the bill but the House Education Committee does have a light agenda on Thursday.

Roundup

Fridays at the Capitol usually are a little looser than other days of the week, and this Friday was lively with observance of “College Day,” when lawmakers wear their school sweatshirts and rib each other about the qualities of their respective colleges. (The day is part of the CollegeInColorado promotion designed to get more high school students interests in college.)

But some work did get done, particularly in the House.

Arts in schools bill

The House voted 42-21 to reject Senate amendments to House Bill 10-1273, Rep. Mike Merrifield’s arts in the schools measure. The Senate had amended the bill to make it more of a “recommendation” bill. The measure will go to conference committee (get background here).

School data reporting bill

An otherwise unremarkable measure, House Bill 10-1171, has generated a little conflict in the last few weeks and a conference committee Friday added another twist to the story.

The bill would eliminate a handful of reports that school districts have to make to the Department of Education. The wrangling involves the Colorado Education Association and a report titled CDE-18. That’s a six-page summary of their budgets that districts and other education agencies have to submit to CDE once a year.

School districts find the report a hassle to compile and CDE officials have repeatedly said nobody asks for the data except CEA.

The bill would have eliminated CDE-18 but Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, recently won passage of a Senate floor amendment to restore it.

The conference committee vote 5-1 to propose a version of the bill with the CDE-18 requirement removed. Hudak was the only no vote.

2010-11 budget goes to the governor

The House and Senate on Friday both agreed to conference committee amendments to House Bill 10-1376, the 2010-11 state budget, and re-passed the bill. The Senate vote was 23-12, and the House approved it 38-24.

On another budget matter, the House voted 55-8 to go to conference committee on House Bill 10-1383, which would transfer about $45 million out of a CollegeInvest scholarship program to state need-based scholarships and to the state general fund.

Why legislators dread Friday mornings

With the budget out of way, it’s time for the House and Senate appropriations committees to tackle the long list of spending bills that have been stacking up on their calendars. Some bills don’t make it out of the 7:30 a.m. Friday sessions.

Hudak went 1-1 in Senate Appropriations Friday. She asked that the committee kill her Senate Bill 10-005, intended to ensure high-quality services for poor children who move from preschool to kindergarten. Neither of the sources of federal money she’d hoped for panned out. The committee obliged her.

The committee did vote 6-4 to pass her Senate Bill 10-054, which as amended would require four hours a week of education be provided to juveniles locked up in county jails. This one faces an uncertain future, though.

Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, also got lucky with her Senate Bill 10-039, which passed 7-3. It would create a $1 million program for job retraining scholarships. The money would come from the money that’s being taken from CollegeInvest (see HB 10-1383 above).

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: