Who Is In Charge

Teacher bill gets out of House Ed

The educator evaluation and tenure bill was approved by the House Education Committee on a 7-6 vote early Friday morning.

Democratic Reps. Christine Scanlan of Dillon (a prime sponsor) and Karen Middleton of Aurora voted for Senate Bill 10-191, along with all five committee Republicans.

The early hours of the House Education Committee's May 6 hearing on Senate Bill 10-191 played to a packed house at the Capitol.

Voting no were Democratic Reps. Debbie Benefield of Arvada, Cherilyn Peniston of Westminster, Judy Solano of Brighton, Sue Schafer of Wheat Ridge, Nancy Todd of Aurora and chair Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs.

Some of them, particularly Solano and Todd, had sometimes-harsh comments about the bill, the process of drafting it, standardized testing and about the whole course of Colorado education reform in recent years. All are former teachers except Benefield, a longtime parent activist.

“I can’t support a bill that I think is an insult to my profession,” said Merrifield, a retired music teacher serving his last session in the legislature.

“This bill has nothing to do with improving the effectiveness of teachers,” said Solano. “This bill scapegoats teachers for all the inadequacies of public education.”

Scanlan, a former Summit County school board member, defended the proposal in her closing remarks. “I believe it’s what we need to do. I believe it will make the difference we’re seeking for our kids. I believe it’s the start of a new era.”

Key amendments added by the committee included:

  • Teacher effectiveness, then seniority, will be considered when layoffs are made.
  • Non-probationary teachers with good evaluations can carry their non-probationary status to other districts, although that won’t necessarily affect pay.
  • Teachers as well as the principal will participate in the mutual consent process for teacher placement that the bill would mandate.
  • A strengthened appeals process for teachers who receive ineffective evaluations.
  • Costs for the initial steps of implementing the law will be covered by a Department of Education contingency fund, if federal funding, such as Race to the Top money, isn’t available.

The bill requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth, measured by multiple assessment. Merrifield proposed an amendment proposes a figure on one-third but then withdrew the idea, saying he’ll likely propose it during floor debate.

The committee decision came at the end of an 11-hour meeting, 10 hours of which were devoted to testimony, debate and – at times – high emotion on SB 10-191.

Both sides mustered teachers and parents to speak for their sides, some telling personal stories. Administrators and business leaders supported the bill. There even was testimony from people who weren’t there.

Merrifield read a letter from education scholar and author Diane Ravitch, who wrote, “Colorado can’t fire its way to better teachers.”

Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller, president of A+ Denver, read a letter from former Denver Mayor Fedrico Peña, who had testified passionately at the Senate Education Committee hearing on the bill.

“I’m so sorry Federico wasn’t here because I was armed and ready for him,” Merrifield said.

The last witness, Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning of the Colorado Department of Education, took the brunt of sharp comments from committee critics but cooly defended the bill.

“We are dealing with a major systemic reform. … It’s really comparable to the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. … Statutes catalyze change.”

The bill must go to the House Appropriations Committee before it can go to the floor. It’s expected to be heard in committee Monday and, if passed, on the floor shortly thereafter. Lawmakers have a Wednesday adjournment deadline.

While the bill has broad support among education reform groups, business leaders, the state Board of Education, Commissioner Dwight Jones and Gov. Bill Ritter, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is strongly opposed.

The American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, which represents Douglas County teachers, came out in support of the bill this week. Its witnesses led off the marathon testimony session that started at 1:30 Thursday afternoon. Testimony from dozens of witnesses lasted more than eight hours.

Interest groups on both sides have lobbied this issue heavily with e-mails and personal contact with lawmakers. The CEA is a traditional contributor to Democratic legislative candidates, giving it a certain amount of clout. The union has been running radio ads, and groups supporting the bill ran a full-page ad in a Denver newspaper Thursday morning.

Both sides also have carefully selected their witnesses for the hearings in the House and Senate education committees. (Many of the witnesses at Thursday’s House hearing were repeaters from the earlier hearing before the Senate Education Committee.)

Sponsored by a bipartisan team of senators and representatives, the major provisions of the bill would create new teacher and principal evaluation systems and tie evaluations to gaining – and losing – non-probationary status.

The bill is similar to legislation being discussed in other states and is part of a national push for reforms in educator evaluations. Some observers feel passing the bill could help Colorado’s bid for round two of Race to the Top.

If passed, the system wouldn’t fully go into effect until 2014-15, after a lengthy process of development by the already-existing Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness, issuance of rules by the State Board of Education, legislative review and two years of development and testing.

(The council was created by a governor’s executive order in January and assigned to develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, study other issues of educator effectiveness and make recommendations to the legislature. SB 10-191 basically retains that role for the council but adds specific policy guidelines for evaluation and tenure and creates larger roles for the state board and the legislature. The council has met twice and already is working on effectiveness definitions.)

The bill would require annual teacher and principal evaluations (more frequently than generally is done now) and tying 50 percent of the evaluations to student academic growth. The state Department of Education would assist school districts in developing a variety of student assessments in addition the annual statewide CSAP tests. (The CSAPS, scheduled to be replaced in a few years, don’t cover all grades or all subjects, requiring additional kinds of tests if all teachers are to be evaluated based partly on student growth.)

The bill also would require that tenure be earned after three consecutive years of effectiveness as determined by evaluations. Tenured teachers could be returned to probation if they didn’t have good evaluations for two years. (This part of the bill is particularly worrisome to CEA, which feels it would take away due-process rights for non-probationary teachers and expose them to removal by administrators who unfairly use bad evaluations.)

The bill also would require the mutual consent for placement of teachers in specific schools and establishes procedures for handling teachers who aren’t placed. It also specifies that evaluations can be considered when layoffs are made, in addition to seniority. (CEA doesn’t like this part of the bill either.)

A Senate amendment would create an appeal right for non-probationary teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations, although the bill’s sponsors intend that detailed appeal procedures would be left up to district-union contract negotiations.

The bill also includes external factors that could be considered in evaluations, such as student mobility, the percentage of at-risk students in a school and numbers of special education students.

Once state standards for evaluation are in place, local school districts would be required to “meet or exceed” those standards in their evaluation systems.

The bill estimates about $240,000 in administrative costs for each of the next two years.

CEA has expressed a strong preference for a different process for changing the current system. Once definitions of effectiveness are created, then a new evaluation system should be set up and tested. Only after that, the CEA believes, should the decision be made about how to use the evaluation system in probation, school placement and layoff decisions.

The union also has raised concerns about the potential costs of effective and fair new evaluation systems, both for the state and for school districts.

Text of the bill as passed by the Senate but before House Ed amendments

Texts of amendments adopted by House Ed

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.