Who Is In Charge

Colorado panel grilled on R2T bid

Race to the Top reviewers Tuesday pressed Colorado’s delegation for details on how the state can successfully implement its ambitious education reform plans.

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, interviewed by Education News Colorado after the delegation’s 90-minute meeting with reviewers, said, “I felt good about the session overall. … It seemed like the review panel liked Colorado’s plan and felt it was very ambitious.

“They liked the ambition but had quite a few questions about how you implement it in a local-control state,” Jones added.

Colorado, 17 other states and the District of Columbia were named round-two R2T finalists on July 27, and delegations representing each finalist met with reviewers in Washington this week.

Dwight Jones and Barbara O'Brien
Education Commissioner Dwight Jones and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien led Colorado's Race to the Top presentation team during meetings in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 10, 2010.

Jones, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, Aurora Superintendent John Barry and Colorado Department of Education executives Nina Lopez and Diana Sirko represented Colorado.

In response to the implementation question, Jones said, “We really kind of stuck to how we outlined it in our plan,” emphasizing the regional support teams, content collaboratives and other structures that Colorado has proposed to implement new standards and tests, improve teacher performance and help struggling schools if the state wins R2T funds.

The bulk of the funds, if Colorado wins a grant, would be used for implementing new content standards and tests at the district level, creation of new educator evaluation systems, encouraging effective principals and teachers to work in low-performing schools and providing turnaround help for the state’s most struggling schools. About half the funds would go to participating school districts.

Colorado was an unsuccessful finalist for round one of R2T last spring and went through a similar interview process. Jones said he felt the first reviewer panel didn’t understand the strategies as well as the second panel did.

Jones also said the second five-member panel “spent a lot of time talking about SchoolView,” the state’s Web data portal. Colorado’s application proposes to rely heavily on SchoolView as a communications tool with districts and teachers.

The panel seemed impressed by the state’s new educator effectiveness law (Senate Bill 10-191), and Jones said O’Brien talked at length about that and other recent reform legislation during Colorado’s presentation. (The delegation had 30 minutes to make its case, followed by an hour of questions from reviewers.)

Jones said the presentation was similar to the pitch CDE leaders made to school districts around the state earlier this summer as they tried to sign up local participants in the state plan.

The reviewers seemed comfortable with the percentage of students represented by participating districts (about 90 percent) but also asked “how this would go with the unions,” Jones said.

The Colorado Education Association supported the state’s first application but boycotted the second because of SB 10-191. The Colorado unit of the American Federation of Teachers supports the second application. Jones said the panel told reviewers CEA has promised to support implementation if Colorado receives a grant.

Asked how the panel felt after the session, Jones aid, “I think the feeling was very cautiously optimistic, [but] it’s anybody’s guess as to what ultimately happens. Praising his team, Jones said, “I really felt like Colorado was well represented at the table.”

Colorado has requested $175 million in R2T funds. About $3.4 billion is available, but the 19 applications total more than $6.2 billion. All finalists scored above 400 on a 500-point scale. Scores may be adjusted up or down following the interviews. Winners are expected to be announced in early September.

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.”