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.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

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:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.