Who Is In Charge

Reactions to SB 191 rules seem positive

The clock is ticking for the State Board of Education to adopt regulations for implementing the educator effectiveness law, and the last full public hearing on the issue drew a large crowd Wednesday.

In other action

  • Grad guidelines
  • School finance
  • NCLB waiver
  • Teacher licenses

The drafting process has been going on for months, often focused on debate over how much flexibility school districts should have in designing systems to evaluate principals and teachers.

The latest proposal (the third) by Colorado Department of Education staff was praised by witnesses on both sides of the debate, but several said the groups they represent want further tweaking of the rules’ language.

The board is scheduled to adopt rules at its November meeting.

Senate Bill 10-191 requires that principals and teachers be evaluated annually, that 50 percent of evaluations be based on student growth and experienced teachers who have ineffective ratings two years in a row lose their non-probationary status.

That all sounds good to many people in the Colorado education world but, as the cliché goes, the devil is in the details. The appointed State Council for Educator Effectiveness labored for more than a year to draft a detailed proposal for the new evaluation system, which CDE staff members and the board have been working on since last spring. (See this article for details of the council’s work.) The system won’t go into effect for three years, after extensive pilot testing in selected districts and likely further tweaking of the regulations.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, testified during a crowded SBE hearing on Wednesday.

A key element of the debate has been the degree to which districts will be able to deviate from a state model evaluation system. Many districts, led by the Colorado Association of School Boards, have argued for flexibility, while some teachers have urged a more uniform system.

In the first draft of the rules, CDE educrats proposed an “opt-out” system and later modified that in favor of more flexibility. The third draft, discussed at Wednesday’s hearing, proposes that district evaluation systems would have to “meet or exceed” state standards, and that districts would have to document their systems related to state standards.

“I think this first draft is a great start,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and prime author of the law. He was talking about the system of “assurances” CDE is proposing through which districts would demonstrate that their evaluation systems comply with the law. But, Johnston said, the rules need “some real teeth” to deal with districts whose systems don’t meet state standards.

Several other witnesses and one board member said they like the meet-or-exceed idea:

  • “I think you may have struck the balance.” – Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock and a SB 10-191 author.
  • “The latest draft of rules has come a long way.” – Amy Spicer, policy director of the reform group Stand for Children.
  • “I believe this supports the intent of local control to the extent that is practicable.” – Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Poudre/Ft. Collins schools.
  • “I think meets or exceeds is much clearer.” – Member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District.

Margaret Crespo, Thompson district secondary instruction director who’s a member of the educator effectiveness council, said that group “spent significant time struggling with the same issues” and would submit more detailed written comments before the state board’s November meeting.

Most of the witnesses had a “but” in their testimony, indicating CDE staff will be receiving plenty of additional advice before the board vote.

Once the board acts, the rules will be subject to review by the 2012 legislature. And it’s widely assumed that the regulations will be modified in the future based on the experience of the district pilot programs.

In other action

As has been the case for the last several meetings, the board crammed its work into a single day, making for a long session and short shrift for some discussions and presentations. Here are some thumbnails on other issues of interest:

Graduation guidelines: Another decision that’s bearing down on the board is adoption of state guidelines for high school graduation requirements.

“If this goes well, it will answer the question of what is the minimum value of a Colorado high school diploma,” Assistant Commissioner Jo O’Brien told the board.

The idea, she said, is that local districts will continue to set graduation requirements “as long as they meet or exceed the minimum standards for competency.”

But, she noted, because of the constitutional guarantee of local control, the state board can’t require specific courses or even set certain test scores to define competency.

O’Brien said she have “a series of options” for the board in November, ahead of a December decision.

Angelika Schroeder
Angelika Schroeder

Member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, was taken aback. “We’re told we can set proficiency guidelines, so what are we setting? … I don’t understand what guidelines we can actually set.”

Berman said, “This seems huge to me, and I’m not sure we’re devoting enough time to it.” The board already has packed agendas in November and December.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond acknowledged the time squeeze, saying “Let’s see what we can work out … and if we need to go back to the legislature” for an extension of time.

Colorado schools districts are all over the map on graduation requirements, as this slide show presented by O’Brien details.

School finance: Leeann Emm, CDE school finance chief, briefed the board on prospects for the 2012-13 state budget, saying, “We don’t know where they’re going to land, but there will be some kind of cut.”

Emm estimated statewide enrollment could be about 808,000 this year, after the Oct. 1 count is tallied, instead of the projection of 805,000 students used in the current budget.

Both Emm and Hammond said they don’t know what level of K-12 funding Gov. John Hickenlooper will propose when he releases his budget plan at the beginning of next month.

“I’ll be interested to see what the governor’s office brings out in November,” Emm said. “I’m unclear at this point if we’ll be able to fund any growth.”

She also said, “Our office has been cautioning districts to expect cuts in 2012-13 and to be very conservative in budgeting.”

Hammond noted that while districts are hurting financially, “my message has been” that continuation of implementing reform efforts such as the new teacher evaluation system “is non-negotiable.”

Legislative priorities: Board members spent some time word-smithing their 2012 legislative priorities. During discussion of the section on school finance, Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, made it clear “I don’t want any part” of any priority that would involve increasing taxes to fund education or, as he put it, “Fleecing taxpayers.”

NCLB waivers: Hammond told the board, “We believe we’re positioned for the first wave of waiver requests,” which are due to the federal Department of Education Nov. 14. The state is seeking a waiver from having to comply with NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirement so it can use just the Colorado accountability system to rate districts and schools and require improvement plans. Hammond said he feels Colorado will be among the first three or four states to receive a waiver.

Teacher licensing: The afternoon was waning and the members were flagging as CDE staff launched into a briefing on a new project to study how to improve the teacher licensing system and align it with new requirements for educator effectiveness.

Bob Schaffer
Bob Schaffer, chair, State Board of Education / File photo

The discussion prompted Schaffer to say, “There’s absolutely no value in a teacher’s license in Colorado,” adding, “It tells you absolutely nothing” about a person’s actual teaching skills. His point was that as teacher preparation programs are improved and districts implement teacher evaluation systems, licenses might become superfluous.

Schroeder pointed out that lots of professions are licensed but that “a license has never been a guarantee of quality. … It really means they’ve jumped through a number of hoops.”

“It’s a debate we could have for a long time,” Schaffer said. They undoubtedly will later.

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.”