Who Is In Charge

Johnston exhorts Harvard grads on “the right to know”

Sen. Mike Johnston, sounding more like a preacher than a politician, on Wednesday exhorted graduates of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education “to finish the work that has been started” to ensure that every child achieves the American promise “that all are created equal.”

Johnston, a 2000 graduate of the school, made no direct references to the students and alumni who had protested his selection as commencement speaker because they feel he “embraces a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers, a vision that we believe ultimately harms students and communities.”

Instead, the Denver Democrat repeatedly asserted what he called “the fundamental right to know … how we’re doing” in education.

Without using education jargon like “data,” “accountability” or “evaluation” Johnston argued that students and parents should have the “fundamental right” to know early and often … how they compare to kids around the corner and around the world.”

Johnston continued, “We have to defend fundamentally the right to know … how we’re doing.”

Fear of change is “not a reason to stop. Take the information and make decisions about it.”

In another oblique reference to criticism, Johnston noted, “What we have to do is realize that we share the same goal and that we only differ on how to reach it.” Rather than debate among each other, he said educators need to face “the real enemies of injustice and inequality that continue to run rampant,” he said, adding, “Reach out first to those who disagree with you.”

And those who objected to Johnston’s presence at the ceremony, if they attended, were quiet and respectful. No visible protests were held around the commencement and Johnston received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

Johnston wove the 30-minute speech around the stories of three young people he and his wife know – Raquel, a student from a poor family who made it to Stanford; Flavio, an undocumented student who joined the Army, and Jerome, a homeless youth who ultimately went to prison.

“The right to know, the power to decide and the will to love” are the message those three “would share back to you,” he said.

“You must lead us out of a world of compliance and into a world of creation,” he told the 644 graduates. “In this world clear standards and clear expectations are not constraints, they’re invitations.”

Johnston, a state senator since 2009, has been a leading figure in legislation on teacher evaluation, early literacy and resident tuition eligibility for undocumented students. He also authored a massive 2013 rewrite of state school finance law that remains on the shelf because voters rejected the tax increase needed to pay for it.

He’s a familiar figure on the education reform circuit, traveling frequently to give speeches and attend conferences.

Additional reporting provided by Michela Dimond.

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.”