status quo holds

Lawmakers torpedo yet another bid to change teacher evaluations

Rep. Jeni Arndt (left) and teacher Russ Brown listened to committee questions during the hearing on Arndt’s bill.

Lawmakers killed a bill Monday that would have allowed school districts to scale back evaluations of teachers who’ve earned an arduous national certification, another blow to efforts to remake Colorado’s educator evaluation system.

The House Education Committee killed the bill 7-4 — a vote that crossed party lines — after a motion to move the bill forward failed. The second vote means the legislation is dead for this legislative session.

The defeat of House Bill 16-1121 in the Democratic-controlled House came just four days after the Education Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate defeated a much more sweeping proposal that would have shaken up how teachers are evaluated.

That legislation would have eliminated the requirement that districts base at least half of a principal or teacher’s annual evaluation on student academic growth, a centerpiece of a landmark 2010 educator effectiveness law.

The House bill’s scope was much narrower, covering teachers who have earned National Board Certification status. Only about 900 of Colorado’s roughly 56,000 teachers have earned that qualification, which involves passing a rigorous program of exams and demonstrations of teaching skills. A private group, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, offers the certification.

The bill would have allowed, but not required, districts to exempt those teachers from required annual evaluations. Teachers instead would have faced evaluations at least every three years.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins. But the idea was the brainchild of Russ Brown, a history and social studies teacher at Poudre High School in Fort Collins.

He told the committee that he hoped creating an exception for board certified teachers who inspire others to seek that credential.

“The key to saving American education is that we must inspire good teachers,” he said.

Brown said the idea came to him three years ago. He said  he hasn’t sought certification to avoid the impression that he was seeking a personal advantage.

Arndt acknowledged that “this bill touches on a sensitive topic. It touches on Senate Bill 191,” referring to the 2010 law that created the current evaluation system.

She described the bill as a way to recognize top teachers.

“Quite frankly,” Arndt said, “it’s a pro-teacher bill.”

From the start of three hours of testimony and discussion, committee members of both parties raised many questions. Major themes included whether to tinker with evaluation before the system is fully put into practice, the wisdom of valuing board certification over measurable results from student growth data, and whether the bill would create “inequities” among teachers.

Lobbyists from three education advocacy groups — the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children — testified strongly against the bill. Another major reform group, Democrats for Education Reform, was neutral, Arndt said.

But other witnesses from the Poudre school district — as well as board certified teachers and representatives of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union — urged the committee to pass the bill.

In closing statements before the vote, some committee members clearly were torn.

“I’m really struggling with this one,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City.

With the defeat of the House bill, no other pending bills would alter the state system, which requires that principals and teachers be evaluated half on their professional practice and half on student academic growth.

Only two other evaluation-related bills are currently pending at the Capitol:

House Bill 16-1016 – Provides state help to districts to develop additional measures of student growth. It’s scheduled to be heard by House Education on Feb. 29. While there isn’t a partisan or ideological divide over this bill, its current $20 million price tag is a big problem in a tight-budget session.

House Bill 16-1099 – Repeals a provision that requires mutual consent of a teacher and a principal for placement in a school and creates additional protections for teachers who aren’t placed. It’s on House Education’s March 21 calendar. It’s not expected to survive.

Decision makers

5 things to know about Austan Goolsbee, the high-powered new addition to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
In 2013, Austan Goolsbee testified before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill about the nation's economic recovery

Chicago’s school board is once again complete after outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel chose a University of Chicago economist to fill a long-vacant seat.

Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, will round out the seven-member, mayor-appointed board that sets education policy in the city.

Here are five things to know about Goolsbee:

  1. Like Emanuel, he served in the Obama White House. Goolsbee was as a close adviser to President Barack Obama, eventually becoming chair of his Council of Economic Advisors. The Chicago Teachers Union see this tie as a liability. “Mr. Goolsbee comes into a board responsible for students and their schools being starved of resources for the last eight years by the man who appointed him,” the union said in a statement. “Those same neighborhoods continue to struggle from the consequences of a foreclosure crisis that the administration he served in Washington failed to address.”
  2. He has weighed in on education before. A prolific opinion writer, he has written favorably about the economic arguments for universal prekindergarten, a priority for the outgoing mayor, saying that expanding early childhood education is a bargain over the long term. In a 2015 survey of economists’ positions on public issues, Goolsbee expressed optimism about “value-added” measures that try to isolate the impact of individual teachers on student test scores — though he qualified the approach as having “lots of noise and unobservables.” Expressing uncertainty about vouchers, Goolsbee said he fears that letting parents use public funds to pay for private school tuition could harm public schools, which have fixed costs cannot easily be reduced when students leave them. (A tax-credit version of vouchers launched in Illinois last year but now faces an uncertain future under a new Democratic governor.)
  3. He’ll bring a focus on fiscal policy to a board that oversees a big and uncertain budget. A close economic adviser to President Obama and prolific commenter on matters of economic policy in the national media, he’s joining a board that oversees $8 billion in outstanding debt. Chicago has credited the passage of an equitable funding bill, in 2017, for helping stabilize its finances. But the district’s economic future is uncertain, especially as families continue to leave the city.
  4. His personal public school experience is limited. He attended an elite private high school in the suburbs of Boston where he grew up, and his children attended the University of Chicago’s Lab School both before and after the family’s time in Washington, D.C., he has said in interviews.
  5. He’s got a following, and a sense of humor. For proof, check out his Twitter feed, which has 80,000 followers, and his October appearance on the popular NPR quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Plus, his official University of Chicago profile lists a special interest in improv comedy. That sets him apart from the rest of the school board members, who tend to keep a low public profile.  

How long Goolsbee serves could depend on what happens after Emanuel leaves office in early 2019. Chicago’s mayor has controlled the city school board since 1995, but Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term has heightened debate about whether the city’s schools have benefitted.

In 2011 and 2015, voters backed non-binding resolutions that would make the board democratically elected. Now, two of the leading candidates in the mayor’s race, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, have said they’d support an elected school board — reducing their own power over education if they become mayor.

How soon a change could happen is unclear, but state lawmakers who would have to sign off on such a change have an ally in Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who has said he supports the call for an elected school board.

The issue was a point of debate at a Chalkbeat Chicago event this week at Malcolm X College. At the event, titled “Education for All? Chicago’s Next Mayor and the Future of Public Schools,” some panelists voiced concern that elections would be dominated by well-organized factions, such as the teachers union, that would have the ability to outspend other candidates.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.