A school accountability era in New York City is going out not with a bang but with a technical briefing in the basement of the Department of Education’s headquarters.
That’s where Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky will be unveiling this year’s progress reports, the letter grades that the Bloomberg administration awarded annually to schools since 2007, to reporters. The setup is similar to what has happened in the recent past but a far cry from the early years of the progress reports, when Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein used to tout the scores — and their improvement from the previous year — with great fanfare.
The letter grades are not the biggest school story today for Bloomberg and his current chancellor, Dennis Walcott. They’re appearing together early this afternoon at a high school in Hell’s Kitchen to announce a donation from AT&T to fund a new software engineering curriculum.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has said he wants to overhaul how schools are assessed, so today’s grades could well be the last that schools receive, at least under the current system. What they show will become a lasting data point in Bloomberg’s education legacy, along with the city’s higher graduation rate and this year’s dramatic test score decline because of the state’s new standards.
We already have one hint about what this year’s progress reports will say. On Monday, Polakow-Suransky said at a panel event that the lowest-performing 15 percent of schools from last year — all of which received “Targeted Assistance Plans” if the department opted not to close them — had come out ahead on this year’s reports. Three-quarters of the schools with the plans saw their grades go up by at least one letter; 40 percent rose by two letters or more, he said. (Those data points are repeated in a report released Monday about how the city supports schools.)
The grades are based on complex algorithms that compare student progress and performance across schools with similar students. Although the formulas have been tweaked every year, the big picture has remained the same: Elementary and middle school grades have been based almost entirely on state test scores, while high school grades factor in graduation rates and how quickly students earn credits, as well. More recently, high school grades have also reflected how well students are prepared for college, based on whether their students are exempt from remedial courses and stay enrolled over time.
This year, high schools are getting more credit for their graduates’ persistence in college than in the past, although graduates’ college readiness still amounts to only 10 percent of each school’s score. For the first time, middle schools’ scores will based in small part on their graduates’ performance in high school, and elementary schools will see for the first time how their students are doing in middle school, although that won’t factor into their progress reports.
The city also changed the way schools are compared so that schools are grouped with other schools that have similar students. Principals had long complained that the city’s old formula compared schools with many high-need students to schools with relatively few, and schools with many high-need students have been more likely to receive low scores.
The Bloomberg administration devised the grading system in large part to give parents more detailed information about their schools and to shift the focus from raw performance to the progress that students make every year, in an effort to make the point that some schools with struggling students propel them forward faster than others. But de Blasio and many others have criticized the reports’ single letter grades for offering too simplistic a view of school quality.
Usually, the city uses the grades to determine which schools to consider closing. This year, because the closure process would span the two mayoral administrations, no schools will be closed. But Walcott said last week that the department would let low-performing schools know that their progress did not meet standards nonetheless.
Online guides to this year’s progress report formulas offer other indications that the department plans to plow ahead with the progress reports even after the end of the year. Principals have been told to expect additional changes, including the incorporation of the middle school student achievement data point into elementary schools’ grades.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday lauded his new lieutenant governor pick, Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools chief, as a white knight — a school reform champion — who now would help focus his expertise on fixing the state’s pension crisis. However, Vallas' detractors paint a dramatically different picture of his accomplishments. (Sun-Times)
Vallas served his last two years as superintendent of schools in Bridgeport, Conn., where groups heaped criticism on him for everything from approving no-bid contracts, using school funds to pay his attorney fees to failing to improve test scores, complaining all the while that he shut out parents and teachers from critical decisions.
THE CROWDING ARGUMENT: Greg Hinz writes that some neighborhoods with crowding problems may well gripe at the prospect of spending $18 million to $20 million on a school with relatively few minority children, as CPS has proposed doing for Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln Park, which has more students than it was designed to hold. Only this fall did Chicago Public Schools shut dozens of facilities, mostly on the West and South sides, saying they served too few students and no longer were affordable. (Crain's)
TIF TALLY UNCLEAR: Chicago schools are in line to get a small infusion of cash from City Hall that parents and activists say could help offset significant school budget cuts made over the summer. But it remains unclear how much individual schools will see. Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he planned to again declare a more than $49 million surplus on money sitting in the city’s 151 tax-increment financing accounts. A TIF surplus would be distributed to the city’s taxing bodies according to state law, with about half of the total amount going to Chicago Public Schools. (WBEZ)
PUBLIC-PRIVATE SCHOOL DEBATE: A new book challenges popular assumptions about the superiority of private-school education and raises questions about the political imperatives behind current school-reform and policy initiatives that are based on market theory. While market theorists promote consumer choice, school autonomy and privatization as the panacea for the problems in America’s public schools, many of their policy and reform initiatives are “misguided” and not supported by the evidence, say the authors of “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” (University of Chicago Press).
Nearing the end of its work, the group that is studying possible changes to Colorado’s teacher licensing requirements remains undecided on a key issue – whether or how to connect license renewal to teacher evaluation.
The issue dominated the Tuesday meeting of the 35-member LEAD Compact Working Group, which is trying to develop recommendations about possible licensing legislation for the 2014 legislature.
A subcommittee has been studying the issue since the compact’s October meeting and returned with some suggestions – but not firm recommendations. That sparked an afternoon-long discussion that ended with the subcommittee being asked to do more work.
“We’ll see if we can nudge this forward or not,” said Janesse Brewer of the Keystone Center, who helps facilitate the group’s meetings.
The main group meets again Nov. 20 and is supposed to finish its work during a final session Dec. 2-3.
Linking license renewal and evaluation has been the elephant in the room since the group was convened last spring by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.
Johnston, who favors using teacher evaluation results for renewal of teacher licenses, considered introducing such a bill late in the 2013 session but didn’t pull the trigger because of a crush of other legislative business and uncertainty about a licensing bill’s prospects. He and the governor created the panel after the session adjourned for the year.
The panel is also discussing related issues such as teacher preparation, induction programs for new teachers and increasing the number of teacher candidates. But the tie between license renewal and evaluation is the big issue.
The evaluation system laid out in Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191 creates an annual teacher rating system of highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective, based half-and-half on professional skills and student academic growth. Being tested statewide this year, the system goes into full effect in the 2014-15 school year.Do your homework
The nine-member subgroup came up with some possible ways to use evaluation results in license renewal. But, “We do not have consensus on this possible compromise,” said group member Sue Sava, director of the Stanley Teacher Prep Program.
Among other ideas, the group discussed creating a new alternative license, under which candidates would be required only to have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check and pass a content test or have relevant work or academic content knowledge.
The subcommittee discussed limiting such a new license only to hard-to-staff schools, such as in rural districts, and also delaying use of evaluations in license renewals until 2017, after more data is available about the reliability of the SB 13-213 evaluation system.
And, Sava stressed, “There would be no revocation of licenses based on effectiveness.”
“There are a lot of things in this proposal I would have changed,” said Johnston, who was a member of the subcommittee, which held three telephone meetings. But, he said, “I think it’s a strong proposal.”
Several other members of the subcommittee made similar comments, although none wholeheartedly endorsed the ideas.
Several compact members still are concerned about how and when to use evaluation results in license renewals, and that discussion continued for some time. Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, and others argued that SB 10-191 wasn’t intended to be used for license renewal.
Later in the afternoon, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, floated the idea of tying evaluations only to a new license category – master teacher. (Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee and a key Johnston ally on education issues.) But the group didn’t coalesce around that idea, and that’s when Brewer suggested the subcommittee have another go at the issue.
The group’s work is funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations, and representatives of those two sit in on meetings.
Asked by Brewer to wrap up the day, Donnell-Kay head Tony Lewis said, “I would push hard to think how it [licensing change] affects kids. There are a whole lot of adult issues on the table today.” Commenting on concerns about the validity of evaluation data, Lewis said, “Certainty in data is impossible. … At some point you have to move.”
The group Thursday also heard a presentation by Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project. He argued that different types of teacher preparation – university programs, alternative prep and residency – don’t necessarily produce different results in the quality of new teachers. States should worry less about raising the bar to licensing and more about monitoring the performance of teachers in their first few years of work and removing those who aren’t effective, he said.
The University of Colorado Denver’s Dean of the School of Public Affairs, Paul Teske, offers thoughts on what credentialing in other professions might teach us about how to license teachers. (These views represent the personal opinions of the author and may not reflect the position of the University of Colorado Denver or the University of Colorado system.)
Now that the vote on Amendment 66 is done, teacher licensure is perhaps the most important education issue on the current policy agenda, with a likely bill in the spring legislative session. And, with Senator Michael Johnston taking the lead, there is little doubt that this will continue to be a high profile issue. I’m glad many stakeholders are involved in the LEAD discussions that have been covered by Ed News.
The New Teacher Project (TNTP) report for CDE in August 2012 developed the case for improving licensure via a larger applicant pool but also a more selective process to get and retain the most qualified teachers, based upon student achievement outcomes, not inputs. These are probably good goals, but unfortunately not the way licensure typically works in most other licensed professions.
I want to offer some unsolicited opinions and ideas that I think should be part of the picture, by looking at evidence from other professions. It is odd that the teacher licensure discussion is considered in isolation and rarely linked to a much larger literature on occupational and professional licensure, performed by state agencies — in Colorado’s case, the Department of Regulatory Affairs. Yet, the TNTP report doesn’t cite a single study outside of the education sphere.
Many other occupations besides teaching are licensed by the states; in fact, nearly one-third of American workers are in a field that requires licensure, a figure that greatly exceeds the approximately 11 percent who are in unions. Professional licensure is a bigger deal than most people realize, and it is even more common in fields that, like teaching, require a college degree. Some 800 professions require licensure in at least one American state, and some 1,100 occupations have some form of associated government regulation (Council of State Governments). Recent data show that 85 percent of those in licensed professions are required to take an entry exam of some kind, and 70 percent require continuing professional education. Still, there is a lot of variation across the 50 states in specific occupational regulatory policies, as is true for teacher regulations.
The simple rationale for these regulations is basic consumer protection, by assuring a minimum standard of training and presumed quality for these professionals. Often, a particular amount or type of training is specified by regulation, and it sometimes includes additional continuing education, to keep up one’s professional knowledge over time. There may also be sanctions for licensed professionals who do not practice appropriately.
As an alternative view, occupational licensure at the state level is often characterized by economists as an example of “captured regulation” where the regulated profession, and related gatekeepers, really control the regulatory decisions and use them to their advantage. From this perspective, regulation explicitly creates artificial entry barriers, often by requiring considerable education and training that is not actually necessary, for someone to enter the field of cutting hair, giving massages, or (perhaps) practicing medicine. Such barriers, in turn, seek to raise the incomes of those already in the profession, by keeping others out, and limiting supply, at least at the margin.
In my 2004 book “Regulation in the States” (Brookings Institution Press), I reviewed the empirical literature and performed some new studies of occupational regulation. The literature suggests that professional regulation is more complicated than either extreme view. Some of it seems to serve the public interest by assuring minimal quality standards, while some of the regulations create entry barriers and raise incumbent incomes. Politically powerful groups do seek to have legislatures pass and maintain regulation that makes it more difficult for others to enter their field. Sometimes the implementation of day-to-day regulation is performed by commissions that are made up mostly of members of that profession. Kleiner and Krueger (in their 2013 Journal of Labor Economics article titled “Analyzing the extent and influence of occupational licensing on the labor market”) find that, on average, licensure raises wages by 18 percent, compared to wages in states where licensure is not required.
My own theoretical thinking on this topic is guided by a particularly challenging chapter in Milton Friedman’s 1962 classic book, Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman attacks occupational regulation and takes an extreme free-market position — that medical doctors should not be licensed, and that anyone should be able to hang out a shingle saying “medical services available here.” In Friedman’s view, the market will sort out who is a good medical practitioner and who is not. (I don’t agree with Friedman on this case, but I give him full credit for taking on the most challenging case — regulated massage therapists or movie projectionists would have been easier. The average salary of an MD in the US and the successful lobbying of the AMA on things like the scope of practice by nurse practitioners nevertheless suggest some elements of captured regulation in medicine).
Friedman also lays out a useful framework for thinking about licensure. In this framework, there are three levels of government intervention in the marketplace worth thinking about.
At the most basic level (“registration”), a practitioner would have to register with the government that they are engaged in the profession. So, in a hypothetical world of non-licensed MDs, practitioners would have to register that they are serving patients. This would allow the government to contact them and figure out things like how many patients have the flu or have been treated for communicable diseases. But, no one is ruled out of practicing, as this is lightest possible form of regulation. It could also be used to ensure that the professional does not have a criminal background.
At the next level is voluntary “certification.” By completing a third-party training program, as with a CPA or a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), a professional can seek to show that they are better trained than a run-of-the-mill accountant or financial planner, and presumably charge a higher fee for their more expert services to clients who need it. This provides differentiation that might be valuable information to consumers, but doesn’t limit anyone from practicing in the field.
Licensure is the most intrusive degree of professional regulation — as in the real world, where no doctor can practice medicine without a license. Of course, within the category of licensure, there are many ways to actually implement it, and that seems to be the focus of the LEAD group.
This framework generates some interesting questions related to teacher licensure. Is there concern that the current system limits entry into teaching, especially by those with a background that doesn’t include a university school of education training or training by alternative license providers? Are there a lot of people in that category? Does the current system limit entry and raise teacher incomes? Are high teacher salaries a big problem?
“Yes” answers to these questions may be part of the reasons for pursuing this issue, but at the same time, American education and teacher training programs in particular are often criticized as having standards that are too low for teachers (say, in contrast to Finland, where Amanda Ripley’s “The Smartest Kids in the World” book and other reports suggest barriers to entry are really high and pay is high). Are entry barriers keeping out lots of candidates and raising teacher pay above market rates? Can it be true that our current system both allows future teachers with poor skills and backgrounds in and keeps many qualified people out? Perhaps that is possible via licensure, and is even happening, but it seems like a bit of a contradiction that should be thought through.
Other Ed News articles have captured comments that schools and districts might need more flexibility in hiring teachers. Perhaps, a la Friedman, they should be allowed to hire “non-licensed teachers”? It may be a matter of semantics, but if experiments are to be tried, another way to think about this might be: teachers must be “registered” to show they are not criminals and that they are practicing; a district could choose to hire any registered teacher, but then takes some responsibility for the outcomes; some teachers could seek “certification” perhaps by any institution (government approval of such institutions would be counter to Friedman’s approach, but could also be another variation); and then real licensure might be limited to a group trained by government approved institutions who pass a test as well.
For most regulated professions, the consumer of the service is an individual, so a minimum threshold of quality and training is very important, as these buyers may not be sophisticated in their knowledge. For teachers, the intermediate consumer is the school or district (this is often true of MDs as well, who often work for hospital, group practices, insurance companies, etc), while the family or students are the “real” ultimate consumer. But families are rarely in the position of actually “choosing” a teacher — they might get to choose a school, and usually get whatever teacher is assigned to them at that grade level. That places the burden on the state, districts, and schools to make sure that good teaching takes place, whether it is by registered, certified, or licensed teachers.
Regarding licensure, it is also useful to think about the regulations in related categories: input, process and output regulation. Inputs relate to the requirements to enter the profession, the process is about what is required to maintain the license, and outputs are the results – are licensed professionals truly better at what they do?
For teachers and process, the proposal on the table seems to be to link continuing licensure to teacher evaluations from 191, with the chance to lose the license with a few years of inadequate performance.
Looking to other regulated arenas might be instructive here too, and the evidence is that relatively few other professionals actually lose their licenses, as long as they pursue adequate continuing education. Some argue this is because the review committees are often stacked with people from the same profession who are unlikely to suspend their colleagues. Far fewer than one percent of MDs lose their license, for example, even though the malpractice suit rate is higher, and the occasional horror story of a near-blind surgeon usually involves someone practicing with a valid license.
In the end, I’m not sure the evidence from other regulated professions supports one “side” or the other in the teacher licensure discussions. I do think that looking at other areas of occupational regulation raises some good questions and perspectives about entry barriers, wage effects, competition, training programs and the ease or difficulty of getting into and through them, evidence that others are seeking to join the profession and are regulated out, who the consumers are, and whether or not licensure actually ensures good teaching.About the author
Paul Teske is Dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor. He has written eight books and dozens of articles and book chapters on education policy and regulatory policy.
The city’s next public advocate isn’t afraid to raise her voice on education issues.
Letitia James’ aggressive oratory against charter schools and co-locations has earned her standing ovations in crowded school auditoriums, effusive praise from Diane Ravitch, and skepticism among charter school parents. And her increasingly vocal presence in education activism provides a clear glimpse into what mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s closest progressive allies want from him on education.
“I think you can view me as a partner in ensuring that the mayor of the city of New York honors his commitment to reform the school system as we know it,” James said in a recent interview. “Now it’s time to put the rhetoric into action. And my role is to ensure that in fact the rhetoric is actualized.”
Currently a City Councilmember representing Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and much of Crown Heights, James will soon be the city’s second highest-ranking official. Though the power of the public advocate has historically been limited, she may end up playing a larger role given her close relationship with de Blasio.
But James, an outspoken critic of charter schools eager for large-scale shifts in the city’s education policies, has been more condemnatory than de Blasio when speaking out about the city’s public schools. ”They have pretty much dismantled public education,” she said of the Bloomberg administration. “I see it wherever I go, and I just see the inequities.”
Politics will necessarily hem de Blasio in once he begins governing from City Hall, where he will almost certainly face continuous pressure to moderate the stances he took during the campaign on charter schools and school closures. And James says she won’t hesitate to hold de Blasio to account if he does.
At a transition event yesterday, James told the Observer that de Blasio is a friend—”But nonetheless, putting that aside, I have a job to do. And New Yorkers elected me to be checks and balances on Mayor Bill de Blasio,” she said.
That’s been a more natural stance for past public advocates, who have been at political odds with the city’s mayor for the position’s 20-year history. But James and de Blasio appear in public together frequently, offered strong endorsements of each other during the campaign, and share many positions.
“I don’t think, in terms of education, we diverge on much of anything,” James said, referring to de Blasio.
James’ solution to that dilemma is to remake the office, not the relationship. “The office of the public advocate could utilize more of its oversight powers. It could sue. It could hold hearings all throughout the city of New York, hearings which really focus on parent involvement,” she said. “My emphasis is going to be a lot on litigation.”
Over the course of the campaign, de Blasio made some of his own educational priorities clear: universal pre-K, a plan to charge well-financed charter school networks to operate in public space, a moratorium on school closures, and the elimination of the school letter-grade system.
More broadly, James said she and the mayor-elect agree on the need for “a more comprehensive idea of education,” meaning more resources for schools, smaller class sizes, and what she termed “disbanding standardized testing.”
The desire to de-emphasize testing is why she said she would be consulting Carmen Farina, the former second-in-command at the Department of Education who later criticized the use of test scores to measure schools, during her transition. (Farina, whose name has been floated as a possible chancellor, has been informally advising the de Blasio campaign.)
If charter school advocates are hopeful that de Blasio can be swayed toward more pro-charter positions as the governing process begins, they definitely won’t find such flexibility from James. She speaks of “charter schools” and “public schools” as separate entities, and repeatedly referred to what the money the city spent supporting charter schools could do for other parts of the school system.
James attended Brooklyn public schools—P.S. 39 and M.S. 88 in Park Slope, and Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge. At Fort Hamilton, she recalled being offered Spanish, Latin, and French, and having school nurses, guidance counselors, and afterschool programs available.
That wealth of options is not available in many district schools, she said—a problem she says was caused by the Bloomberg administration giving charter schools space in public buildings.
“Charter schools obviously provide so many things to so many children,” she said. “It just appears that charter schools have basic services and beyond … and public schools just have basic services, if that.”
Given that the budget of the public advocate’s office has been slashed in recent years, James is counting on de Blasio’s sympathy for her cause and her ties to councilmembers to give her office more cash—and more influence—on education issues citywide.
“I think this is an opportunity to form an alliance when necessary, to continue to provide oversight, and to be critical from time to time as well,” James said.
Sen. Mike Johnston often compared his school-finance reform law to a high-powered car that just needed “gas” from Amendment 66 to whisk Colorado into a bright future of education reform and improved student achievement.
But voters declined to pay at the pump, and Johnston’s Senate Bill 13-213 is sitting on blocks in the legislative garage. The question now is, will Johnston or others try to salvage it for parts and build a couple of compacts, and will anyone be willing to pay for them?
In the days following A66’s defeat, Johnston and other amendment backers were cautious about predicting what they or others may do.
“I can’t answer that yet,” Johnston told EdNews on Election Night when asked about which pieces of SB 13-213 he might try to resurrect. The Denver Democrat was similarly circumspect in later media interviews, although he certainly didn’t close the door on reviving parts of SB 13-213.
But lawmakers love to propose education bills, and with more than $1 billion in the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement annual school funding, there’s little doubt there will be some attempts to revive pieces of Johnston’s omnibus bill from last session.
Minority House Republicans were first out of the gate last week, announcing they’ll introduce 2014 bills to change how student enrollment is counted, provide better facilities and transportation funding for charter schools and to improve transparency of school district finances. Most of those issues were addressed in SB 13-213. (Get details in this news release.)
Another part of the GOP package is a bill by Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, to increase funding for English language learners and to extend the number of years students are eligible for such funding. She, along with Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, saw the 2013 version of that idea die in committee. SB 13-213 contained significant increases for ELL students as part of the overall K-12 funding formula.Disassembly may be difficult Pricey shopping listEstimated costs of some SB 13-213 components
It’s hard to break out figures for some of the bill’s more expensive elements, including additional funding for at-risk and ELL students, more preschool spaces for at-risk children and full-day kindergarten for all students. But there is consensus that those elements would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Leanne Emm, CDE budget chief, says the cost of those as separate programs would require new calculations.
Figures reflect new spending and are from a legislative staff analysis of the bill.
Johnston also frequently liked to describe SB 13-213 as a “grand bargain,” a plan that had something for every education interest, from more money for districts to some additional funding for charters to a modest amount of autonomy for principals in spending money on at-risk students.
“I think the beauty of 213 was that it was a comprehensive package,” notes Kayla McGannon, a lobbyist who had education clients.
Given that its pieces were so interconnected, SB 13-213 may be tough to disassemble. And even if parts of the law surface in 2014 as separate bills, they face the same problem that Johnston’s big bill did – they need gas.
The total SB 13-213 package would have cost an estimated $1.3 billion in 2015-16, its first year of operation. That would have been on top of the $5.7 billion Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing be spent on district support in 2014-15.
So big-ticket elements of SB 13-213 are expected to be off the table because there’s no money to fund them.
But Capitol observers still expect Johnston and others to consider reusing smaller pieces.
The most likely one is a change in counting student enrollment. District funding currently is based on attendance counts taken during a small window around Oct. 1. Many legislators and educators favor switching to the system called average daily membership (ADM), under which student counts are taken frequently throughout the school year and averaged. The education theory behind ADM is that districts will have a greater incentive to keep students enrolled.
But rolling out ADM isn’t without cost – estimates run between $5 and $10 million – and it would take some time to implement. Even SB 13-213 wouldn’t have changed the count system until the 2017-18 school year.New bills will get close scrutiny
Even relatively small and largely one-time costs like changing to ADM may face opposition.
That’s because school districts, now without the prospect of an A66 boost, will be pushing hard to get as much support as they can from the current school finance formula.
Hickenlooper is proposing that basic K-12 support, known as Total Program Funding, increase only by inflation and enrollment growth in 2014-15, as required by Amendment 23. That would put total program at about $5.7 billion in state and local revenues. The governor’s plan proposes very little change in what’s called the negative factor, a mathematical formula used by the legislature to reduce school funding from what it would have been under the full terms of A23, the 2000 constitutional amendment that will continue to guide education funding now that A66 is dead. It’s estimated districts have lost more than $1 billion in funding over the last few years because of the negative factor.)
Districts lost a fight with Hickenlooper and the Joint Budget Committee last spring over reduction of the negative factor. Districts are expected to resume the battle in January and to resist spending money on new education initiatives instead of using it to trim the negative factor.
“Most districts want more money spent out of the State Education Fund” on total program, said one lobbyist. “I think it’s going to be a rough year.”
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said recently, “Our legislators need to understand the burden and stress unfunded mandates have placed on educators across the state. We would caution the upcoming Colorado General Assembly against adding any new education reforms to this over-burdened education system.”
Other education advocates also think the state perhaps should focus on successfully implementing education reforms already in the pipeline.
This school year districts are rolling out new academic content standards, a new early literacy program and evaluating principals and teachers under the terms of Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark evaluation law. That system will be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year, along with new online tests.
“We need to regroup and focus on things that already are in law,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which was a major backer of SB 13-213 and of A66.
Speaking of those initiatives, Sen. Rollie Heath said, “If we get all of that right I would be very happy,” adding, “I don’t see a lot of meaningful [new] things happening” during the 2014 session. The Boulder Democrat was Johnston’s cosponsor on SB 13-213 and will be Senate majority leader next session.
There’s even some stray Capitol chatter that the defeat of A66 could put existing reforms – or at least their timetables – at risk.
Tony Salazar, CEA executive director, acknowledged that risk recently, but he added, “It’s too early to say if delays are needed.”
Even Hickenlooper, speaking with reporters last week, said, “If 66 had passed we would have been able to implement Senate 191 at a high level,” along with other programs. “The money’s not there now.”
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
She says she’s not interested in the job herself, but Carmen Farina has a clear vision for how Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s chancellor should lead the city’s schools.
That vision includes some big ideas — including converting empty classrooms into dormitories for homeless students to forcing real estate developers to build space for early education — that the retired educator says have been on her mind recently. On Monday, Farina shared her thoughts publicly on an education panel about the transition underway at City Hall between the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations.
Farina said her philosophy around education policymaking represents an approach that’s been absent at the Department of Education in recent years.
“I want to see us have a system where people do things because they have a sense of joy about it, not because they have a sense of fear,” Farina said during the panel, which was part of a daylong conference about the transition at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Farina’s four-decade career as a teacher and administrator in city schools included Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the system in 2002. She helped oversee an initial restructuring under mayoral control, serving as one of 10 regional superintendents and then moving up to head the department’s instructional division for two years.
Farina has been an unofficial advisor to de Blasio on education, a relationship that dates back more than a decade to when they worked in the same Brooklyn school district. Before he was elected to the City Council in 2001, de Blasio served on the District 15 school board at the same time when Farina was superintendent.
The close ties have led to speculation that she might be de Blasio’s pick for chancellor, a rumor she squelched last month and again on her way out of the room after her panel appearance. She declined to offer the name of a good candidate to fill the position, arguing that de Blasio and people who are helping him with the transition should handle the selection privately.
“When we voted for Bill as mayor we assumed he heard our concerns and would make the right decisions on his picks for commissioners and chancellor,” she said.
Some of what Farina said on the panel hewed closely to priorities that de Blasio campaigned on during the election season. Like de Blasio, she called for the inclusion of more voices than just the mayor’s on the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member school board that sets education policies.
She also offered an idea that could address space issues that could stand in the way of de Blasio’s proposal to expand the number of available pre-kindergarten seats and after school programs for middle school students. Real estate developers, she said, should be required to build early childhood education centers that would also serve as community centers for middle school students.
And Farina had a radical solution to serve some of the roughly 18,000 children who are currently housed in city’s homeless shelter system.
“We need to turn some of our large high schools into dormitory schools,” she said, so that homeless students can be accounted for in the hours when they’re not supposed to be in school. (Many large high schools currently house multiple schools, putting them near or over capacity.)
Farina was critical of the Bloomberg administration’s approach to low-performing schools, which largely relied on closing them and opening new schools in their place. An alternative to closing schools, she proposed, is to pair principals from schools with mirroring student populations, where one school is performing well and the other isn’t, to exchange ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
“Principal-to-principal, teachers-to-teachers, are the best vehicle to professional development that I know,” she said.
The panel featured plenty of praise for the some current Bloomberg policies, too. Joining Farina on the seven-member panel was Cass Conrad, executive director of CUNY’s Early College Initiative, who touted the hundreds of small schools that have been created in the last 12 years.
Another panelist, Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, said the city’s evolving school accountability system — dominated by schools’ annual progress report card grades — was worth saving, but with some changes. He said recent changes to the system were providing a more accurate picture of school quality than ever and that bringing test scores, which currently make up most of the scores, into balance with other measures would improve them more.
He also said a pilot to allow schools to opt out of the citywide accountability system had attracted roughly 50 schools and would further test different approaches to measuring school performance.
Michelle Obama, after nearly five years of evangelizing exercise and good eating habits, will begin a new initiative on Tuesday that seeks to increase the number of low-income students who pursue a college degree. (The New York Times)
A NEIGHBORHOOD DIVIDED: The city said Monday it will build an annex with about 19 classrooms and a multipurpose room on the site of Lincoln Park Elementary School. The $18 million project was announced to cheers from parents and community members who had pushed for an addition at the school. But another group of parents and community members urged Chicago Public Schools to consider other options that included redrawing boundary lines to move some students into other schools. That faction argued that the neighborhood was using its wealth and political power to get more space for Lincoln Elementary even as other schools in the city face more severe overcrowding. (Tribune)
CAMPUS RIFT: A blog written by Chicago State University faculty members that has been critical of the school's administration was sent a "cease and desist" notice by university lawyers Monday, deepening an ongoing rift between a group of professors and administrators. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
HOMELESS STUDENTS: The Great Recession caused by the 2008 economic and housing crisis has technically ended, but the number of homeless students nationwide continues to swell, as school districts' capacity to help them shrinks. If added together, homeless students now would make up the largest school district in the country—at nearly 1.17 million, considerably more than the entire student population of New York City public schools. (Education Week)
On a windy Monday last month, the main school campus in the small northeastern town of Haxtun quietly buzzed. Teachers walked the hallways heads together and deep in discussion. Lunch time was a rush of moving bodies.
But there were no students in sight. On this day, the teachers were the students and the instructors.
Teachers from ten rural districts in northeastern Colorado gathered in Haxtun, just 30 miles from the Nebraska border, to figure out how to translate the mandates of the Common Core to their classrooms.
The Common Core State Standards, a shared set of expectations about what students are supposed to know, are being rolled out across the state this year, and districts are finding implementation challenging.
The ten districts these teachers came from face an even bigger hurdle, as none had curriculum specialists and only one had any kind of written curriculum at all. Instead, teachers used textbooks to guide their instruction. Each classroom went at its own pace and even taught different material. The differences between districts were even greater.
So the group of districts decided to adopt the sample Common Core curriculum written by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and collaborate on training to teachers to use it.
All ten districts are members of the Northeast Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), a regional consortium that coordinates shared services, including professional development and distance learning. The Northeast BOCES, which also includes two districts who are not participating, helps to coordinate this curriculum collaborative.
So every month, teachers and school administrators gather in Haxtun to familiarize themselves with the curriculum, write assessments and agree on grading standards.Writing the tests
The collaborative had to pick a starting point for curriculum training, so this fall the focus is math. Teachers in subjects other than math team up to work on their own area.
During this session, the expectation was that all groups would create the first test that they’ll give to their students based on the new curriculum. Teachers worked to write test questions that are aligned to the new standards and difficult enough to challenge students.
In a classroom of first grade instructors, a table of teachers worked on a unit on measuring and telling time.
One teacher suggested that students measure objects found in their desks. “Pick an object shorter than this pencil and longer than my thumb” was one possible instruction. But the logistics of how that would work under testing conditions got more complicated.
“How much do we want them digging in their desks?” said one of her table mates. They agreed to have students take the object out before testing started.
The group also stalled over the wording of a question about students’ ability to tell time. The question asked students when they got up for school. Then students had to construct a clock, fill in the hands to show their wake-up time and finally write that time on a digital clock (see the example assessment for similar questions).
“But what if it says 2 p.m.?” said one teacher. She said students might not know what time they got up or write when they want to get up.
“As long as the two answers match, it’s fine,” said Susan Rogers, the first grade teacher for Wray school district.
By 2:30 p.m., when the workshop ended, the first grade teachers had three new assessments to take back to their classrooms.
“If you lose that test, you’re walking home,” one Holyoke teacher said to her colleague, who had the master copy of their newly minted assessment.
Teachers said that the new standards presented a challenge for them, but that they thought the extra work was worth it.
“We’re free to teach it the way we want to teach it, but it’s good to know what the bottom line is,” said Kristie Pelle, a Holyoke first grade teacher. She said, especially in math, she has already seen benefits for her students.
“I felt like math was one of the things [where] we needed to change curriculum,” said Pelle.
She also anticipated that the change will smooth the transitions between grades. “When my first graders go to second grade, [the teachers] know where to pickup, they know where [the students] left off.”Beyond the core
Teachers in all subjects gathered for the training, including those not traditionally covered by testing. Since Monday was about assessments, figuring out how to apply the Common Core standards to grading outside of traditionally tested areas required creativity on the part of teachers.
In the group for arts curriculum, the teachers designing a curriculum to assess fifth grade art projects found themselves balancing the need for clear grading protocols and the desire to encourage creativity.
“Do we give it to the fifth graders?” asked another teacher. “I would not want to hand this to students and say welcome to fifth grade art.” No, they agreed, they would use a different ones for students to grade themselves.
The challenges of grading art projects was not lost on them. They struggled to find a balance of rewarding creativity and encouraging clarity.
“Does a spider have four or eight legs?” Rhonda Mehring-Smith, Holyoke’s art teacher, suggested for the kind of benchmark she would use for students.
She said she thinks there are still ways to encourage kids to use their imagination. “I intentionally never put up an example because then they just copy it instead of being creative.”Scheduling conflicts
The process leading up to this day of work has not been simple. Getting districts and teachers used to going their own way on the same path was difficult.
“As part of this consortium, [the districts] all had to get on the same path,” said Tim Sanger, the executive director of Northeast BOCES. One district left the collaborative because there wasn’t consensus among staff members.
The ten districts had to create a common calendar in order for all teachers to attend the trainings. The calendar, which included shared school breaks and TCAP testing windows, required uniting school districts who feel their local control has faded.
“That was the hardest thing,” said Sanger. He said schools had very different academic calendars, even down to how many days a week students were in school. Several school districts had four day school weeks. Another, Holyoke school district, hadn’t had spring break in years.
All these changes require considerable district support, which means that superintendents had to do a bit of marketing for the project.
“Superintendents going back to their staff and selling it is a huge piece,” said Sanger. But, he said, the results have been good. “Seventeen years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”The end of the day
By the end of the day, according to Miles, all of the groups completed at least one assessment and many had finished the entire math curriculum.
That meant the collaborative was a month ahead of their target and groups had time to work on other projects and even just chat. A group of kindergarten teachers, who rarely see each other, spent the afternoon sharing war stories and discussing how they manage their classrooms.
That collaborative spirit didn’t surprise Sanger. Rural districts, he said, work differently than urban ones.
“We’re a different animal, so to speak,” said Sanger. “We have to share more resources, we have to network more.”
The assessments teachers build this year will be used in classrooms right away but the collaborative will continue. Both teachers and administrators agree it will take more than a year to see results.
“Kids have gone through curriculum with different expectations,” said Carly Daniel, a first grade teacher at Holyoke School District. “So it’ll take some backfill.”
A study that the city Department of Education commissioned to boost the chances of having the next mayor continue the “network” school support structure concluded that while the theory is sound, the execution has not been.
Struggling schools have gotten too little support and communities and schools have had too weak of a connection under the networks, according to the report, released today by the Parthenon Group. One solution, the consulting firm suggests, is restoring some authority to district superintendents — whom the Bloomberg administration stripped of most power in 2007.
Networks replaced a system of school support that was linked to schools’ geographic districts. Instead of coaches and advisors giving professional development, curriculum, and budget help to all of the schools in a single area, they currently work with schools that choose their brand of support, no matter where the schools are located.
The new report comes at a time Mayor Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, is deep into planning for his transition to City Hall. De Blasio has said he thinks districts should play a stronger role in school support, but he has so far offered few details about how he plans to change the way schools get help.
The report contains several ideas for de Blasio and his transition team. Before it got the contract to study networks, Parthenon secretly told the department that it would seek to identify “low-hanging fruit” that could be changed without overhauling the network structure entirely.
The group found that principals appreciate being able to select who gives them support and being able to work with schools other than those that happen to be located nearby. It also found decoupling support from evaluation allowed some principals to seek help more often.
But Parthenon also found validation for longstanding critiques of the network structure.
One critique has been that the structure allows low-performing schools to operate with little intervention. The report backs up the charge, concluding, ”The DOE today may provide too little empowerment for a set of schools that are high performing and experience little benefit from central supports, while offering too much latitude to principals who will not be able to figure out how to improve on their own.” It adds that when struggling schools have gotten intensive support, as the department has offered in recent years, they have usually gotten stronger.
The report suggests allowing superintendents, who must rate principals each year, to supersede network leaders for the worst-performing schools. “The formal authority of the superintendent is of greatest value when working with struggling schools that, without strong guidance, may not necessarily make the best use of their autonomy,” the report concludes.
Superintendents could also play a stronger role in helping communities feel connected to their schools, according to the report, which identifies community relations as a weakness under the Bloomberg administration.
“While the DOE points out that each district office has a family advocate position, there is a legitimate concern from parents that this position is disconnected from the day-to-day support, oversight, and resources that networks provide, and that district offices have few resources to act on their concerns,” the report concludes.
Staffing is another concern. The city does not have enough highly trained people to fill all of the difficult and specialized roles that networks must play, the report says.
“The current model, in which the DOE has to staff 56 network teams in addition to cluster teams and superintendents, has significantly increased the challenge of talent development and hiring for all of these positions, and left the existing talent base stretched fairly thin,” it says, adding that it might not even be realistic to find 56 strong network leaders. The staffing challenge is most acute in areas where network officials need specialized expertise, such as around special education, according to the report.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said Parthenon’s exhaustive interviews meant the report’s conclusions are worth considering. “I think it was a thoughtful report,” he said today.
From some principals, the possibility that the network structure might not survive into de Blasio’s tenure is a real concern, despite their drawbacks.
“I think that whoever is going to be in charge should be really mindful of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Donna Taylor, principal of the Brooklyn School for Inquiry, a citywide gifted school.
“Being able to go to a meeting and be able to walk into a room with 47 like-minded people means everything in the world to a principal and an [assistant principal],” Taylor added. “And without networks we wouldn’t have that. That’s big.”
Geoff Decker contributed reporting.
Parthenon’s complete report is below:
In the first of a series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins describes her own choice to leave the teaching profession.
Among the ranks of Colorado transplants, conversation inevitably includes “Where are you from? What brought you to Colorado?” Along with the opportunity to brag on my alma mater, I get to share the experience that helped shape my identity and goals. “I am from Michigan; I moved to Colorado to join Teach for America; and I left the classroom after three years.”
Most people smile, nod, and change the topic. A few enthusiastic ones share their own passion for education.
Then there are those who are disgusted, naming me one of “those people,” selfish enough to leave the classroom before 35 years have passed. Unfortunately, they say, I left the classroom 32 years before completing my job.
Unfortunately, I say, the current education system does not adequately support teachers to reach and sustain excellence. In other words, within the existing system, I could not “complete the job” I had envisioned. Despite my pride in my students’ results and my development, I was unable to close the achievement gap in my classroom, regardless of weekends worked, feedback implemented, and interventions administered. I was no longer willing to be part of a system that demanded my best but failed to support me to strategically work towards extraordinary student achievement.
During my three years of teaching in two schools in the Denver Public Schools system, my eyes were opened to another factor that contributed to me leaving the classroom. I could not, and still cannot, believe the differences between schools within a single district. One school strove for order and excellence; the other was steeped in chaos and apathy.
My own efforts in the classroom could never change the fact that children all over the district, state, and country could spend all day in school, not learning. I needed to step out of the classroom, into a role where I could work relentlessly towards equalizing the system, giving students the opportunities that all children deserve. I left the classroom, but there is no way that I could leave education. I remain committed to the kids in the system and stand firm in my decision to work to improve their outcomes in other ways.
Now, after only a few months in the education policy world, I see that realizing an equal education system is a daunting task. In the classroom, my actions could directly lead to 33 students learning at a pace that would make up for previous gaps. Outside the classroom, it takes a certain amount of tenacity and political acumen to strive towards system-level solutions that may not show immediate victories. The reforms around standards, educator evaluations, testing, and turnarounds are crucial for eventual system improvement. As a former teacher, however, I want to see action that not only measures but improves the quality of teachers.
As a fellow at the Donnell-Kay Foundation, I plan to write an ongoing blog because I want to widen the conversation around how we recruit, train, and support teachers. I want to see teacher involvement in the policy world expand, allowing educators to contribute to progressive, meaningful solutions that will dramatically improve outcomes for kids. In the coming months, I plan to raise questions, explore research, propose solutions, and encourage conversations that will promote educational equity by focusing on those who are closest to our students every single day: our teachers.About the author
Sarah Jenkins is a fellow at the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Before joining the Foundation, Sarah spent three years teaching kindergarten and first grade in two charter schools in the Denver Public School system.
A coalition of small high schools where students complete graduation projects rather than take most Regents exams could soon add several more schools to its ranks – if the state lets those schools skip the tests.
The New York Performance Standards Consortium is in talks with the state to get Regents-exam waivers for as many as 22 schools that follow the group’s instructional model and use alternative assessments, but currently must also administer the Regents tests. The schools, which have been part of a multi-year pilot, include several high schools in the Internationals and Expeditionary Learning networks. Many of them have staff members who worked at consortium schools in the past.
The consortium currently includes 28 public schools — 26 in New York City and one each in Rochester and Ithaca — where students are exempt from taking all Regents exams except for English. Instead, they must earn class credits and complete intensive projects to graduate.
The group and its supporters – which include the city teachers union and more recently the city Department of Education – have lobbied the state to let more schools trade the Regents tests for the long-term projects, citing data showing higher-than-average graduation and college-enrollment rates among consortium schools.
“I think it’s a disgrace that these schools have to apply for a waiver to do more work and prepare children better,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, adding that obtaining the state waivers is rarely easy. “We know every time we do it it’s a political battle.”
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch declined to discuss the consortium or the waivers due to the ongoing talks. Ann Cook, the consortium’s executive director, also declined to discuss the talks but said she expected an answer from the state soon.
The consortium must ask the State Education Department to renew the test waivers for the schools that have them every few years, which the Board of Regents must approve. In the past, the consortium has sometimes needed to lobby lawmakers to get the waivers renewed, but Commissioner John King most recently granted the schools a three-year waiver extension in July.
The current negotiations are around whether the consortium can add new members, something that could be politically tricky for King to allow at a time when the state’s emphasis on standardized testing has come under fire. Some of the pilot schools have followed the consortium’s alternative-assessment model for years in hopes of getting their own waivers to stop administering Regents exams.
Students seeking diplomas at consortium schools skip the math, science, and social studies Regents tests. Instead, they complete a literary essay (in addition to taking the English Regents exam), social-studies research paper, applied-math project and science experiment, which they must defend before panels of teachers and outside observers. A student at the Institute for Collaborative Education, for instance, conducted a neurobiology experiment and wrote a 15-page paper comparing the writing of Ralph Ellison and Albert Camus for his assessment projects one year.
The city Department of Education gave the consortium funding a few years ago to train the pilot schools in its methods. Since then, it has pushed the state to offer those schools Regents waivers.
“We think this is very strong work that should be expanded,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer. The school where Polakow-Suransky was the founding principal, Bronx International High School, is one of the consortium pilot schools.
The waiver wait has strained some schools. Jamie Munkatchy, a science teacher at Validus Preparatory Academy, a consortium pilot school in the Bronx, said that for the past six years she and her colleagues have attended consortium trainings, helped evaluate other schools’ graduation projects, and guided their own students to complete similar projects.
But still, their students must take and pass all five Regents exams required for graduation.
“You get tired of the consortium telling you waivers are going to come, but they never come,” Munkatchy said. “They would just say, ‘Be patient, it’s going to happen.’”
The situation changed recently for Validus. When consortium officials held a vote at the school to check for support of the alternative-assessment model, less than 80 percent of the staff voted for it. Now the consortium does not plan to seek a waiver for the school.
The consortium says it would like to secure waivers for all of the pilot schools that have participated in the trainings and where the entire staff backs the consortium model.
But some current and former pilot-school staffers have complained about a lack of transparency in the waiver process, where the consortium leaders lobby state education officials in private for the test exemptions on the schools’ behalf. Cook declined to provide GothamSchools a list of the pilot schools.
The consortium says it has asked the state to develop a more formal process for granting the waivers.
In the meantime, some pilot schools have struggled to balance the consortium-style project work with preparing students for the Regents.
“It’s kind of like dancing with two partners,” said Matt Brown, principal of Kurt Hahn High School, a pilot school that is part of the Expeditionary Learning network. “We feel like we would do a better job for our kids if we could focus on the performance-based assessments.”
Claire Sylvan, executive director of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, said of the network’s 15 New York City high schools, three are founding members of the consortium and the rest are consortium pilot schools.
“We do find that we can’t go as in depth in our performance tasks and portfolios in our schools that are required to do Regents as we can in our other schools,” Sylvan said, adding that she has not been informed if or when the pilot schools might receive waivers.
Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, who previously worked closely with the consortium schools when he was the UFT’s vice-president, said he did not expect any schools to adopt the consortium model simply as a way to sidestep the state tests.
“It shouldn’t be seen as an opt-out,” he said. “It’s taking on a great deal more work.”
Khadim Seck, a senior at Urban Academy, cited an art-criticism project where he analyzed the work of the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara — he creates “pictures that look cute, but there’s something dark lurking” — as an assessment that spurred learning in a way a typical test could not.
“Students are more than just a grade,” he said. “They’re actual thinkers.”
The newly-elected members of Denver’s Board of Education have a long to-do list: closing the achievement gap, negotiating teacher contracts, approving school renewals, setting the budget.
But no item may be as pressing as revising the Denver Plan, the supposed blueprint for the district’s reform efforts and goals.
The plan, a 68-page document outlining the district’s core beliefs and goals, is widely accepted as inapt and in need of a complete overhaul, several DPS board members and observers said last week.
Board director Anne Rowe, who has been quietly laying the groundwork throughout the year in anticipation of a fresh start with a new board, said the work on the Denver Plan will begin in earnest immediately.
Three new members, former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, Mike Johnson and Rosemary Rodriguez, will be sworn in Nov. 22, one day after the current board term ends.
The new members replace Mary Seawall, Jeannie Kaplan and Andrea Merida.
Landri Taylor, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, won a full term in last week’s election as well.
Revisiting the plan, which was first written in 2005 and updated in 2010, has been an item on the board’s agenda since February 2012. It was then that reform-minded education advocacy nonprofit A-Plus Denver, in a letter to DPS’ board, dubbed the framework “poorly established” and said its goals were “disjointed.”
Those goals, spelled out in-depth on the second to the last page of the document include that “all students will graduate from the Denver Public Schools prepared for postsecondary success” and that “the number of high-performing schools as measured by the School Performance Framework will increase.”
An update to the plan has remained unfinished largely based on the inability of the current board to have constructive conversations, Rowe said. She believes the new members, who are expected to establish a 6-1 majority generally unified in support of the current administration’s goals, will be able to engage in a different debate that will yield a plan by June of 2013.Problems with the plan
Rowe likes to point out there are parts of the plan that are working. But even before she was elected to the school board in 2011, she had her eyes on improving the urban school district’s vision.
“The Denver Plan can become more robust with regards to setting measurable goals,” she said. “We really need to articulate what we’re focusing on. The Denver Plan has a lot in it. But there needs to be some vision, core beliefs, theory of action, high level goals, strategies, and the measurements to show (the community) we’re going in the right direction.”
She hopes a revised plan will be a document district stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community at large— can use to hold the system accountable.
“I think that to provide a great education to kids, you not only have to do it well, but you have to articulate it well,” she said. “We need to have accountability: how do we know we’re going in the right direction. Without a plan going forward, it would be very hard for me to measure any organization whether they’re successful or not.”
The current plan has made it impossible to understand the district’s successes and failures because the across the board goal outlined in the plan — a 3.5 percent annual growth in state assessment scores, graduation rate and growth — is arbitrary, said A-Plus Denver chief Van Schoales.
And, as Schoales pointed out, the district is having a hard time meeting those goals, however unmethodical they are.
“There are too many objectives and it’s not focused,” said Schoales of the cumbersome document. “We believe a strategic plan is crucial for the district to improve.”Path to the plan
In the nine months leading up to last week’s election, the board contracted the Panasonic Foundation, which specializes in evidence-based accountability in high poverty school districts, to act as a facilitator while it retools the Denver Plan, Rowe said. The board has also hosted several retreats which have centered around two questions: what is a great education, and what should a DPS graduate know and be able to do after graduation, Rowe said.
“The new board will dive in,” Rowe said. “Our intent is to work collaboratively with the district, find best practices, talk to various organizations and, most importantly, reach out to the constituents in our community — both the people who work in our schools and the parents and students who go to our schools. There will be an inclusive discussion around this, because that’s how we’re going to get the best plan.”
Schoales believes the board should have a working draft for public comment by early spring. And while an utilitarian blueprint is paramount, Rowe said the board is not going to rush the process.
“We’ll engage the new board as quickly as possible,” Rowe said. “Coming up with a revised Denver plan that is engaging, that is thoughtful, will take some time.”
But, Rowe believes, the discussions moving forward will be more advanced than the ones in the past.
“We would spend a lot of time discussing whether a school was a charter school or not,” Rowe said. “Opposed to what is happening in a school to create a high level of achievement.”
Kaplan, one of three board members who regularly and publicly criticized the district’s administration and its trajectory, was partnered with Rowe to secure a consultant and lead the conversation among board members.
She dismissed the claim the minority held up the process.
“It’s puzzling to me how the minority could have stopped anything,” she said. “I don’t think we were able to stop anything significant.”
Kaplan said the 6-1 supermajority will be entirely accountable to the success of a new Denver Plan.
“There will be no excuses,” she said.
The lone opposing voice to the broad reform agenda backed by the new, expanding board majority is taking a combative wait-and-see approach.
“They have all power,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver. “They can silence me at meetings if they wish to. They can do whatever they like. It’s really in their court, to either include the voice of northwest Denver or not. I do plan on being more of a watch dog. I do plan on speaking out more.”
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.