Who Is In Charge

Hearing teases out teacher bill fears

Just what does the Colorado Education Association want in a teacher evaluation system?

Headquarters of Colorado Education Association in Denver

Members of the Senate Education Committee kept raising that question in different forms Wednesday as the panel opened two days of hearings on Senate Bill 10-191, the proposed teacher evaluation and tenure legislation.

The 40,000-member CEA was first in line to oppose the bill after it was introduced last week, saying the just-started work of the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness should be allowed to proceed without change by SB 10-191.

An extensive set of amendments has been prepared for the bill, changes that were discussed a bit on Wednesday and that Senate Ed is to vote on Thursday. Those amendments seem to have diminished potential opposition by some committee members and have raised interest in how CEA would react.

Bev Ingle, CEA president, and executive director Tony Salazar made it clear that the proposed amendments haven’t changed the union’s mind.

“We object to reform that is being done to teachers rather than with teachers” Salazar said, calling the bill “one more example of untested top-down policy.”

“We need to work as partners, not have things done to us,” Ingle said.

Ingle and Salazar were among several CEA officials who testified Wednesday, and the main points of concern emerged in all that testimony.

Timetable: The CEA believes definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness have to be developed before taking other steps, like changing the system of education evaluations and deciding how evaluation results can be used in discipline, assignments, salaries and termination.

“The real issue is building a system in the right way. It’s about not determining outcomes before the system is built,” Salazar said.

Some committee members had some difficulty with that view. “I don’t see anything here that interferes with that process” of doing effectiveness definitions first, said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “Is that not enough time?” (One of the key proposed amendments would substantially lengthen the implementation timeline, compared to what was proposed in the original bill.)

Due process: Prime sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, has maintained that the bill wouldn’t change existing due process rights for teachers. (Probationary teachers in their first three years of work can be dismissed without cause. Non-probationary teachers have the right to impartial arbitration in dismissal cases.)

But union lobbyist Julie Whitacre and CEA general counsel Martha Houser raised due-process concerns about provisions of the bill that would allow non-probationary teachers to be put back on probation if they had unsatisfactory evaluations, require mutual principal-teacher consent for placement in a school and allow administrators to consider evaluations when deciding on layoffs.

House said returning non-probationary teachers to probation would eliminate their due process rights, and that mutual consent would in effect allow principals to remove even teachers with a strong evaluation record.

Cost: The CEA witnesses repeatedly raised concerns about the uncalculated and unfunded potential costs of a new evaluation system. (One proposed amendment would fund initial costs from “gifts, grants and donations.”)

The bill “creates unfunded mandates for school districts,” Salazar said. “The funding issue … that’s a major issue we can’t brush aside.”

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, Colorado Education Association President Bev ngle (center) and CEA executive director Tony Salazar listen to committee discussion of Senate Bill 10-191 on April 21, 2010.

Whitacre suggested it would cost “a minimum of over $70 million” in costs for evaluations and professional development of evaluators. The bill calls for annual evaluations. Current practice generally evaluates teachers every three years.

Colorado has a recent history of passing education reforms without the budgets to pay for them. Several small programs have been legislated with “gifts, grants and donations.” The major example is the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which calls for a multi-year overhaul of content standards, tests, high school graduation requirements, college admissions requirements and more. A recent estimate put the price tag for just the first phase of that at more than $170 million. Further studies are scheduled.

Lynn Huizing, president of the Colorado PTA, testified Wednesday that her group opposes the bill because “we are concerned this bill sets forth a system without adequate funding.”

Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus said that group is “in favor of the broad concepts of the bill” but is worried about “a huge administrative burden. … We don’t know if this is the time to ram legislation through for the sake of change.”

Committee chair Sen. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins has set aside four hours for testimony on the bill. The committee will resume at 1 p.m. Thursday, take another hour of opposition testimony, two hours of supporter testimony and then decide on amendments and vote on the bill. Bacon hopes to finish all that by 5 p.m.

Thursday’s testimony will allow the coalition of education reform, civic and business groups backing the bill to make their case. To bolster their case, the advocacy group Stand for Children commissioned a poll of Coloradans about school spending, education issues and teacher effectiveness.

In opening remarks Wednesday, co-prime sponsor Sen Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, cited the poll as showing public support for changes such as those proposed by SB 10-191. (See the at the end of this article for a summary of poll results.)

The bill got a boost Wednesday from Gov. Bill Ritter and his three predecessors, Republican Bill Owens and Democrats Roy Romer and Dick Lamm. In a column distributed for newspaper publication, the four wrote they “enthusiastically support” SB 10-191 and “passionately urge” the legislature to pass it. (Text of column via Denver Business Journal. PDF)

Meanwhile …

While the committee was mulling the future of the Educator Effectiveness Council, that very body was meeting across East Colfax Avenue (at CEA headquarters) and actually discussing how to define teacher and principal effectiveness.

During its second meeting, the panel did some organizational tasks, received a briefing on research about effectiveness and then broke into small groups to brainstorm what effectiveness might look like (previous story with background on the council).

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newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

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: