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).

Do your homework

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below: