Statehouse roundup

Online bill started with study, now proposes yet another study

Key bills related to online education and gifted and talented programs ran into headwinds Wednesday as nearly two dozen education bills were in play on the floor and in committee at the Capitol.

The day’s frantic pace of activity highlighted the perils some bills face and the surprises that pop up as lawmakers scramble to work through long calendars at the end of the session.

Sponsors of House Bill 14-1382, who saw the breadth of concern about their bill during a hearing earlier in the week, returned to the House Education Committee with a rewrite designed to soften objections.

“We hope we have captured their concerns and addressed them,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.

The major issue with the original bill by Young and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, was a recommendation that the Department of Education be stripped of its authority to certify multi-district online schools and instead set requirements for and oversee school districts that authorize online programs. (See this story for more details about the bill and about Monday’s hearing on the measure.)

The Young/Wilson rewrite, which the committee approved 8-5, now merely would set up a task force to study authorization of multi-district online programs. Ironically, the bill itself largely was the product of small task force that Young, Wilson and two senators convened in late January to come up with possible legislation this year. Now it looks like the issue will be tossed to the 2015 legislature – if HB 14-1382 survives another House committee, floor debate and review by the Senate – all in the next two weeks. (Read the amended version of the bill here.)

Regulation of online education is a notoriously tricky issue, given the vocal and competing interest groups and the skilled lobbyists involved. There are longstanding concerns about the quality of some online programs, but no new legislation on the issue has been passed in several years, despite repeated promises by some lawmakers to pursue reforms.

Other bills stand on shaky ground

No education bills were killed Wednesday, and none took quite the haircut HB 14-1382 experienced, but other measures do face uncertain futures.

Some witnesses in the Senate Education Committee had plenty of criticism for House Bill 14-1102, a proposal that would increase funding for gifted and talented programs, require screening of all Colorado students for gifted and talented eligibility and require all districts to have certified coordinators for such programs.

Representatives from the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado BOCES Association were out in force, urging the bill be defeated.

“Our schools don’t need more mandates, they need more resources,” said Michelle Murphy, a lawyer who represents CASB.

Sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, announced before the hearing started that the committee wouldn’t vote Wednesday because he’s still working on amendments. (Kerr also chairs Senate Education.) The committee next meets on Thursday. Get more details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.

House Education passed two bills whose futures are uncertain.

House Bill 14-1376, a recently introduced measure, would require the Department of Education to analyze student “opportunity gaps” by gathering and reporting data on how students, broken out by ethnicity and other characteristics, are assigned to and perform in various core high school courses. (Get details on the bill here.)

The committee passed the bill 7-5. District lobbyists would like the bill at least to be amended so that it’s voluntary, not mandatory. Because most of the key lobbyists were tied up in Senate Education opposing the gifted and talented bill, they hope to amend or kill House Bill 14-1376 in the House Appropriations Committee or in the Senate.

House Education also voted 12-1 to send House Bill 14-1139 to the appropriations panel. The measure would require the state convert to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment. Approval of the bill is considered to be a courtesy to sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, by his fellow education committee members, and the bill isn’t expected to survive appropriations. Average daily membership originally also was part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, but that’s been stripped from the bill, and ADM is considered to be a dead issue this session.

Amid the hubbub, other bills advance

Senate Education did pass three bills Wednesday.

House Bill 14-1287 would allow earmarking of some Building Excellent Schools Today funds for schools damaged by natural disasters, House Bill 14-1175 would require a study of minority teacher recruitment and retention, and House Bill 14-1294 would impose various student data security requirements on the Department of Education.

Some Republicans – and citizen activists – don’t think that bill goes far enough, but the legislature isn’t expected to pass anything more stringent this year.

About half a dozen education-related bills were laid over Wednesday, some because there wasn’t time during floor sessions or for additional work on amendments.

GOP senators oppose toothless immunization bill

The amended version of House Bill 14-1288 doesn’t impose any requirements on parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated, but that didn’t prevent a couple of Republican senators from seeing a threat to freedom in the measure.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, even appeared to question the science behind vaccinations, using phrases like “scientifically unproven,” “not actually serving the best interests of our kids” and “somehow assuming the science is settled” in urging colleagues to vote no.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, was skeptical of the bill’s requirement that the Department of Public Health and Environment set up an immunization information website. “The information I see from health officials is not complete … it gives you half the story.”

Several Democrats spoke in support of the bill, which in its current form sets up the education website and also requires schools collect and report data about the percentages of students who aren’t immunized. A Senate committee earlier stripped a provision that required parents who choose to opt out receive educational information before doing so.

With the rhetoric exhausted, the Senate voted 19-16 to pass the bill, with Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango the only Republican yes vote. The bill now returns to the House, where sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said he won’t fight to keep the education requirement on the measure, according to The Associated Press.

All 17 Republicans voted against two other measures up for final consideration Wednesday, but the bills passed with support from all 18 Democrats.

Senate Bill 14-182 would require that school boards keep executive session minutes that include the subjects discussed and the amount of time spent on each. (An earlier bill that also included requirements for audio recording passed he House but was killed in a Senate Committee because of lack of support.)

Senate Bill 14-185 would create the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program which would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.

On the way to the governor

The Senate gave 35-0 final approval to two House bills that weren’t amended in the Senate, so they now go directly to the governor for consideration. They are:

House Bill 14-1314 would require that charter schools be formally involved in district planning for tax override elections. But the measure leaves the final decision to school boards on whether to share new revenues with charters. The bill mirrors existing law requiring charters to be involved in planning for bond issues.

House Bill 14-1204 is intended to give small rural districts some modest relief from Department of Education paperwork requirements. Primarily it would allow such districts that are in the two highest state accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually.

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: