Statehouse roundup

House Education still has a ways to go on data privacy bill

A rare Friday session of the House Education Committee aired parent concerns about the privacy of student educational data, but committee decisions on a key data bill won’t come until next week.

Senate Bill 15-173 passed the Senate unanimously more than a month ago, and since then a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying has been going on in the House.

For now, the bill’s major provisions prohibit educational data companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data. (See this story for details.)

But technology industry lobbyists are concerned that the bill doesn’t properly differentiate among different kinds of data companies, and don’t like a provision requiring companies to post detailed information about school district contracts on their websites.

Parent activists told committee members Friday that they like the bill as is.

“Support this bill as it came over from the Senate,” said Rachel Stickland of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. “I urge you to please listen to the parents and not those who are paid to gut this bill.”

“This bill was purposely written to not put the burden on school districts,” said Fort Collins parent Cheri Kiesecker in reference to the proposal that would shift transparency requirements away from vendors and on to districts.

No proposed amendments have yet been offered in the committee, which was scheduled to consider the bill Wednesday but ran out of time after hearing only a few witnesses.

The data bill is on the committee’s Monday afternoon calendar, but chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, indicated the panel might or might not get to it. The committee also has four Republican-sponsored testing bills scheduled for that meeting. All are expected to be killed.

Other bills do move on

House Education did take action on two bills, sending both to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 15-1339 would streamline some district financial reporting requirements approved by the 2014 legislature. That law mandated that detailed information, broken down to the individual school level, be both reported to the state for use on a central website and posted on individual district sites.

2015-Education-Bill-Tracker-plain

School districts have seen the 2014 law as onerous (see story), and this year’s bill would remove the requirement for posting on individual district sites.

The statewide financial transparency site isn’t supposed to go live until 2017.

House Bill 15-1273 would update – and provide some funding for – the system by which school incidents are reported to the state and, ultimately, to the public. Among other things, the bill would require separate reporting of marijuana-related incidents and of sexual assaults, two things that now are included in catchall categories.

The bill also would create a new, more streamlined way for police and sheriffs’ departments and district attorneys’ offices to report school-related incidents to the state.

The committee heard testimony on the bill a month ago, but the measure has been in the shop while sponsor Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, worked out some issues with school districts, police and other interest groups.

For the record

During a floor session that listed into early afternoon, the House voted preliminary approval of these education bills:

  • House Bill 15-1317 – The “pay for success” measure that would allow private investors and philanthropists to fund social services such as early childhood programs drew support at the microphone from both Democrats and Republicans (background here).
  • House Bill 15-1326 – There was no debate on the proposal intended to protect the college admissions prospects of students who hold diplomas from high schools in unaccredited districts (background here).

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4-3 to kill House Bill 15-1104, the proposal that would have offered a very modest tax deduction to teachers who paid for school supplies out of their own pockets.

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: