The chosen ones

Meet the 20 people who will help reshape Colorado’s education policies

PHOTO: Wesley Wright
Students at a summer camp this week at Cowell Elementary in Denver.

A who’s who of Colorado’s education community will help shape the state’s new federally required education plan.

The 20-member committee will be responsible for finding consensus while sifting through wide-ranging opinions about how Colorado should run its schools under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which is supposed to give states more freedom to chart their own courses.

Among the topics the committee and its various sub-committees must address: standards, testing and teacher quality.

While it’s still unclear how much leeway the state will get — Colorado officials have called proposed regulations a federal overreach — the process allows the state to stay the course on a number of reforms, start over or strike some balance.

Any plan must win approval from the Colorado Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the governor’s office and a panel of educators and parents who will weigh its viability. The U.S. Department of Education will give feedback during the process, then must give final approval.

The committee includes State Board of Education chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, and vice chairwoman Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat. Joining them are Republican State Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida and Democratic State Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, both members of the House Education Committee.

Here are the 13 other members:

  • Evy Valencia, governor’s office
  • Ken Delay, Colorado Association of School Boards
  • Lisa Escarcega, Colorado Association of School Executives
  • Linda Barker, Colorado Education Association
  • Don Anderson, Colorado BOCES Association
  • Diane Duffy, Colorado Department of Higher Education
  • Jesus Escarcega, Colorado ESEA Committee of Practitioners
  • Jim Earley, Jefferson County parent
  • Ross Izard, Independence Institute
  • Luke Ragland, Colorado Succeeds
  • Jeani Frickey, Stand for Children
  • Kirk Banghart, Moffat School District, Colorado Rural Alliance
  • Dan Schaller, Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Sean Bradley, Urban League of Metropolitan Denver
  • Ernest House Jr., Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs
  • Carolyn Gery, GOAL Academy

State education department officials took the lead in choosing committee members. State Board of Education members were asked to nominate potential members, Schroeder said.

One of the goals, Durham said, was to capture diverse viewpoints.

Well, look no further than Early and Izard.

Both were heavily involved in the 2015 Jefferson County school board recall, from opposite sides. The recall campaign became a proxy for a larger debate about education policies such as merit pay for teachers and school choice.

Early supported the recall. Izard did not.

So how might the former foes find common ground?

“We’re gonna have to wait and see,” Early said. “I think that’s the best way to go about this. I can’t go into this with the presumption that Ross is going to be steadfast in one way, or that I’m going to be steadfast one way. … I think the big thing is, ‘Let’s go into this with an open mind.'”

“Any productive policy discussion is going to involve disagreement,” Izard said in an email. “I welcome other points of view and the healthy debate they bring. Hopefully we can tackle the tough issues ahead with grace, honesty, and civility, even if we strongly disagree with each other on some points—and we almost certainly will.”

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Kirk Banghart’s last name. 

Update: This post has also been updated to reflect a change in the membership on the committee. Mark DeVoti and Robert Mitchell have been replaced by Ken Delay and Diane Duffy, a CDE spokesman said on Friday afternoon. This article has also been updated to include the names of three new members that were announced at the committee’s first meeting on Aug. 8. 

 

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: