Who Is In Charge

Stand backs endorsements with cash

The education advocacy group Stand for Children has contributed money to nine of the 18 legislative candidates it previously endorsed, according to the latest campaign financial reports filed with the secretary of state.

The Oct. 4 reports didn’t show a lot of other financial changes in most races of interest to education, except that opponents of amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 continued to raise and spend significant cash.

Organized last year, the state affiliate of Stand for Children is making its first foray into legislative politics after its involvement in Denver school board races in 2009.

Pile of cashThe group gave $4,000 each to House District 38 Democratic incumbent Joe Rice, House 47 Republican candidate Keith Swerdfeger, House 56 Democratic incumbent Christine Scanlan and Senate District 11 Democratic incumbent John Morse.

Contributions of $3,000 apiece went to House District 3 Republican candidate Christine Mastin, District 42 Democratic candidate Christine Fields and Senate District 6 candidate Ellen Roberts.

The group gave $2,000 to Republican incumbent Kevin Priola in House District 30 and $1,000 to Democrat-turned-independent Kathleen Curry in House 61, an incumbent who’s running a write-in campaign.

Candidates endorsed by Stand but receiving no money include House incumbents Jeanne Labuda, Mark Ferrandino and Beth McCann and senators Chris Romer and Mike Johnston. All are Democrats who represent Denver districts.

Endorsed challengers who didn’t get any cash include Democrats Angela Williams in House District 7, Pete Lee in House 18 and Cheri Jahn in Senate District 20. The group also endorsed but didn’t contribute to GOP incumbent Carole Murray in House District 45, who is running unopposed.

The Stand small-donor committee has raised $32,375 this year. Political committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado have given much larger sums but didn’t report any new legislative contributions in the Oct. 4 filings. (See this Education News Colorado story for analysis of which education groups are supporting which candidates. And, see this story for more details on union contributions.)

Cash continues to flow for opponents of amendments

Coloradans for Responsible Reform, the main group opposing the three budget-cutting amendments, reported raising $443,797 and spending $887,390 in the most recent reporting period. The group has raised a total of about $6.4 million and reported only about $5,000 cash on hand.

Contributions of interest in the latest report include $50,000 from the Jobs and Schools First Committee of AFT-Colorado; $20,000 from Forest City, the company that redeveloped Stapleton; $100,000 from the Service Employees International Union, and $10,000 from the politically influential law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

CO Tax Reforms, the group supporting the three measures, has raised a total of $17,438.

A new opposition group, the Colorado League of Responsible Voters, registered on Aug. 4 and has raised $322,600. It has about $136,000 on hand. CEA and the AFT’s Jobs and Schools committee have both contributed.

Cash continues to pile up the race for the at-large seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Incumbent Republican Steve Bosley reported raising $62,103 and having $39,184 on hand. Democrat Melissa Hart, a professor at the CU law school, reported raising $88,947 and having $69,197 on hand.

There are two more financial reporting deadlines, Oct. 18 and Nov. 1, before the election. Candidates and committees have to make a final report in December.

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: