Who Is In Charge

Effectiveness council gets some advice

Three superintendents and two education lobbyists had some clear words of caution Friday for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which is working to develop frameworks for new teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Teacher evaluation“Give us general guidelines” on evaluation, said Aurora Superintendent John Barry, commenting on the recurring but unfinished council discussion  about how detailed and prescriptive on school districts the state should be in setting up evaluation systems under the new educator effectiveness law. “Allow us the flexibility … don’t restrict us in our ability to be innovative.”

Among the issues the council has been chewing on are whether districts should be allowed to opt in or opt out of a state system, whether district evaluation systems would need to “meet or exceed” state requirements and what regulatory role the state should have over evaluation procedures.

Walt Cooper, superintendent of the Cheyenne Mountain schools in Colorado Springs, said, “The meet or exceed standard is very problematic, in my view,” suggesting instead that the issue should be framed so that local district systems “include” state requirements.

Jane Urschel
Jane Urschel, Colorado Association of School Boards (file photo)

Jane Urschel, veteran lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said, “The council’s scope of work is maybe more limited than what is being discussed here” and that the group needs to be careful not to “overprescribe” what school districts can do. “The intent [of the new law] is not one size fits all,” she said. “We encourage the council to solicit additional input.”

Similar comments were made by Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Poudre schools in Fort Collins, and Bruce Caughey, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The remarks were the first substantial formal comments to the council by representatives of education interest groups. The council receives public comment at every meeting, but members don’t respond to or question witnesses.

What’s ahead

The council is responsible for the first steps in the very long implementation process of Senate Bill 10-191, the new state law that requires annual evaluations of teachers and principals and basing at least half of those evaluations on student growth.

Today’s meeting was intended partly to give some direction to council staff ahead of a three-day retreat in mid-January at which the group hopes to start solidifying some of the recommendations it will have to make to the State Board of Education later next spring.

Under the requirements of the educator effectiveness law, the council is assigned to make recommendations to SBE on definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, different levels of effectiveness, permitted variation in evaluations, testing and implementation of new evaluation systems, appeals processes, parent involvement and on costs of the new systems.

Effort has had fits and starts

The council’s work to date hasn’t been completely smooth. The panel originally was created by executive order and later formalized by the effectiveness law, which assigned the body additional duties. That slowed things down last spring.

State education officials originally had hoped the council would be supported by federal Race to the Top funds. Colorado, of course, lost out in that competition, so the council’s work was slowed by lack of funds to support staff and consultants. Part of a recent Gates Foundation Grant to the Colorado Legacy Foundation has filled that financial gap.

While the council has made some tentative broad decisions, like using North Carolina’s educator effectiveness standards as a model and starting point, decisions on detailed recommendations remain to be made.

The council has five more scheduled meetings. “We have a tremendous amount to get done in a very short period of time,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, a consultant who recently took over moderation of the group’s meetings and organization of between-meetings work.

The council is being advised by a volunteer Technical Advisory Group, which reviews education research and prepares documents for the council, among other tasks. McREL, the Colorado-based education research lab, also is assisting in a detailed review of the North Carolina educator standards.

The state board has until next fall to adopt educator effectiveness regulations and also is allowed to make decisions on any issues on which the council doesn’t act. Those SBE regulations will be subject to legislative review in 2012.

If the whole process plays out as planned, the effectiveness law won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-14 school year, following a couple of years of piloting in a limited number of districts.

In addition to the requirement that at least half of educator evaluations be based on student growth, the other major element of the law changes the existing system of job security for non-probationary teachers. Those who fail to receive adequate evaluations can be returned to probation.

Get more information here on the law, the council and other Department of Education educator effectiveness efforts.

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: