Who Is In Charge

Testing bill passes Senate

Updated 10:15 a.m. – The state Senate voted 31-4 this morning for final passage of Senate Bill 12-172, which would require the State Board of Education to take full membership in one of two national groups developing common tests in language arts and math.

Text of Tuesday story follows.

Sen. Mike Johnston trimmed down his already-short Senate Bill 12-172 Tuesday, and the Senate gave it preliminary approval on a voice vote Tuesday.

Pencil on test paperThe bill would require the State Board of Education to become a governing member of a multistate testing group.

One amendment successfully proposed by the Denver Democrat would allow the board to withdraw after Jan. 1, 2014, from whichever group it joins if the board doesn’t like the tests the group develops.

English and math tests based on the Common Core Standards are being created by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado now is participating in both but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests, based on the rules of the groups. Most Colorado education leaders favor joining the second group, known as PARCC.

The state board – at least its Republican majority – has been skeptical of Johnston’s bill. At a face-to-face meeting with Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, last Friday, some members made it clear they’d be more comfortable, among other things, with an opt-out clause in the proposal.

But after Johnston and Spence left last week’s meeting, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, even if amendments were added (see story).

Johnston’s original bill also contained language encouraging the board to work with other states, if possible, on development of tests such as science and social studies. At Johnston’s request, the Senate removed that language from the bill. He said the language wasn’t necessary because the Department of Education already is involved in such discussions.

Testing has been a nagging issue throughout the 2012 session.

The board last fall requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration proposed no funding.

The Joint Budget Committee fussed over the issue for months, with members complaining about mixed signals from the board, the governor’s office and the House and Senate education committees.

The legislature finally decided to provide only some $6 million for development of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

Johnston is now optimistic about the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House. He told Education News Colorado that he’s signed on Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, as a prime sponsor. Massey, chair of the House Education Committee, has been a central figure on most major education bills this session. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, also will be a House sponsor.

Colorado currently is using the transitional TCAP tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.

Although Johnston described his bill as “Colorado’s long-term assessment plan,” only one thing is certain out of this year’s testing debate. Colorado students will be taking a third year of TCAPs in the spring of 2014, instead of just the two years originally planned.

House GOP wants to intervene in Lobato

A resolution introduced Tuesday in the House would require the legislature to hire its own lawyers and enter the Lobato v. State lawsuit as an amicus curiae (friend of the court).

The measure, House Joint Resolution 12-1023, argues that the Denver District Court’s decision against the state threatens the legislature’s constitutional powers to set the state budget.

The defendants in the case include Gov. John Hickenlooper, the State Board of Education and education Commissioner Robert Hammond but not the legislature. Attorney General John Suthers has appealed the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, with his appeal brief due in June.

A victory for the plaintiffs could have massive implications for the state budget. Although the trial court’s ruling was issued in December, the case has received scant mention during the legislative session. (See EdNews’ Lobato archive for background.)

The resolution is sponsored by House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, and 16 other House Republicans. There are no Democrats or senators on the measure (read the resolution).

Key change made in literacy bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday morning made a significant amendment to House Bill 12-1238, the proposed early literacy measure. In order to fund interventions for K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies, the bill proposed to use $16 million in interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund.

Committee chair Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, successfully proposed an amendment that would cap annual literacy revenue at that $16 million, allowing revenues above that to flow into the permanent fund, the body of which can’t be spent. The permanent fund has been flat at about $600 million for some years, a subject of concern for some education groups that would like to see it grow and be able to provide revenue for future education spending.

The committee passed the amended bill on an 8-1 vote.

Union dues bill passes House

The House Tuesday gave 33-32 party-line approval to House Bill 12-1333, a measure that would allow school district employees who are members of unions to have payroll deductions for dues stopped at any time.

Union contracts now typically allow members to withdraw only during a single short period once in the school year.

Teachers’ unions oppose the measure, which isn’t expected to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

***

From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

***

From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

***

From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

***

From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

***

From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

***

From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

***

From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

***

From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

***

From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”