authority figure

New York state plans overhaul to its charter authorizing process

State education officials want to raise the bar for charter schools and they’re looking to outsource some of the work to create and carry out the new standards.

In particular, the State Education Department, one of two charter school authorizers in New York, is hoping that consultants will help create a process for reviewing schools up for renewal. Insiders say that the lack of a formal review process is one reason the office has never closed a charter school due purely to low performance in its 12-year history, even when some schools have struggled mightily.

The cost of the contract is small, but its scope covers an unusually broad range of responsibilities compared nationally to other authorizers that have used consultants. It comes amid a change in leadership in the office that oversees the department’s charter school portfolio, which has expanded rapidly in recent years.

The Board of Regents is one of two bodies that legally authorizes and renews charter schools in New York State. The board has closed six schools in its 12-year history, mostly due to financial and organizational mismanagement. The lone school it is trying to close for low academic performance, Pinnacle Charter School in Buffalo, is in a legal battle to stay open.

The other New York authorizer, the SUNY Charter School Institute, is nationally acclaimed and is seen as possessing greater autonomy and exercising stronger oversight carrying out its authorizing responsibilities, which include reviewing applications, visiting schools, and deciding whether charters should be renewed. SUNY CSI has not renewed nine charter schools and restructured one other school since it began authorizing in 1999.

Starting in 2010, the Board of Regents has been working to mimic more of SUNY CSI’s practices. The board hired a former charter school director, John King, to run the state’s schools, and King in turn hired two experienced authorizers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Massachusetts Department of Education to ramp up New York’s charter schools office.

Since then, the office has authorized more than 20 charter schools, nearly doubling its portfolio.

Now, after two years of tightening its internal operations, the office is moving to expand its practices with the help of external consultants. This summer, the department took bids for a four-year consulting contract to review 80 charter applications, help interview 20 applicants, and participate in 34 school visits.

Whoever wins the contract will also have a hand in helping craft the Charter School Office’s new vision for school evaluation. The request for proposals has set aside 100 hours in work for the consultant to develop protocols for school evaluation.

It’s not unusual for educational institutions to delegate evaluation work to private consultants. Cambridge Education visited more than 1,000 New York City Department of Education schools when the city first began publishing “quality reviews” of schools’ internal organization. Schoolworks, an organization that has submitted a bid to the state, used to do reviews for Chicago Public Schools. And the National Association of Charter School Authorizers reviews and recommends applications in New Orleans.

“It’s an efficient and flexible way to add chartering expertise and capacity,” said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association, an advocacy group that works closely with the authorizers.

But usually the consulting happens in piecemeal fashion, and national authorizers who saw the request for proposals said the broad scope of services that New York was farming out was uncommon.

“To outsource the full monty in one contract is pretty unusual,” said an experienced authorizer in another state. “It seems like they’re outsourcing the entire charter office and that is not normal.”

SED officials said the annual cost of the contract is small and is designed to provide supplemental support to work that the current staff is already doing.

“The RFP is for a modestly priced contract to provide external quality review of charters,” said spokesman Dennis Tompkins. “It is not supplanting our charter office.”

SUNY CSI used to contract with Schoolworks but has used other consultants on a smaller scale in recent years, according to Executive Director Susie Miller Barker.

The department’s charter schools will be judged primarily on student performance outcomes, as opposed to compliance guidelines, according to a memo that will be presented to the Board of Regents at their monthly meeting next week. It’s a shift that brings the office more into line with the ideological underpinnings of the charter school movement.

William Haft, vice president for authorizer development at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, said his organization did not submit a bid because it does not perform school visits. Focusing on academic outcomes is more important, he said.

“It’s absolutely necessary for authorizers to know what is happening in schools, but school performance is not ultimately about what a school looks or feels like on a given day,” Haft said.

The changes come at a time of transition for the charter school office. Cliff Chuang, the charter office’s director for nearly two years, announced this week that he was leaving New York to become assistant commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Assistant Commissioner Sally Bachofer told colleagues in an email that she’s searching for Chuang’s replacement and would not limit the job to candidates living in Albany.

“The Department prefers that the position be based in Albany, but this is not a deal-breaker for an awesome candidate,” Bachofer wrote.

NACSA’s Haft said that ultimately, he didn’t believe that authorizers should enter into long-term business with consultants and should eventually bring their services in-house.

“Our goal as the consultant is to help our clients build their own capacity to do the work,” he said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the education department’s charter school authorization and closure history. The authorizer has not closed any schools due to low academic performance, but has closed six schools for other reasons. The authorizer has also authorized 20 charter schools since 2010, not 50.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.