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Rosa, new head of New York education policy: As a parent, ‘I would opt out’

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

The newly elected head of New York state’s education policymaking body said if she were a parent, she would likely opt her child out of the state tests — and would not say if she hopes the boycotts shrink in number this year.

Instead, Betty Rosa spoke about the need to retool the tests to rebuild trust with parents, and said that families have the right to choose what is best for their children.

“If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time,” Rosa told reporters Monday, shortly after she was elected chancellor of the Board of Regents.

Rosa’s statements underscore the striking nature of Monday’s leadership shift. Former Chancellor Merryl Tisch was a staunch defender of the exams, which grew more difficult to pass under her leadership as they incorporated the Common Core standards. Last year, frustrations about testing led to one in five eligible students not taking the tests statewide.

[Read more about Rosa’s selection here.]

The statements also illustrate the somewhat precarious position Rosa now occupies as a critic of state education policy. As chancellor, she oversees the State Education Department — which administers the state tests — and whose leader, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, has been campaigning to minimize the opt-out movement’s growth.

Rosa chose her words carefully Monday. In response to a question about whether she would like to see the number of opt-outs decrease this year, Rosa talked about restoring trust between the State Education Department and parents.

“I want us to get to a place where we comfortably take and examine the current tests and move forward in a way that parents have a sense of full trust,” Rosa said.

But as the chancellor-elect, she stopped short of telling parents they should have their children take the tests.

“My recommendation is that parents should be informed and that parents should make their own personal decisions,” Rosa said.

That was a positive sign to opt-out leaders like Lisa Rudley, a parent and founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, the group that endorsed Rosa. “Dr. Betty Rosa recognizes the rights and responsibility of parents to protect their children while the changes to these inappropriately flawed tests and standards are being discussed and planned,” she said.

Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of organizations that advocate for learning standards like the Common Core, said he was troubled.

“It’s concerning to us that she wasn’t more definitive about that, and that she said she would opt her own children out,” he said. “But we’re hopeful that, as she said, as the tests continue to improve that her point of view will change.”

New York’s opt-out movement has been expanding its political influence in recent months as it tries to gain a lasting foothold in state politics. Its leaders distributed surveys to candidates for open Regents seats in recent months, endorsed candidates for those seats and voiced support for Rosa’s bid for the chancellorship.

“They are going to think that this is a big win for their movement,” Regent Roger Tilles said this month, of Rosa’s selection and the opt-out movement.

During the press conference, Commissioner Elia underscored the changes she has made to the state tests this year to make them more palatable for students and parents, including shortening the exams, granting students unlimited time to complete them, and involving more educators in revamping the tests.

And the new vice chancellor-elect, Regent Andrew Brown, was clear that he would like to see fewer opt-outs in the coming years.

“Hopefully we will see less, but certainly we want to continue to move in the direction where we are seeing less over time,” Brown said.

Want more New York City education news? Try Chalkbeat’s morning newsletter

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:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”