5.3.2015 Questionable Reform

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In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins, frustrated by the emotional outburst of his protégé Eliza Doolittle, laments in song to Colonel Pickering, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Today, there is a reform movement in education that is singing a similar tune: “Why can’t a school be more like a business?”

This reform movement is known as market-based or market-oriented education. The Douglas County school board, despite a contentious relationship with many teachers and citizens, has embarked on a crusade to bring this business-oriented reform to the Denver area. Jefferson County, having elected three board members who favor market-based education, is poised to follow in Douglas County’s footsteps.

The Jeffco School Board majority — John Newkirk, Julie Williams and Ken Witt — have clearly demonstrated their voting power as they continue to ignore both the voices and questions put forward by not only fellow board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, but teachers, parents, and community members as well. Their actions make it imperative that the community critically exam the nature of market-based education as these reforms are imposed on Jefferson County Public Schools.

Market-based education is a business model that turns school districts into enterprises, and superintendents into CEOs who manage an array of public and charter schools. A school’s existence and staff hiring is based on market needs and student achievement. Touted as new and innovative for Colorado, MBE is not new to the United States.

While it is too early to see the results of reform in Douglas County Schools, there is a great deal of current research available for citizens to answer the question: “Why can’t a school be more like a business?” Current research shows that the market-centered business model in many schools nationally is not working and is actually detrimental to the education of the students.

An April 2013 report by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, investigates the use of market-oriented education in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Citing information provided by the National Assessments of Educational Progress, scores in reform schools have actually “stagnated for low-income and minority students and/or achievements gaps widened.”

These findings were in contrast to “non-reform” urban schools within the same city that actually increased scores and shrank the achievement gap. The findings also demonstrate that those with disabilities lost ground academically under the business model. The NAEP research concludes that improving education for these marginal students has not materialized through a business model. The report suggests that low achievement may be based on inadequate staffing.

Market-based education argues that effective teachers can be secured through market-need hiring, yearly evaluations, and merit pay. The report, however, states that teacher evaluation, relying heavily on test scores, “thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily the bad teachers.” [emphasis ours]

Furthermore, these districts documented a significant loss of experienced teachers to other districts and other careers. Teachers in those districts averaged only six years of experience. Despite the reformers argument that merit pay rewards good, experienced teachers (or dare we say perhaps because of it?), teachers are leaving the business.

Another major component of MBE is a belief that competition between schools will result in better schools. Parents have the ability to leave public schools and take their tax dollars to a choice of charter schools. The Center for Reinvention of Public Education reports that the effectiveness of charter schools remains inconclusive. CRPD states, “they vary widely and are on the whole, no more or less effective than comparable regular public schools.”

What is problematic however, is the revolving nature of charter schools. Following a business model, if the charter is not effective or financially solvent, the school is closed. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers reported in 2012 that the rate of charter school closures has “ballooned by over 255%.”

For example Kingston Charter Academy in North Carolina and the Solomon Charter School in Philadelphia each closed within the first month of the school year. Parents at both schools had two questions: “What happened to the voucher money?” and “Where do we send our kids now?” Jeff Bryant, Director of the Education Opportunity Network in Chapel Hill, NC asks how this “business churning” of charter schools can be called effective education.

Despite all of these known issues, the merits of market-based education are not being debated openly with the Jefferson County School Board majority. They are being imposed.

 Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

 

3.29.15 Teacher Licensure Matters

Your Childs Education

A “Highly Effective Educator” in every classroom. That is the term that JeffCo Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association use to specify the kind of teacher they want in every classroom in JeffCo. But what that means seems to be up for debate, and a few more questions were raised when the board majority heard an explanation of teacher licensure after adding the topic as an agenda item for the Feb. 19 study session.

First of all, teacher licensure is a state function, not a county function. The state sets requirements, manages the applications, and the renewals. What a person needs to be licensed for a given position is set at the state level and not by the county (or district). The requirements vary by position. Most teaching positions require only a bachelors degree, in the content area of interest, but then things get complicated. A degree in education or “alternative licensure” paths are both allowed. Some state colleges and universities offer a second bachelors degree in education, for example, and a person with a BA in education can count that toward their license. Teachers who follow that path obtain the “800 contact hours,” spend time in a classroom, and learn the basic ropes. Details of such a program at the University of Colorado Boulder are found here.

Similar situations exist for alternative licensure. One slight but perhaps important distinction is that you can get endorsement in only one area for alternative licensure. So, for example, a person could not get licensed to teach both math and science. This may make hiring of teachers with alternative licensure less flexible.

With the new Board Majority, perhaps the biggest potential pitfall around licensing is the additional funding they are sending to charter schools. Charter schools can hire teachers based on their own criteria and may not even require a teacher to hold a license in Colorado. All they have to do is request a waiver from CDE, and requesting a licensure waiver is considered a “standard waiver.” Here is an example from a recent application. All proposed Jeffco charter schools have to apply to the state, and all ask for these waivers as a matter of course. Mountain Phoenix, an existing charter school, has done so. This equals more Jeffco funding potentially going to more teachers who are not licensed. But what about those “highly qualified” teachers?

To be declared as “highly qualified” in Colorado is also a state level distinction, but it is dictated by “No Child Left Behind” and other Federal guidelines. You can see some of the gory details here. To be declared “highly qualified” one needs to:

  • hold a bachelor degree or higher
  • maintain a teaching license
  • demonstrate mastery in their content area

In 2012-2013, 99.49% of classrooms in Colorado had a highly qualified teacher according to these criteria.

Now “highly qualified”, as a legal term is defined, but “highly effective” is where there is more nuance. This is part of Senate Bill 191. If you want a good bedtime read, here is a link to the final SB 191 rules.

It is interesting to crawl through this document, however, because it is completely silent on the difference between effective and highly effective. Furthermore, Jeffco’s pay plan is predicated on a pay bump for highly effective teachers relative to effective teachers. The district will literally bankrupt itself if it meets its goal of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom. It may be an admirable goal, but, if there is pay for performance, then it is an unviable approach.

A different approach, and one supported by JCEA and district staff (though maybe not by Mr. Witt) is to pay for advanced degrees. Most subject areas do not require a master’s degree (or higher) to teach or be in a given position but other jobs require an advanced degree. Speech pathologists and social workers require a master’s degree in order to practice. In addition, any high school teacher who teaches a concurrent enrollment class (in which students receive both high school and college credit), must have a master’s degree.

The district staff presented a plan at the March 5 meeting that included a bump in base salary for master’s degrees. Jeffco was compared to other local districts that do compensate master’s degrees. For Jeffco to remain competitive and be able to hire the best, most qualified candidates, it was suggested that teachers with master’s degrees receive more pay. There is data that suggests this practice improves student performance at the high school level and for minorities, and data that refutes this — sometimes in the same report.

So in summary, while teacher licensure, a state function helps guarantee that each child has a highly qualified teacher, and SB-191 purports to work toward each classroom having a highly effective teacher, the devil truly is in the details. If every teacher was rated highly effective, then the district could not afford it. A population as large as Jeffco’s teacher population guarantees a distribution of performance. The district should hire the best, nurture them, work with them to have a quality workplace, and pay them a salary commensurate with their skill and effectiveness.

Keep watching, keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

3.19.2015 – Notes from the March 5 meeting

We’ve already posted about John Newkirk’s surprise motion on the Jefferson Area plan, but would like to quickly cover some of the other topics from the March 5 meeting so you’re fully informed for tonight’s meeting.

There was a 4th quarter budget report and while most of it was typical, it’s worth noting that staff turnover is higher than expected. Also of note: the Two Roads charter school paid off its district loan. Two other charters who were approved for a loan and a loan increase last year, Mountain Phoenix and Collegiate Academy, respectively, are not borrowing currently.

There was also a compensation update—which is a topic on the March 19 agenda too. HR Director Amy Weber told the board that while it’s impossible for the district to make up for years of not having pay raises, they are talking about strategic compensation adjustments to recognize those staff members. Weber also suggested the board commit to some of the district’s proposals that night to help retain staff. (And no, they didn’t, which is why it’s on the agenda again.)

The district’s recommendations include the following:

  • adjusting salary ranges and individual salaries of principals
  • standardizing assistant principal work day calendars at 215 for high schools, 210 for middle schools and 205 for elementary schools
  • adjusting salaries for existing teachers in hard-to-fill positions so that new hires are not making more than existing staff
  • adjusting salaries for existing teachers who have a masters degree but are not being compensated for it. That only affects 75 teachers throughout the district, but those 75 teachers either came to the district or earned a masters degree during the period in which the district has not compensated for it.

One major — and deserved — recommendation is that substitute teachers see a compensation increase. Weber said that substitute teachers saw their pay cut by 10 percent in 2011, and they have remained at those compensation levels. The increase, if approved, would affect 1,700 substitute teachers.

Another major recommendation was that Weber pushed for compensating for master’s degrees. She told the board the district would be unable to hire the talent they need if they refuse to do so.

Staff recommendations for the hiring season include compensation for up to seven years of experience (bundled beyond that), for master’s degrees, pay for designated hard-to-fill positions that the district has consistently struggled to fill because pay is not competitive (i.e., speech pathologists. According to Weber, one speech pathologist who interviewed with Jeffco found that she would receive a $17,000 pay cut by moving from her current position to one in Jeffco. Needless to say, that’s not the kind of offer that attracts top-notch professionals). Weber’s team also recommended compensating teacher librarians and counselors for additional workdays.

Response from WNW was tepid at best. Witt warned that compensation increases need to be viewed as one-time events. Because potential cuts are forecast for net year, he said the district should be careful with their commitments.

Witt, unsurprisingly, is also opposed to master’s degrees that are not in a teacher’s content area. Weber was quick to point out that the district doesn’t intent to comp teachers if they their master’s is unrelated to what they do, but Witt continued to press his point. In fact, he repeated his assertion that teachers shouldn’t be compensated for unrelated master’s degrees that it was hard to tell if he couldn’t hear Weber saying that the district had no plans to do that, or whether (more likely) Witt was trying to throw suspicion on paying any teachers for a master’s degree by insinuating that tons of teachers got random, unrelated master’s degrees just to get a pay raise. As if!

Dan McMinimee jumped in to point out that there should be opportunities for teachers to be compensated for master’s degrees and also pointed out that the district was already into the hiring season, so they need to make themselves attractive to potential hires.

Witt requested more information, hence compensation’s reappearance on the March 19 agenda. The new March 19 presentation includes more information about what the district considers to be related master’s degrees and some other clarifying details.

Public comment included many of the usual cast of characters, both friend and foe. Of note: several people speaking in favor of the Jefferson Area plan (the original one, not Plan B).

The Alameda Plan was approved with no surprises. Also, since there’s been some discussion of why a new school isn’t being suggested to deal with overcrowding at Stein: at the February meeting, Terry Elliot explained that Jeffco Schools doesn’t own any land in the Alameda articulation area. Building a new school would require them to buy land and then pay to construct a school.

In northwest Arvada, both the Leyden Rock and Candelas developments have donated a parcel of land that is set aside for a future school. That’s been the policy for most Jeffco communities since about the 1970s (earlier in some places) and those land donations are what produced many of our amazing Jeffco neighborhood schools today.

It’s hard to see how the district could swing both a land purchase and construction costs give the current budget realities and the likelihood (or not) that voters would approve a bond for both. Remember, funds to expand Stein were part of 2008 bond proposal–which was voted down. A renovation is planned, and Board Docs mentions this:  “Conversations with facilities, district leadership, and community members will be scheduled for the Fall of 2015 to discuss the development of a new elementary school to serve the central Lakewood area.”

And now, a few notes on the March 19 agenda. Note that the board intends to vote on the remaining aspects of the Jefferson Area plan. The Wheat Ridge Alliance has withdrawn its support for Plan B, and from the news we’ve heard coming out of this week’s community meetings, the vast majority of parents aren’t interested either. We’ve seen reports that Newkirk himself said he wouldn’t vote for his motion, but we haven’t heard that he’s pledging to vote for the district staff’s recommendations either.

There’s also an update on employee negotiations at the end of the meeting that will be well worth watching.

The full agenda is on Board Docs, here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/Public

And the meeting will be streamed. Access to the link should be here: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

3.3.2015 – BOE meeting prep

Our thanks to Jeffco Exodus, who shared this post about the upcoming BOE meeting agenda with JCSBW.

Upcoming Board Meeting, Thursday March 5th

The BOE meets this Thursday, March 5th.  If you can’t attend in person, please plan to watch it live from home.  There’s a lot on the agenda – here’s the jist:

STUDY/DIALOGUE SESSION

2.02, 2nd Quarter Financial Report – for the period 1 October through 31 December 2014.  There are four attachments for this agenda item:

  1. Summary letter delivering the Second Quarter Financial Report.

  2. Second Quarter Financial Report – this 62-page report provides the details and basis for the information provided in the summary document above.

  3. 13-page PowerPoint presentation of the Report

2.02, Compensation Update – Amy Weber, Chief HR Officer, will present the compensation update.  Slide 6 shows the average Jeffco salaries paid for principals and assistant principals are ALL lower than the mean for every position.  We don’t know if that mean is based on surrounding districts or market data, but Jeffco is noticeably low.  How will this help Jeffco attract and retain the best and brightest??

REGULAR SESSION

5.01, Correspondence – the BOE received 49 letters regarding last month’s staffing issues at Fletcher Miller.  Huge kudos to the community for standing with FM parents – quick action from FM parents and strong support from the broader community prompted a swift, decisive response from the District.  Thank you!

5.02, Public Comment – sign up online here to address the BOE.

6.03, Charter School Contract Modification:  Two Roads Charter School – the school wants to amend their charter contract to add 6th grade to their existing 7-12th grade contract, and to add a full-time elementary program for full-time athletes who are not able to attend classes during the traditional school day (specifically families from a competitive gymnastics program).  Here is their application and here is the board’s resolution to approve from the consent agenda.

6.06, Resignations/Terminations – this past month, the district has received the following resignations:  2 administrators, 9 licensed, 17 classified.

7.01 Jefferson Area Plan Approval & 7.02 Alameda Area Plan Approval – there are no attachments for these agenda items, but this is when the board will vote on whether to approve the Jefferson Area Plan and the separate Alameda Area Plan. Newkirk and Williams expressed excitement about the Jefferson Area plan at the last board meeting, but as we’ve seen before, that won’t stop WNW coming up with a new and different plan at the last minute.

7.03, 2015/2016 Budget Update – the board is expected to give preliminary direction to staff for the budget at this meeting, and then final direction on March 19th.  SPECIAL NOTE:  We strongly recommend that you review this presentation.  Slide 28 notes the results of the online budget survey are still “being compiled.”  We’re concerned that the board is being asked to give preliminary direction to staff for the budget before hearing from the 9,121 people who completed the survey.  Also there are NO SLIDES on the input received from SPAC/SAC, principals, or cabinet members.  We see way too much info on the National and State Economy and no input from key stakeholders.  NOT ok!!

8.01, Academic Goal Update:  Post-secondary & Workforce Readiness (Ends 3) – this 12-slide presentation takes a look at 2013-14 indicator rates as to whether the district will meet the Ends 3 goal that, “Every student will graduate career and workforce and/or post-secondary ready.”

JCEA Contract Negotiations

Support Jeffco Kids wants your help.  Due to timing, teachers cannot be present during at least half of the negotiation windows because they’ll be – wait for it – in the classroom teaching our kiddos.  Let’s make a real effort to show up to support our teachers in their place – and please encourage others to do the same.  Thank you!

Wednesday

March 4

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

April 1

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

April 15

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

April 29

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

May 13

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

May 27

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

June 10

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Wednesday

June 24

Noon to 8pm

Board Room

Here is the full schedule of JCEA negotiation sessions.

3.4.2015 – One key update: JCEA says that only the March dates are set. The rest are TBD, as some of the potential dates and times conflict with PARCC testing.

Canceled Wednesday February 25 4-8pm Board Room
Confirmed Planning Session Monday March 2 4-8pm Board Room
Canceled Wednesday March 4 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday March 9 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Saturday March 14 8am-5pm Board Room
JCEA Monday March 16 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday March 30 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday April 1 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday April 6 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Saturday April 11 8am-5pm Board Room
JCEA Monday April 13 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday April 15 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday April 20 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday April 27 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday April 29 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday May 4 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Saturday May 9 8am-5pm Board Room
JCEA Monday May 11 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday May 13 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday May 18 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday May 27 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday June 1 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday June 8 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday June 10 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday June 15 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Saturday June 20 8am-5pm Board Room
JCEA Monday June 22 4-8pm Board Room
JCEA Wednesday June 24 Noon to 8pm Board Room
JCEA Monday June 29 4-8pm Board Room

All sessions are being streamed at this link, and archived recordings should also be available there:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Of note: the much-discussed facilities plan for the northwest Arvada and west Lakewood areas is not on the agenda, though Support Jeffco Kids noted that the expected student growth was flagged in the 2nd quarter financial report.

This last note isn’t related to the upcoming BOE meeting, but may be of interest:

Student Protest Leaders Speak Out

Sign up to attend Chalkbeat’s free event – Rising Up: Voices from Colorado’s Emerging Student Protest Movement. The Wednesday, March 4 (6-8 pm) discussion will feature student protest leaders from Boulder, Jeffco and Denver, plus local and state education officials and policy experts.

Jeffco Students for Change will also host a student-led public meeting/panel discussion on Saturday, March 14th at 9 am (location TBD, but it’s looking like it’ll be at Bear Creek HS).  All BOE members and the superintendent have been invited to be part of the panel along with 6 students from JSFC.  They’ll include a public comment section and a Q&A at the end.  Please plan to attend!  You can RSVP and learn more here.

Jeffco Exodus & Excellence

Are you staying in Jeffco? Are you leaving or thinking of leaving? Please share your stories with Jeffco Exodus (or on Facebook) – and, if you haven’t already, join our network to keep Jeffco informed.

A huge thanks again to Jeffco Exodus for their help with this week’s meeting agenda.

We hope to see you at the meeting on Thursday. If you can’t be there in person, we hope you’ll join us virtually instead.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!