Sept 7 Jeffco School Board meeting summary

The Jeffco School Board held its first regular meeting of the the 2017-18 school year. This was a quiet one as meetings go, but there are a few highlights we want to share:

Study Session: Strategies to Support Student Success

The study session focused on the work that had been done to improve student achievement at five different Jeffco Schools. Each of these schools had shown a marked improvement in their growth scores on the 2017 CMAS, and each principal had time to talk about the strategies their school used to produce better results.

So what works?

  • Support systems, both within the school and with outside community organizations
  • Collaboration at every level. This ranges from student learning approaches to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers, instructional coaches, interventionists, and other staff can collaborate to pinpoint the best approaches to engaging individual students.
  • Time. Staff need a structured time that supports collaboration and data-driven instruction, schools need time to implement and evaluate new approaches to learning, and time is needed to see improved results. There are no magic shortcuts.
  • Strong, stable, and consistent leadership to recognize issues and target appropriate resources to address issues and support staff and students.

Superintendent Glass has also summarized this study session discussion and his takeaways on his Advance Jeffco blog. We encourage you to read his post and thoughts about what this means for the rest of the district.

We’d also like to emphasize the collaboration theme again. It’s one we’ve heard before, back when Jeffco Schools received a $39 million, five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant to do a strategic compensation study that compared the impact of merit pay and the impact of additional resources and collaboration.  There were three different presentations given to the Jeffco School Board as that study progressed; resources, support, and collaboration were repeatedly mentioned as the most effective elements in boosting student achievement. Some of the 2016 findings are summarized in this Denver Post article:

Data in Jefferson County’s schools also is being watched at a national level. The district is near the end of a federally funded pilot program that tested performance incentives and changes to how teachers are supported.

So far, analysis of the project shows that the supports provided to teachers — such as creating leadership opportunities, professional learning communities with coaches and a system for constructive feedback — have increased student performance. Financial incentives are not showing a strong link.

Jefferson County officials say they believe the best and fastest results will happen with both components.

Aswege, who taught at one of the schools in the pilot program, said bonuses for school or team goals didn’t remove collaboration, but she said the money is still more necessary for the coaching resources.

“When you have a healthy culture in a school, you don’t think about the pay,” Aswege said. “You don’t think about anything else but helping children.”

Why is that important? Because too often, the argument goes something along the lines of “any kid can learn in any condition, including a cardboard box, so long as they have a great teacher.”

What the data actually shows is that while great teachers make a difference, collaboration and resources for a team of great teachers makes a much bigger, school-wide difference. And then we need to give it time to work rather than rushing off in search of a different quick fix.

Superintendent’s Report

We’ve sat through a lot of superintendent’s reports over the years, but this is the first time we’ve been completely blown away. First, he had a slide presentation that summarized the various groups he’s met with and meetings he’s attended in the past few weeks. It also included a list of future events and meetings.

We are thrilled to see our superintendent out getting to know people in all parts of Jeffco so he can hear about what’s working, what’s not, and issues we need to address going forward. We’re also thrilled to see it documented, so that anyone who wants to know what our superintendent is doing can see it, too.

Don’t forget to also check out his Advance Jeffco blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, where he regularly posts about what he’s doing and issues that affect the education of our Jeffco students.

Ends Discussion: CMAS Spring Results

Once again, Jeffco Schools students outpaced the state on the 2017 CMAS tests–and in some cases hit new academic highs. Student growth scores also outpaced the state and often did so by an increasing margin over previous years.

Now before anyone jumps in to argue that many or most of our students are failing, etc, we’d like to remind our readers of these very important points:

  • Spring 2017 marked the third year that students took CMAS (also known as PARCC), and increasing numbers of families have chosen to opt out of testing.
  • The bar was raised with CMAS, with students being pushed to higher academic expectations. Students have been expected to meet those expectations, despite the reality that the years since 2009-10 have been marked by larger class sizes and fewer resources. Despite these challenges, student achievement continues to improve.
  • In middle and high school, the CMAS math tests students according to the math they are taking rather than their grade level, which leads to a bit of confusion. Eighth grade students who take Algebra I are counted in the algebra results rather than the “8th grade math” results, and the same is true for 7th grade students enrolled in Algebra I or 8th grade students enrolled in Geometry. “Seventh grade math” only includes those students not enrolled in algebra rather than all 7th graders, and the same is true for 8th graders. What this shows most clearly is a math divide between students who are already excelling in math (and thus taking algebra in 7th or 8th grade), and those students who were already struggling and continue to do so. We hope this allows Jeffco staff to keep working to better address struggling students and bring them up to grade level, but also want to make it clear that the 7th and 8th grade math categories only feature a subset of students.

The report also summarizes some of the elements that are pushing student achievement higher, as well as the areas that need improvement.

Also keep in mind that “churn” is a key word in understanding Jeffco’s student achievement scores in the past several years, as Chalkbeat makes clear:

Colorado has already changed math and English testing twice in the past decade, making comparing past results extremely difficult — if not impossible. Officials say it won’t be the case now because this is essentially a contract change. However, more significant test changes may need to be considered after the state’s academic standards revision process is completed in 2018.

Yes, a new set of tests (though supposedly comparable to CMAS) and yet another academic standards revision are already on the way. It seems like we barely have time to adjust to one change before another is headed our way, and that’s hardly a process that benefits our students’ learning.

Other items of note

The rest of the meeting largely consisted of policy reviews, and few of those required changes. Any policies with changes are listed on Board Docs.

Also of note: for the first time we can remember in years, no one signed up for agenda-related public comment. We found that odd, particularly because student achievement has reliably been one of the most popular topics for citizens. Only one person signed up for the non-agenda-related section as well, making for a very quiet (and quick!) meeting. Curiouser and curiouser? Quite possibly.

With that in mind, we owe our readers a post about the upcoming school board election. We’ll post that soon. Until then, we remain

JeffCo Proud!

 

2.19.16 Updates: The Summary Version Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our summary of board actions and other board work to-date. If you missed it, start with part 1, which summarizes some of their work regarding Certificates of Participation and other major issues.  This post will focus on negotiations and other Jeffco School Board actions.

Employee Negotiations

Negotiations season is just kicking off, and the board has heard from both the district and JCEA about the process and issues that will take center stage. The board heard a presentation from JCEA at the 2/18/16 study session and gave the district negotiating team some direction regarding upcoming negotiation sessions.

JCEA identified some issues they’d like to address in negotiations:

  • Increase professional development funding (it was cut during the recession)
  • To include JCEA as part of the teacher induction program again (last August they were refused)
  • To restore association leave for leadership roles. JCEA pays for subs during a member’s leave, and this issue was previously part of the contract.
  • A predictable, comprehensive salary schedule for all employees (a grid system)

JCEA agrees that teachers need to be rated effective or highly effective to move a step but want a rich conversation with the district about other things that should be happening annually, like regular professional development or other expectations.

In addition, JCEA said they do not want to see a distinction made regarding effective and highly effective teachers when it comes to the salary structure currently because they are not confident in the current inter-rater reliability within schools or across the district. They also think it reduces collegiality within the schools. They see the primary purpose of evaluations as leading to growth rather than being tied to income.

Many of the same issues, especially regarding competitive pay and a predictable schedule, were mentioned by the district as well.

The district’s negotiating team also asked board members to list some of their priorities at the Feb. 18 meeting. Board members said:

  • Be more competitive in compensation, within the restraints of the budget and with the understanding that Jeffco will likely never offer the highest salaries in the area
  • Compensation for masters degrees, though some board members want to see that tied closely to a teacher’s subject matter or to teaching in general (as opposed to someone with a completely unrelated master’s degree)
  • Compensation for additional credit hours beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Additional compensation for hard-to-fill positions, like speech pathologists and school psychologists
  • Compensation tied to experience

There were other issues where the board remains uncertain:

  • Compensation tied to performance

All indicated they’d like to see some of that, but the how and why are very unclear. There are concerns about the reliability of the evaluation system, about whether a distinction should be made between effective and highly effective, and how to measure that appropriately.

Susan Harmon was very clear that she doesn’t want to see performance tied to test scores; Ron Mitchell said he sees effective and highly effective ratings as a continuum, and that he doesn’t think there’s much difference between a teacher who’s at the high end of effective or a teacher at the low-end of highly effective.

  • Additional compensation for school subjects

Board members were split on this question, which largely applies to high schools. Some argued that a math teacher should be paid more than an English teacher if those positions are harder to fill; others said that if you have a highly effective music teacher and a highly effective science teacher, both have a major, positive impact on students and the school so it’s hard to justify paying one more than the other. No decisions were made there.

  • Additional compensation for placement in more challenging schools

Board members are very mixed on this one. They all agree that something should be done to make those positions more attractive, but whether that will be through providing some sort of additional compensation, additional recognition, or additional resources and support remains to be decided.

Much of the research indicates that additional compensation might be enough to bring a teacher to schools with higher poverty rates and other challenges, but isn’t usually enough to keep them there. Feedback from the “strategic comp” project also indicated that what teachers find more compelling are strong leaders, a cooperative team, and lots of support and resources to help with the challenges.

The negotiation sessions are being streamed and archived. Archived sessions (which of this writing only include the 2/6/16 negotiation session) can be viewed here: http://livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/4781604

Negotiation session dates are posted here: http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=A6TT4P718068

Other Jeffco School Board actions

Charter School Contract Renewals

Charter school contract renewals are typically on the consent agenda unless there is a special issue at stake. We’re noting this under other business because the board dedicated part of a study session on 1/28/16 to learn about the renewal process.

Facilities Master Plan

The board heard an update on the facilities master planning process at the 1/28/16 study session. Expect to hear more about the updated facilities master plan in March.

Technology and Date Privacy Advisory Committee

The 1/28/16 study session included an update from the TDPAC.

2016 Legislative Season

The board has received a few legislative updates and is working on a TABOR statement. They’re also expected to take positions on upcoming legislation soon, likely in March, but some board members wanted more time to read through the full bill before voting one way or the other.

Board members also met with Jeffco legislators on 1/26/16, largely to discuss school funding issues, but also to talk with them about other proposals that affect education.

Budget Process & Board Ends

Since taking office, the board has had multiple presentations about the budget process as well as the community engagement process. In addition, they recently heard from the community directly at a series of community budget forums held Feb. 1-10.

Board members discussed what they’d heard at these forums at their 2/18/16 study session. Everyone noted that they heard lots of positive feedback about the Jeffco 20/20 Vision, which was good news. The community forums also focused on board ends and the budget.

Most heard a fair amount of dissatisfaction regarding board ends, with concern that the ends didn’t consider the whole child, weren’t sufficient, were unrealistic in some ways, relied on test scores too much, and were not specific enough in other ways. More project-based assessments, parent involvement (including diversified pathways for that involvement), more pathways for college and career planning, and more focus on special populations was mentioned.

Parent involvement in middle school and high school also was noted as an issue, as was the continued push to offer free full-day kindergarten throughout the district. The board is looking to schedule a retreat to discuss and revise those ends further sometime this spring.

When it came to the budget, many members noted that community members really wanted “both/and” (a feeling that’s familiar to most of us in these years of tight budgets). Technology needs, employee compensation, free full-day kindergarten and the needs of special populations were also prominent in those discussions.

Board Policies

There have been multiple long conversations about current board policies and wording. We’ve noted significant changes above. The rest are (to our eyes) minor, so we invite interested parties to look at the various revised documents from the 1/14, 2/4 and 2/18 meetings via BoardDocs.

The board’s next regular meeting will be March 3. We invite you to join us there or to watch via streaming.

Jeffco Proud!

Story #4 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt Presents “Back of Envelope” District Compensation Plan, Rams It Through Ignoring Teacher Input

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #4:

What Happened: In August 2014, Ken Witt proposed a new district-wide teacher compensation plan. This wasn’t consistent with the usual way district-wide compensation plans are typically proposed, because (as you might gather by now is common) Witt just presented the plan with little explanation or discussion about how it was developed. The Superintendent had little to say about it. Teachers hadn’t heard of it. He appeared to have developed it with his attorney. Chalkbeat, in the article, noted that the proposal “surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.”

The compensation package tied teacher salaries to performance, and when the teachers objected to the proposal, WNW gave a pre-ordained response: “those teachers just don’t want pay for performance.”

Among the problems with the proposal:

  • As explained above, teachers had no forewarning about the proposal;
  • Witt did not explain how he arrived at the proposal;
  • The proposal ignored a costly neutral fact-finder’s strong recommendation against allowing a “pilot” evaluation system to be used in determining teacher raises, especially after teachers were told that the pilot system was not going to be calculated into salaries for the first year;
  • Witt clamped down on public comment about it, and seemed to fully ignore teacher and board minority input.

At the following meeting, WNW passed the proposal 3-2, without an explanation of how it was derived.

The proposal did include raising minimum salaries (thereby allowing WNW to boast about “raising teacher salaries”) and did include raises for most teachers. However, the raises were mostly quite minimal, especially given that the economy was finally in recovery after years of pay freezes.

More complete coverage of “what happened” is here:

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

GOLDEN – Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.” Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

Why It Matters: Transparency. Respect. Good Governance. Working Environment. Politics.

Transparency: Once again, we see WNW parading their “transparency” (look, see, board meetings are being live-streamed!) while coming up with major decisions (compensation for thousands) behind the scenes. Not explaining the rationale or the merits of such a system was about as anti-transparent a decision as we can imagine.

Respect. If you respect your employees, you explain to them why their compensation system is as it is. At the very least, you listen to their complaints. When neither of those things is done, you don’t feel respected.

Good Governance. Once again, we see major decisions being made behind closed doors, without the input of the other board members, and very likely in violation of Sunshine Laws.

Working Environment. Teachers don’t need a whole lot, but they do need two-way communication. It was evident that WNW didn’t read that part (or many others) of the business management textbook. Performance goes down when that communication is shut off. If performance has stayed reasonably high, it’s because teachers have worked hard to overcome the working environment that devalues them so much.

Politics. Remember the idea of a non-partisan school board? It’s hard but we need to try. It’s evident to us that this was the plan all along:

  1. Initiate a pay-for-performance plan without teacher input;
  2. When teachers object to problems with the plan and the lack of opportunity for input, use political jiu-jitsu and say “they just don’t want to have pay for performance” despite that not really being the case with most teachers, or the main concern.
  3. Tie the supposed hostility to pay for performance to union control.

It’s a simple political calculus. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Most teachers are open to pay for performance, and they had already started working on well-thought-out plans to implement such a system. Witt just manipulated it for political ends.

When teachers from two schools walked out the day after the proposal was approved, the predictable response from Witt was just “they don’t want pay for performance.” It was convenient politics.

This incident made it so high on our list with our voters, we think, because it affected so many and contained so many elements of the reasoning behind the recall.  Witt playing politics, acting secretly, being disrespectful, and creating a hostile work environment. And Newkirk and Williams going along with it. And Brad Miller coaching them to toe the line the whole way. This wasn’t leadership, it’s sloppy, dangerous, demoralizing puppetry that has a real impact on many lives in our community.


 

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!