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!


 

 

4.20.15 Notes from the 4/16/15 BOE retreat

Thursday’s board retreat was at the request of Julie Williams, who wanted to talk about innovation in education before deciding what kind of new buildings to build (should they ever agree to fund new facilities for the new housing developments in the west Lakewood and northwest Arvada areas). The first part of the meeting was about innovations in Jeffco, and the second part was devoted to outside experts.

The school presentations were fairly interesting. Lumberg Elementary talked about innovating with technology, looking mostly at their 1:1 iPad initiative. Pennington Elementary talked about their extended time initiative and how it has allowed them to provide a lot of opportunities that their students might not otherwise receive, such as instrumental music for every fifth and sixth grader, and access to wraparound services, and the opportunity to participate in sports and similar activities.

Then they switched gears to talk about innovation in middle schools. Falcon Bluffs Middle School explained its Sparks PE program, in which students participate in 20 minutes of high-impact activity to improve focus and concentration on crucial subjects. Bell and Deer Creek Middle Schools talked about their STEM programs and the benefits it has had for students at both schools.

All of the presentations were quite interesting, and we encourage you to take the time to look at what’s going on in Jeffco.

Next up were guests panelists, including:

Tony Lewis, executive director, Donnell-Kay Foundation
Scott Fast, parent, Columbine High School, retired executive director, Accenture Foundation
Michael Cushman, senior fellow, DaVinci Institute
John Evans, Ph.D., J.D., executive director, School Leaders for Colorado
Tammy Thorn, master teacher, School Leaders for Colorado

This was an interesting mix of presentations. Cushman, who represented the futurist think tank the DaVinci Institute didn’t have much to say about new school facilities other than he thought spaces should be movable and that there should be lots of 3D printers so students could create stuff and just throw it away if it doesn’t work. The accompanying presentation also included predictions, some of which were more far-fetched than others (like the idea that the average person would live in a printed house by 2030). He offered few concrete solutions, however.

Scott Fast focused on career readiness and the importance of using a more accurate career-readiness measurement, like ACT WorkKeys, to measure outcomes for students who will seek employment immediately after high school. His ideas included creating career pathways for those students to seek certification and focusing on essential sills like collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, professionalism and self-direction.

The third presentation was by the School Leaders for Colorado group. It was confusing, at best. They talked at length about alternative licensure and career pathways for those in the military seeking to become teachers—all of which makes since until one remembers that they started talking about providing alternative paths to principal licensure and subsequent careers.

There were a few hints about the kinds of training that would prepare a principal (like shadowing another principal) but the lion’s share of the presentation was spent talking about Troops to Teachers (a Department of Defense program) or waxing eloquent about how some of these veterans have two masters degrees and are experts in their field who work with sophisticated technology, so they should be teachers now because more teachers should be content experts. Perhaps no one told them that WNW do not want to pay for one master’s degree, much less two?

Of note: School Leaders for Colorado had absolutely no data to show the impact of their former military principals on student achievement. Why do we mention this? Because Ken Witt loves to ask district presenters why there isn’t a slide linking [presentation topic] to student achievement. Did Witt ask this group to show that student achievement had improved by virtue of teachers and soon-to-be-principals going through this program? Nope. (But he did ask Lumberg, despite the fact that they had multiple slides showing the effect the iPad initiative had had on student achievement.)

Last was Tony Lewis’ presentation from the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a school reform organization. Lewis is also a charter school representative. He didn’t bother with PowerPoint, but said schools need to teach both “resume virtues and eulogy virtues” (see David Brooks’ “Moral Bucket List” column in the New York Times about both kinds of virtues), suggested the board consider course choice (i.e., a student could take courses at other schools. For example, if no AP course was offered at the student’s school, they could take the AP course at a school that did offer it).

Lewis pointed the board to several concrete examples to consider for buildings, including the e3 Civic High School in San Diego, an online high school offered through the Los Angeles Library, and Architects of Achievement. He also suggested that the board consider putting out an RFP for new school models, that they engaged with students who have dropped or opted out to see what models would make sense for them, and create a faculty space that could incubate new schools, regardless of the type of school.

He also cautioned, however, that some standards need to be met to successfully innovate. For example:

  • People need to know they can fail; innovation won’t happen if people might be subject to repercussions
  • Problems need to be identified and defined before you can solve it. Too often, people jump to a solution but have never defined the problem.
  • There needs to be fidelity to the model in any innovation
  • Implementation trumps concept

When Williams asked about putting out an RFP for school models, Lewis told her that first they need to talk to the community — specifically small subsets and neighborhoods. Only after finding out the interests and needs of that community should an RFP be issued. For example, if it became clear an area was interested in a Montessori school, the board might consider issuing an RFP for Montessori schools.

It’s unclear where WNW intend to go from here. Williams inquired about printing a new school building with a 3D printer. Cushman said not many places were doing it now, but he expected the process to be cheaper and yet still durable when it becomes widespread.

 

And in case you missed it: Friday was the national Day of Silence, a protest that aims to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Board member Julie Williams, however, posted a link on her Facebook page to a LBGT hate group that encouraged parents to keep their students home. She has since apologized, claiming that she didn’t read the post. Chalkbeat was first on the scene with this article, and 9 News was one of many other organizations that have reported on the story since.

Feeling as disturbed as we are? Take action: write the board, write letters to the editor, and speak up at public comment. Have other ideas? We’d love to hear them.

Whatever you do, keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

4.15.15 New changes to BOE retreat speakers

cipherIn our last post, a Jeffco parent questioned why GOP Chair Steve House had been tapped to speak about innovation in education at a JeffCo School Board retreat this Thursday. We had the same question.

On Monday, Colorado Pols reported that House had withdrawn from the retreat.

But in true board majority spirit, new speakers have been added since Monday. In addition to the already-scheduled speakers, Tony Lewis and Scott Fast, three others have been added:

Michael Cushman, senior fellow, DaVinci Institute
John Evans, Ph.D., J.D., executive director, School Leaders for Colorado
Tammy Thorn, School Leaders for Colorado

School Leaders for Colorado is an alternative licensure program for principals. One new initiative they are touting is “Troops to Principals,” which they describe as a principal leadership training program former members of the Armed Forces of the United States. “Potential candidates may hold the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel, or master sergeant with thirty to thirty-five years of military experience. They may come from the National Guard or the Reserve. They may be recently retired or have working experience in other careers. Their military experience has taught them one important thing—leadership.” Even better, they can complete the program in just 9 months!

Their presentation for the board is here.

A reader also inquired about Scott Fast’s education qualifications. Here’s what we do know. Fast has an education blog, and is a nationalist strategist for innovateducate. Rumor also has it that the Accenture Foundation, of which he is a retired executive director is a major contributor to the KIPP charter schools. He provided this document to the board as “pre-meeting reading.”

Never a dull moment here folks!

The meeting will be streamed, or you can attend it live in the Education Center board room in Golden.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

4.2.15 BOE meeting preview

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Don’t miss these exciting discussions at the BOE meeting on Thursday April 2nd.

Strategic Compensation – This is a report back to the board about how strategic compensation, which went to 20 trial schools as part of a special grant program, have performed.  Does extra money make a difference for student performance, or teacher performance?  Find out, at least as regards these schools.  By the way, this grant, has NO relevance to compensation negotiations because the amount of money needed to roll this out to all schools simply does not exist.  $39M over 5 years to 20 schools means almost $60M per year across our 150 schools, per year.  On the positive side, here are the take away findings from the report.

Research findings from 2014 analysis found:

– Higher levels of implementation of quality practices were associated with higher levels of student growth.

– High-implementing schools outperformed low-implementing schools:

• in reading by 1 percent

• in writing by 5 percent

• in mathematics by 15 percent

The Consent Agenda is long, and covers many, many contracts being awarded from behind the scenes computer support, to security and safety.  This author made no attempt to read them all, but you can though here.

Budget Survey Results – The biggest item of the night that is completely relevant for all citizens of Jeffco is the outcomes of the budget surveys and public meetings.  Top priorities for one time money was Facilities/Capital and Reserves.  For ongoing money it was Compensation Increases and Facilities/Capital.  It is worth noting that the community really started getting outraged in 2014 when a similar survey was ignored, and the board pushed for its Charter Funding Equalization.  Will they listen this time?

The main outcome of the survey questions for priorities are:

Question #1: Operating Needs – Top 3

Competitive employee compensation (58 percent)

Targeted focus on improving early literacy (39 percent)

Increase staff (37 percent)

Question #2: Capital Needs

Maintenance of existing facilities (59 percent)

Question #3: Percentage of Funding

50/50 split between operating and capital (40 percent)

Question #4: High Growth

Recommend redrawing boundaries (35 percent)

Of course there are many, many other questions that were asked, and answered in this presentation.  Hear them firsthand at the board meeting, or read more here.

Budget requests from staff are also out.  With regards to compensation, there are some modest increases,  such as a proposal of a 1% increase for most employees.  The pool of money to negotiate increases is quite small, and charter schools are getting a very small increase of almost 0.1%.  Some highlights are here:

  • PERA increase – Supplemental Amortization Equalization Disbursement (SAED) inc .50% $ 2,025,000
  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) additional benefits $ 3,000,000
  • 1% Compensation increase $ 5,200,000
  • Compensation increase for targeted employees $ 1,152,000
  • Substitute teacher pay changes $ 763,000
  • Subtotal employee compensation package increase $ 12,140,000

Or, read the whole presentation, or better yet, come to the board meeting! Or attempt to watch the the live stream, assuming it doesn’t freeze, lose the sound or otherwise malfunction as has happened to several of our viewers. The study session begins at 5:30 and the regular board meeting at 6:30.

On the Discussion Agenda are four items that may be of interest to our readers.  They include:

  • Legislative update
  • Outdoor Lab
  • Boundary modification for Stober and Vivian Elementary
  • Declaration of Surplus Property on Green Mountain

Click this link to found out more.

As always, 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!