Who Is In Charge

Literacy bill signed into law

The Colorado READ Act, House Bill 12-1238, was signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper at a packed Capitol ceremony.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and students
Gov. John Hickenlooper was flanked by second graders from Aurora's Kenton Elementary as he signed the Colorado READ Act on May 17, 2012.
“This is legislation that really does put kids first,” Hickenlooper told a crowd of officials, lawmakers, lobbyists and educators in the Capitol’s west foyer.

“It’s really a great day for young people in Colorado,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the administration’s point man on education. “”But we’re not done. We have a long way to go.”

The law, nearly a year in the making, is the most significant piece of education legislation to emerge from the just-completed 2012 regular session. It also has the distinction of being one of the few recent Colorado education reform laws to come with significant funding.

Several speakers at the signing ceremony referred to the long process it took to get to the final product.

“It certainly takes a village to write a bill to help raise a child,” joked Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a prime sponsor of the bill.

Here are the key features of the READ Act:

• Next school year districts will report to the Department of Education the number of K-3 students with significant reading deficiencies. The State Board of Education the will define what constitutes a significant reading deficiency for the purposes of the law. SBE has until March 31, 2013, to adopt the rules for the new program.

• The law is expected to cover up to 24,000 students. An estimated quarter of Colorado third graders don’t read at grade level.

• Starting in 2013-14 districts will annually assess K-3 students’ reading abilities with CDE-approved tests. The department is required to create a list of approved instructional programs and professional development programs that districts can use.

• Individual READ plans have to be created for students with significant deficiencies. The law also creates a process for parent, teacher and administrator consultation to determine each year if students should advance to the next grade. Parents have the final say for K-2 students. Superintendents (or designated administrators) will review the cases of third graders recommended for advancement and can decide to retain a student. Special services must be provided for third graders who are held back.

• The law contains protections and exemptions for students with disabilities, limited English proficiency or who have already been retained.

• The program will divert interest revenue from the state school lands permanent fund to provide about $16 million in per-pupil funding (about $700 per student) to districts working with students who have significant reading deficiencies. The law also includes some $5 million in funding to be used for CDE administration costs ($1 million) and for professional development grants to districts. So total funding in 2012-13 will be about $21 million.

• Districts receiving the per-pupil funding will be required to use specific interventions, such as enrollment in full-day kindergarten, summer school or tutoring.

• The law abolishes the existing Read-to-Achieve grant program and uses its remaining funding for the new grant program.

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs / File photo
The idea for the law originated last year with a coalition of business and education reform groups working with Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and outgoing chair of the House Education Committee. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Summit County, was Massey’s co-prime sponsors.

The original concept called for mandatory retention of lagging third graders, but that plan was quickly dropped in the face of widespread opposition.

As passed by the House, HB 12-1238 had a “preference” for retention, contained only $5 million in funding and also would have required services for a second group of students, those with just “reading deficiencies.”

Low funding and some of the bill’s language didn’t sit well with Senate Democratic leaders, and the bill was significantly amended. More funding was added, the bill was refocused on a smaller group of students, some of the more detailed requirements for parent consultation and notification were streamlined and retention language was softened.

Democratic Sens. Rollie Heath of Boulder and Bob Bacon of Fort Collins were key figures in crafting the Senate compromise, in consultation with Massey.

Several speakers at the ceremony highlighted Heath’s role in the bill. Garcia said Heath “reall helped keep us on track … and come up with a bill we all could fully support.”

The Senate sponsors were Johnston and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. Hickenlooper advisors also were heavily involved with the READ Act from the beginning.

Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton
Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton
A few lawmakers, led by Rep. Judy Solano, D-Brighton, were skeptical of the bill, arguing that the money would be better spent to expand state preschool programs and full-day kindergarten. But the bill had lots of momentum after the Senate passed it 35-0. The House accepted the Senate version and re-passed the measure 58-7 on the last day of the regular session.

The READ Act is the swansong for some lawmakers who have been key players on education legislation for years. Massey, Bacon, Spence and Solano all are leaving the Capitol because of term limits.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”

Civil action

Detroit school board to protesters: Please remain civil. Protesters to school board: You’re naive

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore speaks with her supporters from the stage at Mumford High School. Her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to the meeting's abrupt ending.

A day after the Detroit school board abruptly ended a meeting that was disrupted by protesters, the meeting is being rescheduled, while the board president is making an appeal for civility.

“The board is extremely disappointed that the regularly scheduled meeting tonight was adjourned early due to extreme disruptive behavior from several audience members,” school board president Iris Taylor wrote in a statement issued late Tuesday, several hours after the meeting’s chaotic end.

“It is our hope moving forward that the community will remain civil and respectful of the elected Board and the process to conduct public meetings. We must be allowed to conduct the business the community elected us to do.”

The drama Tuesday night came from a large group of parents and community members, led by activist Helen Moore, who packed the board meeting to raise concerns about a number of issues.

Moore had sent the school board an email requesting an opportunity to address the meeting Tuesday on issues including her strong objection to the news that Taylor and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti had attended a meeting with Mayor Mike Duggan and leaders of city charter schools to discuss the possibility of working together.

The mayor, in his state of the city address last week, discussed the meeting, calling it “almost historic,” and said district and charter school leaders had agreed to collaborate on a student transportation effort, and on a school rating system that would assign letter grades to Detroit district and charter schools.

When Taylor told Moore during the meeting that she would not be allowed to give her presentation Tuesday night, saying she had not gotten Moore’s request in time to put it on Tuesday’s agenda, Moore and her supporters angrily shouted at the board and proceeded to heckle and object to statements during the meeting.

The meeting was ultimately ended during a discussion about the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, a school whose classes are being relocated to other district buildings for the rest of the year because of urgent roof repairs and the possibility of mold in the building.

As Moore shouted over Vitti’s discussion about the school, Taylor ordered that the 81-year-old activist be escorted from the Mumford High School auditorium where the meeting was being held. That triggered an angry response from her supporters and ultimately brought the meeting to a close.

The current Detroit school board came into existence a little over a year ago when the state returned city schools to Detroiters after years of control by state-appointed emergency managers.

The board’s swearing-in last January was heralded as a fresh start for a new district — now called the Detroit Public Schools Community District — that had been freed from years of debts encumbered by the old Detroit Public Schools.

Since then, meetings have been interrupted by the occasional heckler or protester, but they’ve largely remained orderly, without a lot of the noise and drama that had been typical of school board meetings in the past.

In her statement Tuesday night, Taylor lamented that the new school board wasn’t able to get to most of the items on its agenda.

“Detroiters have fought long and hard to have a locally elected board to govern our schools,” Taylor wrote. “It would be shameful to have our rights revoked again for impediments. It sets a poor example for the students we all represent, and it will not be tolerated by this Board.”

Wednesday morning, Moore said she plans to continue her vocal advocacy, even if it’s disruptive.

“If that’s the only avenue we have to get our point across, when they don’t allow us to speak, then we must take every avenue,” Moore said. “Time is of the essence with our children. And they spend too much time with distractions, listening to the mayor, listening to the corporations, and not listening to people who have children in the public schools.”

Moore, who is active with an organization called Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and with the National Action Network, said she fought for years for Detroiters to again have a locally elected school board. City residents did not have control of their schools for most of the last two decades.

“We worked like crazy,” Moore said, but she asserts that most school board members are “naive.”

“They don’t know the history,” she said. “They need to be educated and that goes for Dr. Vitti too. We need to educate them and that was a first start.”

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 12:30 p.m. Thursday at its Fisher Building headquarters where it can return to its unfinished business from Tuesday.

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Detroit activist Helen Moore waved to her fellow activisits from the stage at Mumford High School. She returned to the room after her removal from the auditorium prompted loud objections that led to a school board meeting’s abrupt ending on March 13, 2018.