sixth sense

Can either of these candidates help swing the State Board of Education to the Democrats?

The vote is a ways off, but endorsements are rolling in (Denver Post file).

Of the Colorado State Board of Education races this fall, the fight for the 6th Congressional District will likely draw the most attention.

The district spans a diverse mix of suburban areas to the south, east and north of Denver — from Highlands Ranch to Aurora, Northglenn and Thornton — making it more a swing district and not under the thumb of any party.

The balance of power on the seven-member board — now tilting 4-3 toward Republicans — hangs in the balance.

Two Democratic candidates want a shot at Republican incumbent Deb Scheffel of Parker, a reliable conservative vote who frequently voices concerns about data privacy being breached.

Mail-in ballots for the Democratic primary are due Tuesday.

Rebecca McClellan is former mayor pro tem of Centennial, and served on the City Council there from 2006 to 2014. She served as liaison to local public schools, advocated for bringing safe bicycle routes to schools and has been a small business owner. McClellan has the support of establishment Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, and more than a dozen state legislators.

Ilana Spiegel is an author, activist and formerly was a counselor for abused and neglected children as well as a classroom teacher. She has served on a variety of school committees and was appointed to the state’s testing task force in 2014.

Both McClellan and Spiegel are parents of public school students.

Here are the candidates’ responses to questions from Chalkbeat about the issues facing the board and Colorado:

REBECCA MCCLELLAN

Rebecca McClellan
Rebecca McClellan

What is the greatest issue facing Colorado schools today and how are you going to address it?

Underfunding is our greatest challenge. Early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention, access to mental health services, services for English language learners, health and nutrition, and resources for persistently low performing schools, are all impacted by funding concerns. I would advocate for education funding, and also for a reduction in the time and financial resources required for standardized testing. Students deserve a comprehensive, well-rounded education, including subjects and programs not emphasized in high stakes tests, such as the arts and sports. We must also improve access to mental health services in our schools. Funding concerns impact all of these needs.

What role should a State Board of Education Member serve in shaping state education law and policy?

The State Board’s role should be to act as an effective and unified governing body that champions policies and laws to serve and support all Colorado public school students. Both in their direct decisions and in their advocacy with legislators, State Board Members should be seen as highly knowledgeable and credible resources on the impact of laws and statewide policies on local districts, schools and communities. That begins with frequent and accurate communications by each Board Member with all constituencies the Board Member represents. State Board of Education Members should not micro-manage teachers.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?

One of the Department’s primary objectives is to serve and support local districts. Seeking frequent input from local school districts and statewide advocacy groups is essential in identifying the impact of policy decisions. Open communication with the full range of stakeholders allows the Board to learn of opportunities for improvement, as well as faster discovery of unintended consequences that require attention.

Colorado needs a new Education Commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?

The ideal candidate should not bring their own agenda, but should take direction from the Board, respecting that their elections reflects the priorities of voters. The candidate should have experience running a large, complex organization, and a track record for successfully supporting public schools in times of lean budgets. Experience balancing the needs of a socioeconomically diverse district or state and experience working with a divided board would be desirable. The ideal candidate should be willing to work with department legal staff to ensure that all proper procedures are followed with respect to transparency in accordance with Colorado law.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

I would like to see a reduction in standardized testing to reduce the time lost to testing, as well as the financial cost. I would like to see Colorado take a less punitive approach, in favor of identifying the need for resources to help schools most in need. I would like to see a reduction in the amount of bureaucratic assessment paper work required of teachers and administrators. We should remove the pressure to teach to the test by taking a less punitive approach.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?

The State Board of Education should take seriously the input of stakeholders including students, teachers, parents, school district boards and administrators. I do not have a rigid agenda regarding a specific test or vendor, but would like to see us settle on a reasonable assessment system we can keep. Momentum is lost and expenses are incurred each time we have to re-gear to a new system. Listening carefully to the concerns and priorities of stakeholders is essential to good decision making for an elected official, and I take that duty very seriously.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low performing schools or turn them over to charters?

Parent, teacher, student and community input is essential to understanding the unique challenges faced by our lowest performing schools. There is not a “one size fits all” answer. For example, Aurora Central High School serves many refugees who may be traumatized and facing the challenge of acclimating to a new country. In some cases, students may not have been able to attend school regularly in the country they left. Finding the right solution with the resources available involves working with those most familiar with each school’s unique challenges. Parents and community members must have empowerment in the process.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommended even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core Standards?

Colorado must have strong standards that benefit students and prepare them to make sound life choices after graduation. I do not have a rigid agenda regarding a specific set of standards. Standards that allow for consistency from state to state would help families who relocate to know that a child exiting one grade will be prepared to start the next grade in their new state. Feedback from educators, students and parents should be taken seriously during the upcoming review process as the Board strives to refine our standards to reflect the high expectations that will benefit all of our students.

ILANA SPIEGEL

Ilana in classroom-204-3
Ilana Spiegel

What are the greatest issues facing Colorado schools today and how do you hope to address it as a member of the state board?

The greatest issues facing Colorado schools today are:

  • Safety, health and wellness of our students
  • Inadequate funding
  • Recruiting and retaining teachers
  • An over-the-top approach to assessment and accountability

I will address these issues by advocating and supporting policies that:

  • Balance the desire and need for research and data to understand strengths and struggles of our students and schools with protection of individual information of students and families, including full transparency of access vendors or the state have to individual student or family information.
  • Ensure the maximum amount of resources dedicated to an environment where teachers can teach and students can learn, mentor and support new teachers, encourage “learning centered schools,”and facilitate collaboration between the state, district leadership and higher education.
  • Move away from a “testing and punishing” format and build a collaborative effort toward assessing and informing where teaching and learning are the main goals.

What role should the State Board of Education serve in shaping state education law and policy?

The State Board of Education’s role in shaping state education law and policy must focus on what actually improves teaching and learning. These decisions need to stay at the “policy level” and the “state level”. The State Board must stop directing local school boards and superintendents to carry out Board and CDE created services and programs. The State Board of Education can avoid one size fits all, unfunded mandates, and adopt more reasonable and holistic policies for assessment and accountability.

What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?

The Colorado Department of Education should have a collaborative relationship with local school districts and other education association and advocacy groups that have democratically elected leaders who represent their members. That said, the CDE must be a critical friend when any organization is not acting in the best interest of students or what is needed to improve teaching and learning.

Colorado needs a new education commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?

A new education commissioner must have experience as an educator, teaching and leading diverse K-12 public school students and schools. The new commissioner must be skilled in working collaboratively and is driven to do what is best for students, and improving teaching and learning.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?

  • Testing will not be the only measure for accountability nor the sole basis for high stakes decisions of any kind.
  • State assessments will be used as part of a larger body of evidence to determine school and district effectiveness, achievement, growth, and to monitor achievement and growth gaps.
  • Focus on opportunity gaps.
  • Frameworks that promote equity and access for all students.
  • Assessments will be used to support students and schools, not to punish them.
  • Student test scores will be decoupled from teacher evaluations.
  • Local districts will hold teachers accountable to high standards of professional practice.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system, if so, how?

I believe we are doing way too much testing. There is too much emphasis on testing and too much money being spent. Furthermore, a decade and a half of testing has not improved teaching or learning, and we have seen a widening of the achievement gap, as many students have been denied opportunities based on test scores. I support assessment as long as it is teacher driven, to improve professional practice and student learning and not associated with high stakes.
The State Assessment Proposal that I helped create while on the Colorado Standards and Assessment Task Force is one example of how Colorado could change its testing system.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The State Board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low performing schools or turn them over to charters?

It is important now, more than ever, to have a State Board member who has first hand experience working in struggling schools and has a track record of engaging in communities that seek to understand root causes of low performance, one who will listen to feedback from those impacted by any decision. The State Board’s role must be one that creates stability, not instability, for children and communities. Closing schools or turning them over to charters neither addresses the cause of low performance nor engages those who work and live with the children or communities.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommended even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core State Standards?

I hope the outcome of a review of standards is to acknowledge that standards do not teach children. Standards are scaffolding or guardrails, not a bar that needs to be cleared. No set of standards negates the necessity for teachers to be treated like professionals who have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, how to teach, how children learn, and to develop curriculum. I would support panel recommendations if the panel is comprised of those who work and live with children every day, and that the standards are not synonymous with data tags.

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.”