Who Is In Charge

Despite Ritz's pleas, committee passes bill to remove her as chair

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Glenda Ritz speaking to the Indiana House Education Committee in January.

An Indiana House committee passed a bill today that would remove the guarantee that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz must chair the Indiana State Board of Education.

House Bill 1609 passed the House Education Committee 8-3 on a party-line vote despite a direct appeal from Ritz and sometimes emotional pleas from her Democratic supporters. It is expected to be voted on by the full House as early as next week.

“This political power move of House Bill 1609 is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues,” Ritz said. “I urge you to pause this session from assigning changes or any further allocation to the State Board of Education.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is part of Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative agenda. It would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana, pointed out the state superintendent has chaired the state board for more than 100 years.

Ritz said she agreed with House Bill 1609 supporters that the roles of state leaders in education policy should be clarified. But she proposed a summer study committee to examine the question of what changes are needed.

Her argument found little sympathy among the majority Republicans on the committee.

“We have to do something,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, citing the dysfunction of the state board. “To me this is a no-brainer.”

Ritz has frequently been at odds with the rest of the board over procedures, sometimes blocking votes or refusing requests to change the agenda. In a meeting in 2013, Ritz abruptly adjourned a state board meeting and walked out rather than allow a vote on an item she objected to. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

As the conversation was wrapping up so the committee could vote, Rep, Terri Austin, D-Anderson, made a surprising suggestion: she asked McMillin to consider changing the bill to at least allow a co-chair design, with Ritz sharing the role.

“I’ve taught at all levels,” Austin said, with tears in her eyes. “I am saddened by what I see happening. The casualties in the end may cost us more than what we come away with in victory.”

A companion bill, House Bill 1486, which would give the state board, not Ritz or the Indiana Department of Education, authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions, also passed the committee 9-4.

Other bills passed by the committee included:

  • A bill aimed at informing college students about their loan costs, House Bill 1042.
  • A bill that would require school districts to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, House Bill 1579. The bill would require districts that don’t follow GAAP to convert by 2018.

New to Chalkbeat? Keep up with the latest education news from across Indiana here. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for daily updates on all the issues you care about.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.