Future of Schools

Private schools seeking relief from years of bad grades met with rejection from Indiana State Board

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Three private schools with a history of poor state grades lost the chance Wednesday to accept new voucher students.

The schools’ requests to take advantage of a new Indiana law failed in an Indiana State Board of Education vote.

Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School and Lutheran South Unity School had submitted requests to the state board to waive consequences of consecutive years of D or F grades so they could accept new voucher students this fall. A new law passed late last month now allows the state board to consider such waivers for private schools that can still show their students have made improvement academically.

Although five board members approved the requests and three were opposed, state board statute says six “yes” votes are needed for a vote to go through. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and fellow board members Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager were opposed. Vince Bertram was absent.

John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association, said the three schools were the inspiration behind the new law.

“If there are any schools that are going to meet the criteria of that bill, it was those schools,” Elcesser said. “The schools have dramatically improved their grades.”

Before lawmakers passed House Bill 1384 last month, schools with three consecutive years of Ds or Fs would have been barred from accepting new voucher students until their grades were a “C” or better for two years. The three schools in question have had just one year of better grades.

Some board members were concerned that just one year of better grades might not be enough proof that the schools have changed long-term. The law doesn’t clearly state what “academic improvement” must mean.

“We don’t have that two-year data to tell this board that this isn’t just a one-year blip,” Hendry said.

According to state board spokesman Josh Gillespie, the new law doesn’t indicate how soon — or whether — schools could return to the board and resubmit their requests for waivers.

“I’m not sure how soon they could return,” Gillespie said in an email. “But it appears as if they could.”

extra time

Expect delays: New York will release statewide test scores later this year

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

Are more students across New York state able to read and do math on grade level? This year, it will take a little longer to find out.

The state doesn’t expect to release scores for this year’s reading and math tests until mid-September, officials announced Tuesday. That’s at least a month later than usual: In recent years, the scores have come out between late July and mid-August.

The delay is caused by the state’s switch from three-day tests to ones that take just two days. The move requires officials to take extra time to figure out how many questions students must answer correctly in order to earn a passing score — a process that must happen every time tests are retooled.

But teachers and schools will not have test data any later than normal, officials said. The raw data which lets teachers know how their students did   will still be released in June, and schools will receive information about how many students passed the test in August.

The lag time between when schools receive information and the public release allows state officials to double check the data and make sure it is correct, officials said.

“The only thing that you have to think about the shift is when we can report out statewide,” said Angélica Infante-Green, a deputy commissioner who oversees instruction (and who has made the news this week because she’s up for the top education job in Massachusetts). “That is the only thing that is different.”

First Person

Mayor de Blasio’s schools-chief search is shrouded in secrecy — but it doesn’t have to be

PHOTO: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor, he promised to let the public weigh in on his picks for New York City’s schools chief before appointing them.

“We need a chancellor who is presented to the public, not just forced down our throat,” he said on the campaign trail in 2012.

But he changed his tune after being elected, and has decided to keep the chancellor search private. On Tuesday, parents and advocates will hold a rally to demand that de Blasio give them a say in his current search to replace retiring schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

If the mayor did open the search to the public, what might it look like?

One option is what seems to be occurring by default: names thrown about largely in the dark, handicapped based on race, gender, and reputation. This messy debate creates more heat than light and advantages those with inside information over ordinary citizens. Hardly the public process advocates have in mind.

But there are other ways. Public superintendent searches are routine for most school districts run by elected school boards. While state law gives New York City’s mayor the authority to single-handedly appoint the chancellor, de Blasio could voluntarily borrow from districts with more open processes.

In those districts, community consensus is usually reached on a job description with desired qualifications. The post is widely advertised, often by a specialized superintendent search firm that conducts an initial review of confidential applications. A list of qualified candidates is presented to the Board of Education, which further culls the still-private list to arrive at three to five finalists.

After the candidates are given a chance to inform their current employers, they are publicly announced and interviews scheduled. In the ensuing weeks, the public and press explore finalists’ records. Members of the screening committee may even visit their home districts. Candidate interviews are often televised or streamed online. The position is then offered after a period of post-interview public comment and board deliberation.

The process can be bumpy, but it gets done. Public confidence is established through participation and a full vetting of the candidates. And because the process is common in most places, the finalists expect this type of scrutiny — they can even use it as an opportunity to renegotiate their contracts by threatening to leave for greener pastures.

So how could de Blasio adapt some of those practices for New York?

One idea is to appoint an independent panel that could submit a list of finalists for the mayor to choose from. The panel could consist of students, parents, educators, and community members, or perhaps each of the five borough presidents.

Another idea is to let the city council weigh in on the candidates. The mayor could nominate his pick for chancellor, who would then face the council’s education committee for questioning before the full council votes on the appointment — just as happens with the president’s cabinet nominations.

It is not too late to institute any of these proposals for a public search.

A thoughtful, transparent process would be a win-win for the mayor, enhancing his progressive credentials while allowing him to remain in the driver’s seat. A public search would also be a win for the city and the next chancellor, who would arrive with more of a popular mandate than if she or he was vetted and hired behind closed doors.

We only have to look back a few years, to the lamentable appointment of Cathie Black, to understand how a unilateral appointment can quickly go off the rails. A public process makes sense, and the moment is now.

David C. Bloomfield is professor of education leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center.