Who Is In Charge

State board faces common core decision

The strength of Colorado’s Race to the Top bid will be in the hands of the State Board of Education Monday when it decides whether to adopt the Common Core Standards in language arts and math.

One board member, Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, has been campaigning for rejection of the standards, and at her request a public hearing will be held at 7:30 a.m. Monday before the board formally convenes  to hear a recommendation from education Commissioner Dwight Jones, discuss the issue and vote.

Rejection of the standards could trim points from Colorado’s R2T application.

While several state boards around the country have adopted the standards without controversy, Colorado’s vote is surrounded by a little more drama.

It’s tough to predict how the board will vote, given that one member is in favor, two are leaning against and three more say they haven’t made up their minds – or they aren’t showing their cards in advance of the meeting. One member hasn’t responded to a question about his position.

The meeting originally was scheduled as a teleconference. But, at least three members are expected to show up in person for the hearing and four for the vote.

At a July 21 board teleconference Jones praised the openness and care with which Colorado has reviewed the common standards but said a decision hadn’t been made on his recommendation. But it’s widely expected he will propose adoption.

The standards were developed under the leadership of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School officers, of which Jones is a member. State Department of Education officials were involved in the discussions and drafting that led to the common standards.

And, the state’s R2T application states, “Colorado also has embraced the rigorous Common Core Standards, which will be presented to the State Board of Education for adoption in August 2010.”

During that July 21 meeting, CDE officials and a consultant said the common standards are 90 percent aligned with the new state language arts and math standards adopted by the board last December and that the two sets are about equally rigorous.

Officials also indicated they believe taking parts of the common standards and adding them to the Colorado documents would constitute “adoption.” (More details on the common standards and the board’s July 21 meeting.) The position of the governors’ association is that the standards must be adopted in their entirety and that state’s can add 15 percent additional material.

Adoption of the common standards is worth 20 points in the 500-point scoring system for R2T grants. Earlier this week Colorado was named one of 19 finalists for round two of R2T.

All the finalists except Colorado and California have adopted the standards. California’s state board also will meet Monday to vote on adoption, which has been recommended by an advisory panel.

All 19 finalists scored more than 400 points each, although specific scores haven’t been released because they may change based on state delegations’ interviews the week of Aug. 9. Loss of points could put Colorado at a disadvantage.

Overall, 31 states have adopted the common standards, Iowa being the latest to do so on Thursday (see map). Florida’s board unanimously adopted the standards on Tuesday. It’s predicted that as many as 40 states could adopt. Alaska and Texas declined to participate in the common standards project.

State Board of Education member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District.

Littleton has been trying to rally opposition to the common standards based on the argument that they’re part of a creeping federalization of K-12 education, echoing concerns by some other conservatives around the country.

“Colorado has put together a good reform plan without Race to the Top,” Littleton said in her statement. “The [Race to the Top] application should include a ‘meets or exceeds’ box for us to check for the standards, because our state’s new standards, that were just adopted after an 18 month long process which was clear and transparent and included citizen input from all over the state of Colorado, and are at least as rigorous as the proposed Common Core, and without the risk of undermining our freedom and local control.”

She predicted 100 people will show up at Monday’s hearing to oppose the standards. CDE has received about 500 e-mails on the issue.

Here’s what some board members currently have to say about their positions:

Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District – “I am voting for common core.”

Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District – “I’m waiting for more information from staff right now.”

Marcia Neal, R-3rd District – “I will probably vote to oppose,” she said. In a recent blog post,  she praised the rigor of the national standards but also wrote, “What are the downsides to this adoption? Is the money that we would gain worth the exchange? … Will this acquiescence lead to further demands, to loss of Colorado’s greatly valued local control? (Full blog post). Neal attended the annual Colorado Association of School Executives convention in Breckenridge this week and said small-district administrators “are almost unanimous in their opposition.”

Details on Monday’s meeting

Public comment will be taken from 7:30 to 9:15 a.m. in the first-floor boardroom at CDE, 201 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. The board’s meeting is scheduled from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

To listen to the proceedings online, go to the board webpage and use the link at the bottom labeled “Click here to listen live to the State Board Regular meeting.”

Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District – Didn’t respond Thursday to a message. As chair, Schaffer signed the state’s R2T application.

Littleton – In a statement Thursday, she said she opposes the standards because “Adopting these national standards would invite greater federal intrusion into the education of Colorado students. It would open the doors to national standards in other areas, like science (currently underway) civics and health, while moving us closer to national assessments and national curriculum.”

Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District – “I am being heavily lobbied by both sides (not unexpected, nor unappreciated). This is shaping up to be one of the most difficult votes of my 12 years on the board.”

Jane Goff, D-7th District – “We’ll be discussing some options on Monday, so that’s when I’ll get to a final decision. This is really hard!”

In August 2009 the board unanimously passed a resolution supporting Colorado’s participation in the common standards project. Jones and Gov. Bill Ritter had announced in June that the state would join the effort.

Some board members expressed concerns at that time that the common standards could one day turn into federal mandates, so the resolution was carefully worked to read, “Colorado along with each state throughout the country will make its own determination as to the voluntary adoption of the Common Core Standards.”

Littleton said at that meeting, “The states are the ones defining what it is our children are learning, and it is not the federal government’s responsibility to do that.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s R2T regulations that made the common standards part of the competition weren’t published until November 2009.

Littleton is running for El Paso County commissioner and will face Democrat Mike Merrifield, the powerful outgoing chair of the state House Education Committee, in November.

Schroeder, who was appointed to her seat, is up for election, and Littleton and DeHoff will be leaving the board. There are contested races in both districts.

pushing back

State’s most drastic school intervention plans won’t work, say Memphis board members

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Shelby County Schools board member Stephanie Love

School board members in Memphis are pushing back on the state’s plan to intervene in two low-performing schools.

In their first public discussion of an intervention plan outlined this month by the Tennessee Department of Education, members of Shelby County’s board of education said they aren’t convinced the most drastic recommendations will work for Hawkins Mill Elementary and American Way Middle schools.

The state has recommended closing Hawkins Mill because of its low enrollment and poor academic performance. American Way is on the state’s track either for takeover by Tennessee’s Achievement School District or transfer to a charter organization chosen by Shelby County Schools beginning in the fall of 2019.

But school board members said they’d rather move both schools to the Innovation Zone, a turnaround program run by the local district which has had some success since launching in 2012.

And Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he wants to keep Hawkins Mill open because the Frayser school is in its first year under his “critical focus” plan to invest in struggling schools instead of just closing them.

“I would prefer to stay the course,” he told board members Tuesday evening. “I don’t think the board should be forced to close something by the state.”

Whether local school leaders can make that call is up for debate, though.

The intervention plan is the first rolled out under Tennessee’s new tiered school improvement model created in response to a 2015 federal education law. State officials say it’s designed for more collaboration between state and local leaders in making school improvement decisions, with the state education commissioner ultimately making the call.

But Rodney Moore, the district’s chief lawyer, said the state does not have the authority to close a school if the board votes to keep it open.

Both Hawkins Mill and American Way are on the state’s most intensive track for intervention. The state’s plan includes 19 other Memphis schools, too, with varying levels of state involvement, but only Hawkins Mill and American Way sparked discussion during the board’s work session.

Until this year, Hawkins Mill was one of the few schools in the Frayser community that hadn’t been under a major improvement plan in the last decade — unlike the state-run, charter, and iZone schools that surround it. But last year, Hopson’s “critical focus” plan set aside additional resources for Hawkins Mill and 18 other struggling schools and set a three-year deadline to turn themselves around or face possible closure.

School board members Stephanie Love, whose district includes Hawkins Mill, said that timeline needs to play out. “I am in no support of closing down Hawkins Mill Elementary,” she said. “We have what it takes to fully educate our children.”

PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier
Protests over the state takeover of American Way Middle School in 2014, which is in Rep. Raumesh Akbari’s district in Memphis, motivated her to file legislation designed to limit the power of the state’s Achievement School District.

American Way Middle has been on the radar of local and state officials for some time. In 2014, the state explored moving it to the ASD, but that didn’t happen because the southeast Memphis school had higher-than-average growth on student test scores. American Way has not kept up that high growth, however, and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin considered it last year for the iZone.

Board member Miska Clay Bibbs, whose district includes American Way, was opposed to both of the state’s intervention options.

“What you’re suggesting is something that’s not working,” Bibbs said of the ASD’s track record of school turnaround based on its charter-driven model.

Bibbs added that any improvement plan for American Way must be comprehensive and offered up a resolution for consideration next week to move the school into the iZone next school year.

“We can no longer be: change a principal, tack on an extra hour. It has to be a holistic approach,” she said, adding that feeder patterns of schools should be part of the process.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

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: