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.

Movers and shakers

Former Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg lands a new gig

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg, right, high-fives students, parents, and staff on the first day of school at Escalante-Biggs Academy in August.

Former Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg has been named superintendent of another organization 9,000 miles away: the Singapore American School in Southeast Asia.

Boasberg will start his new position July 1. He stepped down as superintendent of Denver Public Schools last month after nearly 10 years at the helm of the 92,000-student district. The Denver school board is in the process of choosing his successor.

Boasberg has spent significant time in Asia. After graduating from college, he taught English at a Hong Kong public school and played semi-professional basketball there. He later worked as chief of staff to the chairman of what was then Hong Kong’s largest political party.

He and his wife, Carin, met while studying in Taiwan. They now have three teenage children. In 2016, Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live in Argentina with his family. At the time, he said he and his wife always hoped to live overseas with their children.

“This gives us a chance as a family to go back to Asia,” Boasberg said, “and it’s something the kids are looking forward to, as well as my wife Carin and I.”

The Singapore American School is an elite non-profit school that was established in 1956 by a group of parents, according to its website. It now has more than 3,900 students in preschool through 12th grade, more than half of whom are American.

The school boasts low student-to-teacher ratios and lots of Advanced Placement classes, and sends several of its graduates to Ivy League colleges in the United States. Its facilities include a one-acre rainforest.

Boasberg notes that the school is also a leader in personalized learning, meaning that each student learns at their own pace. He called the school “wonderfully diverse” and said its students hail from more than 50 different countries. High school tuition is about $37,000 per year for students who hold a U.S. passport or whose parents do.

Leading the private Singapore American School will no doubt differ in some ways from leading a large, urban public school district. In his time as Denver superintendent, Boasberg was faced with making unpopular decisions, such as replacing low-performing schools, and the challenge of trying to close wide test score gaps between students from low-income families and students from wealthier ones.

“Denver will always be in my heart,” Boasberg said, “and we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”

it's official

Memphis schools chief Dorsey Hopson calls his work ‘a remarkable journey,’ but seeks new career at health care giant

PHOTO: Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson announces that he's resigning from the district to take a job with Cigna.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is leaving Shelby County Schools to lead an education initiative at a national health insurance company effective Jan. 8.

Prior to his departure, the school board expects to name an interim before the district breaks for the winter holidays, giving the panel time to seek a permanent replacement, said board chair Shante Avant.

Hopson’s job with Cigna is a new national position in government and education that will be based in Memphis, he said. He called the decision a “difficult” one that he ultimately made because of the demands on his family that are part of his job as superintendent.

“It’s been a remarkable journey,” Hopson said. “I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made together.”

A likely successor the board could tap is Lin Johnson, who was hired in 2015 as chief of finance. Johnson previously was director of special initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education and director of finance and operations for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. He recently overhauled the district’s budget process to be more responsive to student needs rather than to a strict pupil-teacher ratio — a move Hopson lauded as a potential vehicle to reduce gaps in test scores for students of color living in poverty.

Hopson’s future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks, especially after he endorsed Republican Bill Lee for governor in a race that the Williamson County businessman eventually won. A position in the governor’s office, or as education commissioner to succeed Candice McQueen, was considered among the possibilities for Hopson. But Hopson said on Tuesday that he would not be heading to Nashville to work for the Lee administration.

Cigna, Hopson’s future employer, is a Connecticut-based company that manages health insurance for about 19,500 district employees and retirees under a $24 million contract. The company is the third-largest health plan provider in Memphis with about 200 local employees, according to the Memphis Business Journal. In his new role, Hopson will help Cigna expand its services to school districts for health benefits and wellness programs.

“Having an individual with Hopson’s expertise in school administration and school district leadership in this role will be a great asset to Cigna’s consultative work serving K-12 schools,” a Cigna spokesperson said in a statement.

An attorney who had worked for school districts in Atlanta and Memphis, Hopson was named the first superintendent of Shelby County Schools in 2013 following the historic merger of city and county schools.

His hiring came on the cusp of massive change in Memphis’ educational landscape. The district’s student enrollment steadily declined after six suburban towns split off from Shelby County Schools in 2014 to create their own districts, and the state-run Achievement School District continued to siphon off students by taking over chronically low-performing schools in the city. Hopson and the school board eventually closed nearly two dozen schools to shore up resulting budget deficits.

Since then, under Hopson’s leadership, the district has gone from a $50 million deficit to investing more than $60 million in personnel, teacher and staff pay raises, and school improvement initiatives by lobbying for more county funding, dipping into the district’s reserves, closing underutilized schools, cutting transportation costs, and eliminating open job positions. The district has also sued the state in pursuit of more funding, and that lawsuit is ongoing.

“We have accomplished a great deal together, such as eliminating a $100 million deficit, investing more and students, and developing the Summer Learning Academy to prevent summer learning loss. That, in part, is what makes this decision so difficult,” Hopson said. “I would love to see this work to the finish line, but I feel confident that we have laid a strong foundation for the next leader.”

Now, fewer schools are on the state’s list of lowest-performing schools and the district’s Innovation Zone has boosted test scores at a faster rate than the state-run district. Schools across the state are looking to strategies in Memphis to improve schools — a far cry from when Hopson took over. And recently, Hopson was among nine finalists for a national award recognizing urban school district leaders.

“For the past six years, we have worked together to guide this great school district through monumental changes,” Hopson said. “Through it all, our educators and supporters have remained committed to aggressively increasing student achievement.”