Who Is In Charge

Glenda Ritz blasts CECI for “orchestrating” state board votes

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz speaks with reporters after Indiana's request for a waiver from some rules of the federal No Child Left Behind law was approved in 2014.

Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz told a radio host Wednesday that Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, which serves as the staff of the Indiana State Board of Education, causes conflict by steering the board members to vote in opposition to her.

Ritz was deeply critical of CECI during a 45-minute interview with Justin Oakley on the Internet radio program Just Let Me Teach, which is hosted at indianatalks.com. Oakley was a Martinsville teacher when he sought the Democratic nomination to challenge then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2012. He bowed out of the race when Ritz, a teacher, librarian and union leader from Indianapolis’ Washington Township decided to run.

When Oakley asked why Ritz’s relationship with the other 10 members of the state board was so contentious, she put the blame squarely on CECI.

“Politics tends to enter the discussion at some point,” she said. “That is what it is. I work with the state board that’s appointed by the governor. CECI, I feel, is really orchestrating how they want board members to vote. That causes the conflict between myself, and what I do at the Department of Education, and the board that I serve on.”

That statement prompted a reply on Twitter from state board member Brad Oliver, who is frequently critical of Ritz:

Ritz said the state board tension is less about her relationships with the other board members than it is about her disagreements with Pence. CECI was formed by Pence last year, using an executive order to redirect money to support the state board from Ritz’s education department to the new entity. From the start, Ritz called CECI’s creation a power grab.

Ritz told Oakley the creation of CECI has been the most difficult part of her job as state superintendent.

“The board and I are supposed to do work together,” Ritz said. “Many times I’m not sure that is the feeling that is going on. We have to delay things we might be working on in the Department of Education because CECI wants to be part of that, or set up a meeting. CECI is overseeing what the department is doing. It’s not a good feeling.”

Lou Ann Baker, a CECI spokesman, said today in response that the organization’s role is purely supportive.

“We respect the superintendent and the work she and her department are doing,” Baker said. “Staff will continue to support board members as requested and further the state’s efforts on innovative career and technical education and quality pre-K programs.”

On other matters, Ritz said:

  • Indiana should pay for student textbooks. “There are schools that cannot afford to purchase textbooks upfront and wait for reimbursement,” she said. “Kids are going without textbooks.”
  • She has almost visited every county. Ritz said she travels two to three times per week and has visited 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties and about half of the state’s 290 school districts.
  • The state should increase spending on programs for students learning English as a second language. “It’s not enough and it’s not appropriate,” she said of current funding levels.
  • She believes teacher wages are falling because the state is not spending enough on education and that fewer young people want to be teachers. “There is a feeling of disrespect for our profession,” she said.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

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: