Future of Schools

Republican senator's call for a 2-year delay of ISTEP sanctions goes nowhere

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
On the last day of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers move ahead with plans to ditch ISTEP.

One Republican lawmaker has a question for her colleagues who are moving quickly toward a one-year “pause” of any teacher or school consequences for low 2015 ISTEP scores: Should the delay instead be for two years?

Authored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, Senate Bill 200 quickly passed committee 10-1 today as part of an effort to have it signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence as early as mid-month. The bill would prevent any school’s A-F grade for 2015 from dropping below the grade it received in 2014.

But Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, argued today that a one-year pause wouldn’t give teachers and students enough time to acclimate to new tests and new standards.

So far, nobody appears to be listening.

Her bill, Senate Bill 139, was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee this morning, not the education committee, which she said basically killed it. The bill would have extended the effort to hold schools and teachers harmless for both 2015 and 2016 scores. Kruse’s bill gives schools a pass just for 2015.

Skip Brown, spokesman for Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the General Assembly’s plan was to stick with Kruse’s bill based on discussions with among Republicans, Democrats and Ritz’s and Pence’s teams.

“All of those stakeholders reached agreement on the approach contained in SB 200 over a variety of other options,” Brown said in an email. “So that is the bill that is moving forward.”

Leising’s view aligns with groups that are pushing to reduce the influence of testing in education such as the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.

Joel Hand, testifying for the coalition, pointed to expert testimony last summer that suggested most states delay longer when changing standards and redesigning state exams.

Test expert Greg Cizek from the University of North Carolina told lawmakers over the summer that many states commonly give a longer pause when the put in place new standards and transition to new tests. Indiana junked Common Core standards for its locally created standards back in 2014. A new ISTEP, created to match the new standards, was given in 2015. But the new test was riddled with scoring and design problems.

“The most defensible practice that most states follow when they do that is a phase-in process,” Cizek said in the summer. “We change standards now, but new tests would not responsible for them until about three years.”

Leising pushed the same logic.

She said she would champion a longer pause to boost teacher morale and because she feared communities she represented might be hurt if business shied away from locating there because they believed the schools were failing, she said.

“We‘ve got to make sure that we are not somehow missing the boat as we push testing,” she said. “I’m not opposed to accountability, but I think we have to use some common sense.”

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz has backed Kruse’s bill and wasn’t concrete about whether she’d support a longer delay — but she didn’t rule it out.

Kruse’s bill was just one of the session’s biggest education bills to make it through committee already, and other groups that generally are skeptical of test-based accountability appeared resigned to Kruse’s plan as the most viable option.

“We’re here supporting this one-year pause,” said Gail Zeheralis, a lobbyist for the Indiana State Teachers Association. “But, you know, we’ll see what the future holds.”

A bill similar to Kruse’s also sailed out of the House Education Committee today.

House Bill 1003, authored by committee Chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, would remove the sting of lower ISTEP scores and school A-F grades from teacher’s yearly ratings. It passed the committee unanimously today, 12-0, and next heads to the full House.

Behning’s bill would allow schools and districts to use the higher of 2014 or 2015 scores in determining performance bonuses. In the most recent two-year state budget passed last year, legislators set aside $30 million in 2016 and $40 million in 2017 for teacher performance grants.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

Teacher votes

Memphis teacher groups want annual pay raises and more say in how they teach their students

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Keith Williams (left) and Tikeila Rucker lead the teacher associations representing licensed educators in Shelby County Schools.

Memphis teachers will soon have the opportunity to change compensation, work hours, health benefits, and how they teach if they vote to negotiate a new agreement with Shelby County Schools.

The district’s two organizations, which represent teachers and other licensed educators, say their priorities are restoring automatic pay increases and higher pay for educators with advanced degrees, and giving more flexibility to teachers in the classroom.

United Education Association and Memphis-Shelby County Education Association have been talking with district leaders about making these changes, but amending the employee agreement with the district — through a process known as “collaborative conferencing” in Tennessee law — would ensure the changes will take place with a written agreement.

The United Education Association plans to hold a teacher rally to talk about the process from 4:30 to 6 Tuesday evening at the district’s central office. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson is scheduled to be the guest speaker.

Collaborative conferencing replaced union bargaining rights in a 2011 law. The law tossed the requirement that districts and organizations representing employees have to reach an agreement. If there’s an impasse, the school board gets the final word.

The law also narrowed the topics that could be discussed between teacher organizations and the school district. Their agreements cannot address teacher evaluations, district decisions on bonuses and raises based on teacher performance, or requiring districts to base personnel decisions on tenure or seniority.

If educators vote to negotiate, it will be the first negotiation for the Memphis school district since 2015, and the first since the city’s teacher group split into two. Last year, the groups tried to get enough votes for talks, but fell short by about 10 percent. (The current agreement is still in effect.)


Related: Why the Janus Supreme Court case won’t have much impact in Tennessee


Garnering enough support to start talks requires two steps.

First, 15 percent of employees are required by state law to sign a petition requesting a district-wide vote on whether teacher representatives should negotiate a new agreement, also known as a memorandum of understanding. The two teacher organizations, which collectively represent about 4,500 members, have gathered at least 2,600 signatures, well above the number needed.

Next, half of the district’s licensed educators must vote by email to start negotiations. Educators will also be asked in early November to choose which organization will represent them at the negotiating table. The organizations will have a percentage of seats on a committee based on which organization educators voted for.

The resulting agreement would not be sent back for a vote from teachers, but Tikeila Rucker, the president of the United Education Association, said her organization plans to conduct surveys throughout the process “that ensures us that we really have teacher input.”

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on in March.

Hopson has tried for several years to switch teacher pay to a merit system based on evaluation scores that include student test scores. That would mean only teachers with high evaluation scores would be eligible for raises. But Hopson did not want to base those decisions on a state test that has experienced a multitude of problems. So, for the last three years, all educators have received 3 percent raises.

Keith Williams, the executive director of Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the district should combine merit pay and annual increases in base pay.

“I think we should do step and merit pay,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of issues to work out for teacher compensation, including advanced degree pay and people who are nationally board certified.”

Hopson also has brought back some pay for advanced degrees. But only teachers with high evaluation scores are eligible.


Related: The salary slide: as other professionals see growth, teachers’ pay stagnates, new report finds


Rucker said she also wants to push for more flexibility in how teachers use the district’s new curriculum, which more closely aligns with Tennessee’s new requirements for what students should learn.

“Teachers are mandated to teach based on district-selected curriculum and it’s kind of like a script,” Rucker said. “That takes away from a lot of the creativity for teachers to reach their students for academic success.”

Hopson did allow some flexibility based on feedback from Rucker’s organization, but said teachers had to earn that autonomy based on their evaluation scores.