Who Is In Charge

R2T tip: Focus on leadership, struggling schools

States that present the strongest proposals on improving teachers and leaders and on struggling schools will have the best chance to win federal Race to the Top grants, Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project told Colorado educators Friday.

The federal stimulus law, of which R2T is a part, sets four areas of emphasis for use of federal funds. Known as the four assurances, they are: Standards and assessments, data systems to support instructions, great teachers and leaders, and turning around struggling schools.

The project has done extensive analysis of R2T criteria and of how individual states might stack up.

Daly spoke Friday in Denver to the Great Teachers and Leaders Committee, one of four volunteer panels that are helping develop Colorado’s application for R2T.

“I think the states that will win will win on” the strength of their leadership and struggling schools proposals, Daly said. He said state proposals on standards and assessments and data systems are likely to be more similar.

For instance, on standards and assessments, Daly said, “I think Colorado is in great shape … but it’s unlikely to be a differentiator.” Again, on data, he said, “I think you all are doing great work, but … it won’t be determinative.”

Colorado education officials are scheduled to adopt new content standards at the end of this year and new statewide assessments at the end of 2010. Both are part of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids reform program adopted in 2008.

State officials have long been optimistic about their R2T chances, partly because of the CAP4K reforms. But, they have acknowledged that the state may be less competitive in the area of great teachers and leaders.

Daly noted that state law allows only two ratings in teacher evaluations – satisfactory and unsatisfactory. He noted that the proposed R2T requirements call for states to have – or be working toward – finer differentiations of teacher and principal effectiveness in advancing student achievement.

“I wouldn’t submit an application that has only [two] teacher ratings in it,” Daly said.

On the issue of turning struggling schools around, Daly said he feels the Department of Education may look more favorably on plans that call for reconstituting, turning over to outside management or closing failing schools, rather than plans that propose “transforming” schools with existing staff largely intact. DOE’s “feeling is that [transformation] hasn’t been working.”

Daly praised the four-committee process Colorado has been using to develop the R2T application, noting that one of the requirements is wide support for the proposal by a state’s leaders and education community. “This sort of meeting isn’t happening in a lot of states,” he said, calling the Colorado process “a huge advantage.”

All four committees met this week. Committee proposals are expected to be refined at meetings next month (see schedule).

Committee proposals will be refined into the state’s application by consultants including the School of Public Affairs at CU-Denver, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates and the Third Mile Group. Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien is coordinating the state’s R2T bid (more info here), and the Department of Education is overseeing other education stimulus programs and grants.

The DOE issued preliminary guidance for the R2T program in late July, which was open to public comment until Aug. 28. Daly said the agency has received more than 1,500 comments. In Colorado’s response, Gov. Bill Ritter and O’Brien raised questions about the lack of information about how preschool and higher education might fit into state reform efforts, about the extent to which R2T will require states to adopt common content standards, about the extent to which the state can oversee school district spending of R2T funds and about the transparency of the R2T bid evaluation process.

The National Governors’ Association also raised several concerns about DOE’s R2T guidance (see letter). Several of those concerns involve constitutional and legal questions about the relationship between states and the federal government and between states and local education agencies such as school districts. The letter was sent over Ritter’s signature as chair of the NGA’s education committee.

DOE is expected to release its revised guidance this fall, perhaps as early as Oct. 1. Daly said Friday it’s hard to speculate about what, if anything, might change in the document.

New Teacher Project R2T analysis

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Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”

reaction

Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”