Who Is In Charge

State Board unconvinced on new tests

Sen. Mike Johnston made a conciliatory pitch, but the State Board of Education still voted 4-3 to oppose his Senate Bill 12-172, which essentially would commit Colorado to use future multi-state tests for language arts and math.

State Board of Education meeting
Education Commissioner Robert Hammond (left) and State Board of Education members Bob Schaffer and Angelika Schroeder listen to Sen. Mike Johnston (lower right).

Johnston and cosponsor Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, met face-to-face with the board Friday, a little more than a week after introduction of the bill rekindled a smoldering legislative-board disagreement over the future of state testing. Also attending was Republican Sen. Keith King of Colorado Springs, who leans more towards the board’s views.

The smooth-talking Johnston, a Denver Democrat, did his best to be conciliatory. “This was not in any way an attempt to usurp the control of the state board,” he said, calling the bill “in fitting with the historical role of the legislature [on education] and deferential to you. … We’re highly optimistic we can find a way to work together.”

But Johnston also drew a line in the sand, saying Colorado-only English and math tests are “not the direction we’re heading.”

The board last year requested $26 million to develop a full battery of new state tests to replace the CSAPs, which are obsolete because of new state content standards. The Hickenlooper administration opposed the request, and the legislature finally decided to provide some $6 million for development only of new social studies and science tests, plus Spanish language and special education tests.

National English and math tests are being developed by two national consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Colorado is participating in both but it isn’t a governing member of either. States that join a group’s governing board have a greater say in test development – but they also commit to use that group’s tests. The bill would require SBE to join one or the other governing board.

Johnston and the Hickenlooper administration favor the second group, known as PARCC. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said he also leans toward PARCC if Colorado ultimately uses multi-state tests.

Several board members were concerned about whether Colorado could back out of a consortium if state leaders don’t like the tests that are ultimately developed. Board member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “If this is what the legislature wants us to do I think there should be some sort of escape clause.”

Johnston said he’d be open to adding an escape clause to his bill.

There also was extensive discussion about quality of the national tests, potential cost savings and state flexibility in setting passing scores and using customized questions.

Johnston, as he has done in several other presentations, used an automotive analogy, calling the consortium tests a “Ferrari” and Colorado-only tests a “Ford Pinto.”

Paul Lundeen
State Board of Education member Paul Lundeen / File photo

Board member Paul Lundeen, R-5th District, said, “We don’t really need to build a Ferrari. What we need is a really good serviceable four-by- four because we’re in Colorado.”

“I’m not persuaded in the quality,” said board chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District.

But for some board members, there’s a bigger issue than all the others.

Schaffer said he fully expects consortium membership will become a condition for future federal grants, just has happened with adoption of the Common Core Standards.

And Schaffer said a future national curriculum “is what this is clearly all about.”

Lundeen said federal control of education is the “overriding issue.”

After the lawmakers left, board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, made a pitch for Johnston’s bill, saying, “They clearly want to work with us; they’re willing to build into the bill maximum flexibility.”

Elaine Gantz Berman
State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz-Berman / File photo

She added, “If we don’t support this … then we’re treading water.” Before leaving Johnston had warned, “I don’t think we are going to have a different result next year” if the board again asks for full funding to develop Colorado-only English and math tests.

But in the end, the board voted 4-3 to oppose the bill, with fellow Republicans Debora Scheffel of the 6th District and Marcia Neal of the 3rd voting with Schaffer and Lundeen. Berman, Schroeder and Jane Goff, D-7th District, voted no.

While Johnston probably can get the bill through the Senate, passing it may be tougher in the Republican-controlled House, where Schaffer, a former lawmaker and congressman, may have some lobbying sway. Johnston also doesn’t yet have a House sponsor, and the legislative session has to adjourn by May 9, making it possible for House leaders to let the bill “die on the calendar” without coming up for debate.

Regardless of what happens at the Capitol, Schaffer noted, “We’ve got to come rather quickly to some conclusion as to where we think the state should go with assessments.” The board could choose to join a consortium without legislative action.

Colorado currently is using transitional tests but needs new permanent tests to both fully assess students on new state content standards and to implement the educator evaluation law.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”