Who Is In Charge

Colorado colleges make their promises

Colorado State University-Fort Collins intends to increase the number of undergraduate degrees issued by 1 percent a year.

For its part, Metropolitan State University promises to do the same thing – plus increase the number of credentials earned by traditionally underserved students by 2 percent a year.

College graduates
Photo from “Colorado Completes,” the new higher education master plan.

Fort Lewis College, along with the other two, proposes to increase the graduation rate of transfer students.

Those three institutions and every other state college are finalizing the performance contracts required by a 2010 law and intended the meet the goals of the master plan adopted formally by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday.

The commission actually agreed on the plan months ago but “affirmed” the master plan one last time.

“Considering how long we’ve been working on this, it’s nice to take a final vote,” said Commissioner Hereford Percy.

“It seems like ages ago when we started on this,” said Commissioner Happy Haynes, reflecting on the 18-month process.

The master plan work “will help ensure that Colorado has an educated workforce to meet the needs of our economy. Our system of higher education and our ability to create human capital is key to the future of the state,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who also serves as executive director of the Department of Higher Education.

The companion piece to the master plan is the set of performance contracts for each state system or institution. Those documents are to be wrapped up by Dec. 31.

In addition to aligning college goals with the master plan, the contracts also eventually may form the basis for extra, performance-based funding of state colleges and universities. The same law that required the master plan also called for performance funding, but not until certain higher education funding levels are met.

The master plan, titled “Colorado Completes,” has four main goals:

  • Increase by 1,000 a year the number of degrees and credentials awarded;
  • Improve student success through improved remedial education, better student support services and reduction in the average time it takes students to finish;
  • Reduce higher education attainment gaps among ethnic and income groups; and
  • Restoration of “fiscal balance” by increasing direct state support of higher education.

Colorado institutions now issue about 50,000 degrees and certificates a year. The state wants to increase that by 1,000 to meet the expectation that by 2025 two-thirds of all jobs in Colorado will require some kind of post-secondary credential, either a degree or a professional or vocational certificate.

Inside the contracts

While final tweaking remains to be done on some of the five-year contracts, the DHE this week released contract worksheets for some institutions to illustrate how colleges are crafting their plans.

The commission likely will meet again later this month to formally approve the contracts, which will go into effect immediately upon signature and will supersede a different, less-focused set of contracts that were signed in 2005. (Three private institutions that receive state per-student stipends, Colorado Christian University, Regis University and the University of Denver, also will have contracts, but those won’t be finished until later next year.)

Every college had to propose goals for increasing their completion rates and for reducing attainment gaps.

The final contracts will include worksheets on which colleges select which “indicators” (or goals) they will use to work toward the broad goals of improved credential completion, student retention and progress, closing attainment gaps and financial stewardship.

Colleges have to pick two or more indicators in each of the four categories. The DHE suggested indicators to choose from, and colleges could suggest their own.

The indicators chosen in the worksheets have to add up to 100 points. Each of the first three broad goals have to account for at least 20 points, while the financial stewardship goal has to account for at least 15 points.

Will the master plan work?

Aside from the 1,000-degrees-a-year goal, and some annual percentage goals included in institutional contract indicators, both the master plan and the contracts are short on numerical goals. Many of the indicators merely use the phrase “annually increase.”

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia / File photo

Asked about that earlier this week, Garcia said setting non-numerical goals for increases “does create a real challenge for the schools.” He said that “the annual increase is actually a higher bar” than setting a goal for a certain number of degrees by a specific date.

Matt Gianneschi, DHE deputy director, also said that “gradualism” (Garcia called it “continuous quality improvement”) is better than setting a hard goal.

“Shocking the system with an immediate change may not yield the results you want,” Gianneschi said.

Garcia said he’s also confident that colleges won’t try to “game” the master plan system by, for instance, raising admissions requirements in an attempt to ensure that more students graduate.

“We really assume … quality and rigor will remain the standard,” Garcia said.

Garcia and DHE officials have gone to great pains to emphasize that development of the master plan and the contracts was a cooperative effort among the department and the state’s sometime fractious colleges and universities.

“This was a shared effort,” Garcia said.

The process was “intended to respect the different roles and missions” of various institutions.

Performance funding

The pay-for-performance aspect of Colorado’s master plan law has gained lots of attention, and the issue is on the radar nationwide as policymakers wrestle with declining state support of higher education and rising tuition costs for students.

But performance funding remains an aspiration for now in Colorado, given that the law says it won’t kick in until direct state support of higher education returns to $706 million a year. It’s currently about $513 million, and Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to increase that to about $543 million in 2013-14.

Once $706 million has been reached, then a quarter of the amount over $650 million is available for performance funding, which will be based on how colleges perform on their contracts.

So, if higher education funding were $706 million in some future budget year, 25 percent of $56 million, or $14 million, would be available to reward colleges for performance.

The department and the commission will spend next year coming up with a system for distributing the additional funding if and when it becomes available.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.