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.

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: