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.

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.”


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.”