Who Is In Charge

SBE gets earnest earful from Common Core critics

The Common Core Standards, a hot topic for the State Board of Education three years ago, surfaced again Wednesday at the end of an otherwise-routine meeting when protesters showed up to oppose the new learning standards.

Opponents of the Common Core Standards picketed outside the Department of Education.
Opponents of the Common Core Standards picketed outside the Department of Education.

The group, about 20 people who said they were loosely affiliated, like-minded citizens, carried a single message: The standards represent an unwelcome federal intrusion into local schools — and the board should rescind its approval of them.

Carolyn Fairchild, who identified herself as a retired teacher from Teller County, called the standards “unconstitutional” because “Common Core strips local control away.”

“We’re all puppets now dancing to the tune of D.C. bureaucrats and the national organizations. Please stand up and cut the puppet strings off your arms,” she told the board during its public comment period today.

The board approved the standards narrowly in 2010, with a 4-3 vote. Three of the members who participated in that vote — one in support and two opposed — are no longer on the board.

In general, support for the Common Core is solid in Colorado, with backers including leading legislators like Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver; the state Department of Education, and a wide variety of both traditional and reform-oriented education groups. 

The protesters, many of them sporting anti-Common Core T-shirts and visors, began the day by picketing outside the Department of Education and chatting with East Colfax Avenue passersby during the board’s daylong meeting.

Then, as the session wound to its close, about a dozen members of the group trooped to the microphone in the boardroom, urging the board to rescind its earlier approval of the Common Core.

Here’s a sample of comments from other speakers:

  • “The title of my talk that I’m not going to give is ‘Get Ready for Tyranny,’” said Kathy Svenson, noting the three-minute time limit on each speaker. She said she’s a Delta County school board member who was speaking for herself.
  • “It’s kind of like Russia or China … the state knows best,” said Julie White of Montrose.
  • The Common Core “will eliminate parent involvement [and] must be stopped completely,” argued Anita Stapleton of Pueblo.
  • “Please withdraw Colorado from the mandates of the Common Core” because it violates the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, said Cindy Galbreath of Teller County, who then proceeded to read the amendment, which concerns federal and state division of powers.
Teller County teacher Carolyn Fairchild testifying to the State Board of Education.
Teller County teacher Carolyn Fairchild testifying to the State Board of Education.

Most of the witnesses identified themselves on the sign-up sheet as “citizen-parent.” Some of the literature the group distributed carried the label “ParentLedReform.org.” Parent Led Reform is a Douglas County-based group that opposes many education reforms.

After about 45 minutes of testimony, SBE chair Paul Lundeen politely thanked the speakers, saying, “We’ll take into careful consideration your comments.” Board members didn’t respond to the speakers nor ask questions, as is the board’s practice during public comment sessions.

Protests mirrors national pushback

The Common Core sets standards for what students are supposed to learn in language arts and math. They were developed under the leadership of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School officers, not the federal government.

While state participation in the standards is voluntary, the Common Core has become a part of the larger education reform agenda being pushed by the Obama administration, education reform and business groups and many state departments of education and governors.

Supporters  argue that the standards will set a higher bar for what students need to learn and allow for common bars across states — as well as tests that can be shared across states.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia previously adopted the standards, along with Minnesota for English only. (Non-participating states are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.)

Pushback against the Common Core has come from conservative groups, primarily grassroots ones, that fear they will lead to a national curriculum and a federal takeover of education. Some critics also argue the standards aren’t rigorous enough. But a number of Republican governors and conservative education think tanks defend the standards.

Criticism of the standards has boiled up recently around the nation. In Michigan lawmakers have blocked funding for implementation of the Common Core while they investigate the issue. The Indiana legislature has “paused” implementation of the standards in that state, and Pennsylvania has also delayed implementation. Controversy about the standards has also emerged in Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Some states also have already pulled away from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of the two groups, funded with federal Race to the Top funds, that are building tests to measure students against the new standards. Colorado is one of the states on a PARCC’s governing board and intends to use the tests starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Among the states that have dropped out of PARCC, won’t field-test the assessments or plan to use their own tests are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Fourteen states, including Colorado, and the District of Columbia plan to field-test the PARCC assessments next year before the formal rollout in 2015. Field tests will carry no stakes for students, teachers and schools.

In August 2010, when the State Board voted on the Common Core, then-member Peggy Littleton, a conservative Republican from Colorado Springs, organized the unsuccessful opposition, even quoting Patrick Henry’s “liberty or death” speech at one point. (Read the EdNews story about that meeting.)

State officials said there was a 90 percent overlap between the Common Core and state English and math standards adopted in December 2009.

At the time, uncertainty about how the board would vote raised concerns that failure to adopt the standards would jeopardize Colorado’s chances in the federal Race to the Top competition. The state lost the competition anyway.

The Common Core came up again during a December 2012 SBE informational hearing on education issues that was organized by then-Chair Bob Schaffer, a Fort Collins Republican who no longer sits on the board. Several witnesses at that session criticized the standards (see EdNews story).

The Common Core hasn’t been discussed much by the board since then.

In other action … our feelings are hurt

Earlier, during a briefing about a new group that is studying teacher preparation and licensing, board members expressed unhappiness that no state board members sit on the panel.

“I was very surprised that our chair wasn’t invited to participate nor any member of the state board,” said member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver. “I just find it a very disappointing omission.”

She was referring to a group named the LEAD Compact Working Group. (See this EdNews story for background on the panel.)

Lundeen, who described himself as “a little bit cranky about this,” noted that the board has been trying to create a higher profile for itself, and this is “an area where we actually have authority.”

“To be ignored is not an encouraging sign,” he said.

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.”