Future of Schools

New tensions begin to emerge over state's NCLB response

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Gov. Mike Pence focused on education issues in his state of the state speech in January as well as throughout the legislative session.

Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz put aside their differences over who should take the lead in making education policy last month for the public fight over new state academic standards. But their tensions seem poised to reemerge as the state scrambles to respond to a warning from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Education sent Ritz a letter Thursday giving 60 days for her to explain how Indiana will shore up areas where it says the state has fallen short of what it promised to do in 2012 in return for release from some rules of the No Federal No Child Left Behind law.

That waiver, issued in 2012, was dependent in large part on Indiana’s promise to adopt standards that would lead to graduates who are prepared for college, and federal officials are concerned about Indiana’s abandonment of the Common Core standards and tests. It wants assurances the state will keep its promises.

Just last month, Ritz and Pence stood firmly together to support the state’s new standards, which were endorsed both by the education department, which she oversees, and by the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which reports to Pence and is viewed by some as a rival to Ritz’s department. The board voted 10-1 to adopt them last week.

But the other areas that the U.S. Department of Education identified for concern could reignite longstanding divisions between the two officials. Last year, each tried to claim a larger role in setting the state’s education policy, and each echoed that approach today.

In a letter to Ritz today, Pence said he was “disappointed and concerned” by federal education department’s findings that Indiana was not on track to comply with its agreement in nine specific areas and urged her to work with the Indiana State Board of Education, which he appoints, to make corrections.

One of his appointees to that board, Brad Oliver, said the state board and Ritz’s office were “long overdue” to have conversations about her handling of Indiana NCLB waiver, and called for the board to play a more active role going forward.

“The board and the department need to be in consultation about what our response will be,” he said.

But in her statement Friday, Ritz only mentioned the state board when talking about a subcommittee and used the singular tense to describe her planned response, which she suggested was complicated by the Indiana legislature when it voided Common Core standards and set a July 1 deadline for new standards to be set.

“My department is prepared to demonstrate full compliance with our flexibility waiver and submit amendments that are necessary due to legislative action that has been taken since the 2013 legislative session,” she said.

“Moving forward,” Ritz said, “we will respond to (the U.S. Department of Education) within the next two months with amendments that capture steps we have taken to ensure full compliance with our flexibility waiver. I look forward to working with (U.S.) Secretary (of Education Arne) Duncan to improve education for all Indiana students.”

Less than two hours after Ritz issued her statement, Oliver followed with a call for the board to hold a special meeting to address the waiver problem.

“Pursuant to the meeting procedures of the Indiana State Board of Education, I have called upon my colleagues to join me in requesting a special meeting of the state board of education to inquire as the reasons and circumstances that have resulted in so many areas of our current federal waiver being identified as not meeting expectations,” he said.

Oliver laid blame on the education department for the state’s waiver troubles.

“The findings in the (U.S. Department of Education) monitoring report suggest serious problems with the ability of the Indiana Department of Education to monitor compliance and provide technical assistance to Indiana schools in critical areas such as teacher and principal evaluation, assisting Indiana’s lowest performing schools, and supporting schools in raising academic achievement,” he said.

Signed in 2002, NCLB asked all states to establish accountability systems that assured every student would score proficient on standardized tests by 2014. Since President Obama’s election, though, he has pushed for congress to make revisions to relax rules, which could label many schools as failing, and sanctions that could limit how they use federal money.

He also allowed states to apply for waivers, permitting them to substitute state-level accountability systems in place of NCLB requirements in return for adopting policies the administration preferred.

Indiana’s waiver allowed the state’s A to F system to be used to judge schools, replacing expectations under NCLB that some have termed unrealistic. In return, Indiana promised to adopt “college and career ready” academic standards, institute a teacher evaluation system and make other changes.

At the time, the state was moving quickly to implement Common Core, standards which 45 states ultimately adopted and that Indiana’s state board adopted in 2010. Federal officials signed off on that, accepting Common Core standards as “college and career ready.” They also approved of Indiana’s plan to use a Common Core-linked exam being developed by a consortium of states as its new state test, to institute the teacher evaluation system lawmakers approved here in 2011 and to monitor improvement efforts at low-scoring schools.

Since the waiver agreement was made, however, Indiana has seen some dramatic education policy changes.

Ritz defeated Tony Bennett, her predecessor and champion of Common Core, teacher evaluation and school accountability, in the 2012 election and took control of the state’s compliance efforts. An order from Pence withdrew Indiana from the consortium, in favor of instead ranking its state tests on its own, and lawmakers voted first to pause implementation of Common Core standards and then to void them altogether.

When federal officials conducted an annual evaluation of Indiana’s compliance with the waiver in August of 2013, Ritz was in the midst of a complete overhaul of the state’s system of monitoring troubled schools.

Ritz noted that in her statement.

“We have spoken with (the U.S. Department of Education) regularly about the work this division is doing, and they have indicated they are pleased with our progress to this date,” she said.

Oliver and Pence aren’t convinced. They want answers and a role for the state board to assure the waiver continues.

“Because several of the key findings in the monitoring report involve state decisions where the state board of education and the department of education both hold statutory roles and responsibilities, including standards, assessment, teacher evaluation and interventions in under performing schools,” Pence wrote to Ritz, “I am writing to urge the state board of education to assist the Indiana Department of Education in developing a comprehensive remediation plan that addresses the concerns laid out in the monitoring report.”

Pence and Ritz have been at odds over who controls the state’s education policy since last summer, when Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

The center, using money that had previously been managed by the education department under the state superintendent, hired separate staff for the state board. Pence said the center was designed to coordinate education policy across multiple agencies, including the education department, the state board, the Education Roundtable and the Commission for Higher Education.

But Ritz said it was a power grab.

Tensions between Ritz and the board boiled over in October, when Ritz filed an unsuccessful lawsuit claiming the board held an illegal meeting, and in November, when Ritz abruptly adjourned a state board meeting over the objections of the other members.

Since January, however, hostility seemed to abate. Ritz and the board agreed on some new rules for how board meeting should be managed. Pence came out against Common Core standards in his State of the State speech and endorsed the Ritz-led process of setting new standards.

Just last month, Ritz and Pence stood firmly together in the face of laughs and jeers from Common Core opponents who fought against the new standards that were endorsed both by the education department and by CECI. The board voted 10-1 to adopt them last week.

Ritz declined comment late today about Oliver’s proposal for a special board meeting.


Overhaul Efforts

The entire staffs at two troubled New York City high schools must reapply for their jobs

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in 2015 with Automotive High School Principal Caterina Lafergola, who later left the school. Automotive is one of eight schools where teachers have had to reapply for their jobs in recent years.Now, teachers at two more schools will have to do the same. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a bid to jumpstart stalled turnaround efforts, the entire staffs at two troubled high schools will have to reapply for their jobs — an aggressive intervention that in the past has resulted in major staff shake-ups.

The teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals at Flushing High School in Queens and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx will have to re-interview for their positions beginning next spring, education department officials said Thursday, the same day that staffers learned of the plan. Meanwhile, Flushing Principal Tyee Chin, who has clashed bitterly with teachers there, has been ousted; his replacement will take over Friday, officials said. (DeWitt Clinton’s principal will stay on.)

Both schools are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature “Renewal” program for low-performing schools, but have struggled to hit their improvement targets. They are also under state pressure to make significant gains or face consequences, leading to speculation that the rehiring is meant partly to buy the city more time before the state intervenes. (Last year, Flushing was the only school out of two-dozen on a state list of low-achieving city schools not to meet its turnaround goals.)

“Having a strong leader and the right team of teachers is essential to a successful school,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, “and this re-staffing process is the necessary next step in the work to turnaround these schools.”

The staffing change stems from an agreement between the de Blasio administration and the city teachers union, who have agreed to the same process for eight other schools since 2014. Among the six schools that went through the process last year, nearly half of the staff members left — either because they were not rehired or they chose not to reapply.

As part of the deal, hiring decisions will be made by committees at each school comprised of the principals and an equal number of union and city appointees. Unlike when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to overhaul bottom-ranked schools by replacing their principals and at least half of their teachers, these committees can choose to hire as many or as few of the current teachers as they choose.

In the past, the city has placed teachers who were not retained through the rehiring process in other schools — a move that drew criticism for overriding principals’ authority to choose their own staffs. City officials would not provide details about the arrangement for Flushing or Clinton other than to say that the education department would help teachers who left the schools find new placements.

The education department “will work with each teacher to ensure they have a year-long position at a school next year,” spokesman Michael Aciman said in an email.

Both high schools have already endured a destabilizing amount of turnover: Since 2013, more than half the teachers at both schools have left, according to the teachers union. And Flushing’s incoming principal, Ignazio Accardi, an official in the department’s Renewal office, is the sixth in six years.

The school’s outgoing principal, Tyee Chin, had a brief and troubled tenure.

Last year — his first on the job — he wrote a letter to his staff describing a toxic environment that he called “the Hunger Games for principals,” where he said some teachers keep up a “war cry” for a new leader. Meanwhile, the teachers union lodged a discrimination complaint against Chin with a state board, alleging that he threatened to press “racism and harassment” charges against the school’s union representative simply for carrying out her duties, said United Federation of Teachers Vice President of High Schools Janella Hinds.

“Principal Chin came in with an attitude that wasn’t collaborative or supportive,” Hinds said. “We’re dealing with a school community that has had a long list of principals who were not collaborative.”

In an email, Chin disputed the union representative’s allegations and said many staffers did not want him to leave.

“Only a small number of teachers were unhappy with my leadership because they were held to a higher expectations [sic] and or were investigated for inappropriate actions,” he said. “I have received many emails from staff telling me they are very sorry and that it was a pleasure having me as their principal.”

Chin’s departure comes after DeWitt Clinton’s previous principal, Santiago Taveras, who also sparred with teachers, was removed last year after city investigators found he had changed student grades. He was replaced by Pierre Orbe, who will remain in his position.

The education department will host recruitment events during the spring and summer to bring in teacher applicants, who will be screened by the schools’ staffing committees, officials said.

However, it may be difficult to find seasoned teachers willing to take on such tough assignments.

When the teachers at Brooklyn’s long-struggling Automotive High School were forced to reapply for their jobs in 2015, the majority left. Many of their replacements were rookies, said then-principal Caterina Lafergola.

“Many of the schools that are going through the rehiring have a stigma attached to them,” she said last year. “It’s very hard to recruit strong candidates.”

Not long after, Lafergola left the school, too.

Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the outgoing principal of Flushing High School, Tyee Chin.

Future of Schools

For Indianapolis principals hoping to improve, one program says practice makes perfect

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
A kindergarten student reaches for crayons during a lesson at Global Prep Academy.

Mariama Carson has spent 20 years as an educator, first as a teacher and now as principal of Global Prep Academy. But in all that time, she never found training that prepared her as well as what she learned over two weeks last summer.

Carson, along with 23 other Indianapolis school leaders, was chosen to be a fellow in a principal training program through the Relay Graduate School of Education. Almost immediately, she noticed a big difference from previous coaching she’d had: They practiced everything.

How do you teach kids the right way to walk in the hallway? They practiced it. How do you let a teacher know she’s struggling? They practiced it. What are the precise words to use in an evaluation? More practice.

“The commitment to practice is what has been so different,” Carson said. “Whatever we learn in Relay … it’s not just something someone has told you about. You’ve practiced it. You’ve lived it.”

Relay, a six-year-old New York-based organization, was founded by a cadre of leaders from high-performing charter school networks. Practice, role-playing and applied learning are at the center of their work with educators, which for five years has included a year-long principal fellowship.

In the 2016-17 school year, Relay trained about 400 school leaders in the United States. Fellows from Indianapolis were chosen and sponsored by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit. Joe White, who directs The Mind Trust’s school support initiatives, said he was happy with the response during the last round of applications. The next cohort, whose members will be announced this month, will be larger and contain more Indianapolis Public School educators, as well as charter school principals, he said.

The Mind Trust wants to make the training “available to as many new operators as possible to continue expanding this work across the city,” White said. “We think that this is the way that we create sustainable schools that will provide high-quality results and outcomes for kids for a very long time.”

Two principals in the midst of the program told Chalkbeat that the fellowship is already changing the culture and efficiency of their schools. The principals spent the fellowship’s two-week summer training session in Denver learning how to best collect and analyze student data, give feedback to teachers and create a school building that runs smoothly.

“The practice and critical feedback we got was unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” said Mariama Carson, a principal at Global Prep Academy, which is housed in the IPS Riverside 44 building. “Usually as a principal, you don’t get that kind of feedback.”

But Relay, which also has teacher training programs, has its share of critics. Kenneth Zeichner, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, analyzed non-university-affiliated teacher training programs, including Relay’s. Although he hasn’t looked into the principal program specifically, he said he is troubled that the teacher training curriculum emphasizes using test scores to gauge results at the expense of a more well-rounded assessment of students, who many times are coming from families living in poverty.

He also worries Relay as a whole is too focused on fast growth, rather than on proving its methods work. There have been no independent studies done on whether Relay produces better teachers than other alternative or university programs, Zeichner said, although one is underway.

“My concern about Relay is not that they exist,” Zeichner said. “If you’re going to measure the quality of a teacher education program — of any program — the independent vetting, or review, of claims about evidence (is) a baseline minimum condition.”

Chalkbeat spoke with Carson and Bakari Posey, principal at IPS School 43. The two just completed their second of several training sessions, which will continue through the rest of the school year.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to be part of the fellowship?

Carson: The job of a principal is so lonely. To have the opportunity to work with high-quality, hard-working principals across the country is always inviting.

Posey: I wanted to make sure that I was able to appropriately and efficiently and effectively develop the people on our team. That’s what really drew me in. It’s shaped my thinking and sharpened my lens as a leader and what I’m looking for in classrooms.

What have you learned so far that you’re implementing in your school?

Carson: It’s been transformative in how our building is run just on the cultural side. Relay has really helped us understand that especially with adult learners, you have to start with the “why.” And then we model, and the teachers (in my school) play the position as students. We go into full acting mode, and then the teachers execute that practice. For two weeks before the kids even showed up, that’s what our teachers were doing. Normally, I’d hand my teachers a packet of procedures and expectations, but we never practiced.

Posey: We’ve started to implement already … around coaching teachers — how we give that feedback and give teachers bite-sized action steps to work on instead of making a list of 12 things to do at once. If you do one thing better every single day, then you get better overall. Something else that’s big for me is student work exemplars — actually having an example of excellence for student work that the teacher creates and uses to guide feedback. Overall it’s just kind of helped to organize my thinking as a school leader and really kind of give you a little bit of a road map towards student growth and overall school success. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever been a part of.

How have teachers back in your schools responded to the changes you have introduced, including suggestions on improving instruction, evaluations, etc.?

Carson: Teachers have been responding well, and they’re getting used to this culture, a culture of practice. Even in our feedback sessions where we’re coaching teachers, it’s “OK, execute the lesson — I’ll be the student, you be the teacher.”

Posey: They’ve been receptive. It’s not coming from a place of “gotcha” or I’m trying to make you look really bad. It’s really coming from a place of really getting better for our students to really give them the best, which is what they deserve.