Who Is In Charge

Details emerge on educator effectiveness bill

The long-awaited educator effectiveness bill, expected to be introduced within a few days, would set new baseline standards for the evaluation and tenure of teachers and principals but leave the details to an appointed commission and the State Board of Education.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has been working on the bill since before the 2010 legislative session started. But the measure has been delayed as he’s tailored his proposal to both include the Council for Educator Effectiveness created by Gov. Bill Ritter in January and to attract support from various education interest groups.

Johnston said Tuesday he now intends to introduce the bill next week, or perhaps Friday.

Here’s a look at the proposal’s contents, based on a draft copy reviewed by Education News Colorado:

  • Teacher tenure would be redefined so that new teachers would have to have “three consecutive years of demonstrated effectiveness” to gain tenure, and a tenured teacher would return to probationary status after two consecutive years of “demonstrated ineffectiveness.”
  • A teacher could be assigned to a specific school only by mutual consent of the teacher and school’s principal. A teacher who didn’t get a job after two hiring cycles would go on unpaid leave without benefits until rehired.
  • Educator evaluations would be based “at least 50 percent” on the academic growth of a teacher’s students, and teachers would be given opportunities to improve their effectiveness through growth plans. There would be “multiple measures” of effectiveness.
  • Principal evaluations would be based at least 65 percent on academic growth of students in a school and on the effectiveness of the school’s teachers.
  • A teacher’s “demonstrated effectiveness” could be used as a factor when districts lay off teachers.
  • The educator effectiveness council would have until Dec. 31 to make recommendations to the state board on the details of teacher evaluations and tenure. (This would move up the deadline set when Ritter created the council.)  The council also would develop a system of “career ladders” for educators and a state plan for getting effective educators into underperforming schools.
  • The state board would have a March 31, 2011, deadline for issuing formal rules – even if the council doesn’t meet its deadline.
  • School boards and boards of cooperative education services would be required to “meet or exceed” state board guidelines when creating their performance evaluation systems. (This is standard “local control” language regularly found in major education bills.)

Although bills often gain sponsors by the time they’re formally introduced, the draft bill carries only Johnston, Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, and Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillion, as prime sponsors.

Teacher tenure and evaluation, although being changed in many states, are touchy issues, particularly with teachers unions like the Colorado Education Association, so it’s hard to gauge the bill’s chances as the legislature goes into its final month.

It’s also unclear how the bill might figure into the state’s application for the second round of Race to the Top. State officials announced Tuesday they will reapply after losing out in the first round. The legislature must adjourn no later than May 12, and the R2T deadline is June 1. So, the bill’s fate will be known before the application is due. Even if the bill were passed, its provisions wouldn’t go into effect until the 2010-11 school year.

And, as always seems to be the case with Colorado education reforms, it’s uncertain how the new evaluation system would be paid for. The primary financial burden would likely fall on school districts, already tightening their belts because of cuts in state aid. Significant parts of Colorado’s original $377 million R2T application would have been used to pay for implementation of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Costs of implementing that reform currently are being studied by a contract consultant.

Text of draft bill (PDF)

Related: Johnston details bill at community group meeting

Who Is In Charge

CPS to enforce nine training sessions for local school council members

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Local school council members at a training session on Tuesday

In a classroom at Bogan High School Tuesday, trainer Jose Ortiz quizzed four local school council members on why they have to hold public meetings before approving their school improvement plan, a key document outlining school priorities and direction. The room fell silent.

“Because,” he answered himself, “the worst thing that the local school council could do is not consult the community.”

Ortiz’s training session illustrated the challenges that Chicago Public Schools faces in ensuring that all members of the powerful councils understand their roles and responsibilities.

The district requires those who help govern its 646 schools each attend around 18 hours of in-person training, or nine online modules. But not everyone complies: Ortiz said that last week, around 10 people attended each module he taught, and on Tuesday, only four people sat through his class. Most council members take the training online, but the effectiveness of those modules is questionable, council members said.

In a district whose school board is appointed by the mayor instead of elected by city residents, the councils, as Ortiz pointed out, serve as important channels enabling residents to drive the direction of their children’s education. Normally consisting of 12 members, including the principal, teachers, parents, and community members, the councils hire and evaluate the principal, approve the budget, and help craft two-year school improvement plans for their schools.

Chicago schools have another problem with the councils: 47 percent of schools have failed to field enough candidates to fill seats, which then allows sitting council members to fill the vacancies. That means less electoral control for residents. It’s unclear if the training requirement deters people from seeking council seats.

Nevertheless, district officials said that this year they will enforce the training requirement and will contact members who fail to finish it.

“We are going to start removing people this year, but it will be after contacting them by email, through phone and then giving them an opportunity before we schedule a hearing, and then we will consider removing them,” said Guillermo Montes de Oca, director of the Office of Local School Council Relations.

As Ortiz continued with his training, he asked if members remember approving their school improvement plan in the past school year. The attendees looked at him with puzzled faces.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Andrea Sanchez, a council member at Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy. But, she added, “it’s just overwhelming because you’re looking at numbers and pages, especially when you’re not used to seeing it.” Sanchez has been a council member since December, but she had attended only one out of the nine mandatory training modules before Tuesday, because most of the two-hour sessions were held in various locations throughout the city far from her home.

According to the Illinois School Code, council members must finish all modules within six months of taking office, so newly elected members who take office on July 1 have until Dec. 31 to complete the modules. CPS has never removed a council member for not finishing the training, said Guillermo Montes de Oca. However, that’s changing.

This year, CPS has also been encouraging council members to finish the modules by July 31, he said, because “if you’re going to be seated, discussing the budget and everything, you need to be informed.”

Sanchez said she didn’t know know about the six-month deadline until Tuesday. She wishes the nine modules would be held all at once at her school. “The information in the modules should be given to us right away [upon joining the council],” she said.

Montes de Oca said that the Office of Local School Council Relations encourages council members to take the training online. Especially because the office only offers a few modules per month, to meet the July 31 deadline, council members would have to take most of their training online.

But the attendees Tuesday seemed to prefer the in-person trainings . Denishia Perkins, a council member at Shields Middle School for almost two years, said that she had taken all the training modules online, but they “didn’t do much for me.” The online training consists of clicking through slides of bullet-pointed information and then taking a short quiz at the end of each module.

“It’s so possible to get elected and not know about this stuff,” Perkins said. So she decided to attend the in-person training on Tuesday.

Sanchez said of Ortiz’s class, “It felt one-on-one, and he’s really explaining it to you.”

The trainings are not the only impediment to filling local school council seats.

A representative from the parent group Raise Your Hand told the Sun-Times that people may not want to run for a council position because “people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the local school council.” Currently, 50 percent of principals’ evaluations rely on CPS’ data and metrics, when previously the evaluations relied solely on the council members’ judgment.

Sanchez said that the work of councils are just not advertised enough, and many parents like  her already are involved with jobs or other organizations.

“I don’t think the parents know that we’re that important,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know either.”

performance based

Aurora superintendent is getting a bonus following the district’s improved state ratings

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Aurora’s school superintendent will receive a 5 percent bonus amounting to $11,820, in a move the board did not announce.

Instead, the one-time bonus was slipped into a routine document on staff transitions.

Tuesday, the school board voted on the routine document approving all the staff changes, and the superintendent bonus, without discussion.

The document, which usually lists staff transfers, resignations, and new hires, included a brief note at the end that explained the additional compensation by stating it was being provided because of the district’s rise in state ratings.

“Pursuant to the superintendent’s contract, the superintendent is entitled to a one-time bonus equal to 5 percent of his base salary as the result of the Colorado Department of Education raising APS’ district performance framework rating,” the note states.

The superintendent’s contract, which was renewed earlier this year, states the superintendent can receive up to a 10 percent bonus per year for improvements in state ratings. The same bonus offer was in Munn’s previous contract with the district.

The most recent state ratings, which were released in the fall, showed the state had noted improvements in Aurora Public Schools — enough for the district to be off the state’s watchlist for low performance. Aurora would have been close to the five years of low-performance ratings that would have triggered possible state action.

“I am appreciative of the Board’s recognition of APS’ overall improvement,” Superintendent Munn said in a statement Wednesday. “It is important to recognize that this improvement has been thanks to a team effort and as such I am donating the bonus to the APS Foundation and to support various classroom projects throughout APS.”

This is the only bonus that Munn has received in Aurora, according to a district spokesman.

In addition to the bonus, and consistent with his contract and the raises other district employees will receive, Munn will also get a 2.93 percent salary increase on July 1. This will bring his annual salary to $243,317.25.

At the end of the board meeting, Bruce Wilcox, president of the teachers union questioned the way the vote was handled, asking why the compensation changes for teachers and compensation changes for other staff were placed as separate items on the meeting’s agenda, but the bonus was simply included at the bottom of a routine report, without its own notice.

“It is clear that the association will unfortunately have to become a greater, louder voice,” Wilcox said. “It is not where we want to be.”