Ritter: Colorado in for second R2T

Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, Gov. Bill Ritter and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien at last week's press conference on R2T.

Gov. Bill Ritter announced Tuesday the state will apply for round two of the national Race to the Top competition.

State leaders learned last week that Colorado, while making the cut of 16 finalists for the $4.3 billion education reform contest, was not one of the two winners of the prize.

But Ritter said Tuesday afternoon that the state will apply for some of the $3.4 billion in Race dollars remaining in round two, which has a June 1 deadline. Winners of the second round will be announced in September.

“Colorado has broken new ground with student-centered reforms over the past three years,” Ritter said in announcing his decision. “We put together a solid Race to the Top application for Round 1 that would have allowed us to build on and accelerate the reforms that will allow all children in Colorado to reach their God-given potential. 

“Our Round 2 application will make an even stronger case for how we will improve student achievement, turn around struggling schools and improve educator effectiveness.”

State leaders took a week to decide whether to be part of round two, partly because of the work involved in paring their initial $377 million application by more than half. A maximum of $175 million will be available for Colorado in the second round.

A total of 40 states and the District of Columbia applied in round one and each was given a suggested budget range based on their numbers of school-aged children. Few states kept to those estimates in the first round but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said they must do so for round two.

Colorado leaders said they also needed time to consider whether the state, which finished 14th out of the 16 finalists, would be able to improve its score. Colorado achieved 409.6 points out of a possible 500 points in round one while the winning states, Delaware and Tennessee, achieved 454.6 points and 444.2 points respectively.

Each state application had to address four broad areas. Colorado achieved 90 percent of the points possible in two areas – developing and implement high-quality standards and assessments and turning around low-achieving schools.

But the state achieved only 80 percent of points possible in its plans to fully implement a statewide data system to improve instruction and 76 percent of points possible in its plans to improve its teacher and principal workforce.

Colorado also struggled in the section of its application outlining factors likely to lead to successful implementation of its Race plan. For example, the state achieved its lowest score – 46.4 percent – in “improving student outcomes” because some of the five reviewers wrote the state had not adequately linked strategy to results.

The application “fails to provide a clear sense of the strategy to improve this outcome,” one reviewer said of the state’s overall 75 percent graduation rate for 2009.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who led the state’s Race effort, said they were studying applications of the winning states as well as other finalists to see what steps they might take to increase Colorado’s chances.

For the past week, state leaders also have been reading the reviewers’ comments and talking to education stakeholders across Colorado.

“We are committed to accelerating education reform in Colorado and our Round 2 application will be a coordinated effort to ensure our children’s success,” O’Brien said Tuesday.

Ritter, O’Brien and Dwight Jones, the state’s education commissioner, made the decision to go forward with round two after meeting Tuesday morning.

“We will scrutinize every comment from the first round and look for every opportunity to improve Colorado’s application while staying true to the reform plans we have already put in motion,” Jones said.

The state’s decision to re-apply was expected but not certain, particularly after Ritter told the New York Times for a Monday article that the scoring of the state’s application by five reviewers was inscrutable.

“It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Ritter told the newspaper.

That’s because, as the Denver Post first reported, Colorado had the second largest point gap in its reviewers’ scores of all 16 finalists. One reviewer awarded the state 453 out of 500 points while another reviewer gave it only 336.

State leaders also are likely to try to recruit more school districts and local unions to agree to participate in the Race plan. Only 41 percent of local unions signed on to the first application, as did 134 of the state’s 178 school districts.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, submitted a letter of support but some local union leaders had concerns about plans to link teacher pay and tenure to student achievement. Some districts, mostly small and rural, declined to sign because they worried about federal mandates.

In Delaware, by contrast, 100 percent of unions agreed to participate in that state’s Race effort and 93 percent of Tennessee’s unions did so. All districts in Delaware and Tennessee signed on to their state Race plans.

Ritter’s decision to re-apply was a relief for some. State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former teacher and principal active in education issues, tweeted his approval:

“Gov/LtGov/Cmsr Jones continue to show the leadership that has transformed Ed in CO w plan to apply for Rd 2 of RTT!”

Click here to read Ed News’ prior R2T story, which includes a chart comparing Colorado’s application with those of the winning states and links to the state’s point scorecard and reviewer comments.

Click here to read a national roundup of other states’ decisions on round two of Race to the Top from Education Week. 

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede