Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.
But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….
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For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.
But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.
“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.
All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.
Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them
Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.
NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.
The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.
NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”
Accountability to Come Through New Indicators
The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”
The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.
“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.
Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.
Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.
Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.
“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.
The House and Senate begin their spring recess next week. Legislators will be in their district offices for the next few weeks, so it will be a good time to meet with them about collective bargaining, K-12 and higher education funding, the teacher shortage, and other important issues.
Here are highlights from this week’s action in Springfield:
IFT protects out-of-district tuition waivers
At the urging of the IFT, the House defeated HB 4235 (Pritchard). This bill would have prohibited school districts from waiving the out-of-district tuition fees for their employees and teachers who live out of district but want their children to attend school in the district where they teach or work. The change would also have excluded local unions and districts from bargaining the issue, and exacerbated the teacher shortage in downstate Illinois.
House committee takes up school safety
Former IFT staffer, school counselor, and current Dist. 150 school board member Dan Walther testified before the House Education Curriculum committee about school safety and mental health. Considering the Parkland school shooting and previous tragedies, Walther discussed the need for the General Assembly to ensure proper funding of schools, provide wraparound services for students, and trauma training for teachers. He also suggested the possibility of arming trained school resource officers but strongly opposed arming teachers.
Representatives from the Illinois Education Association, school management, and mental health and social work groups were also present. The committee is considering potential action but has not offered any proposals.
House continues to tackle the teacher shortage
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Licensing committee heard more testimony on the teacher shortage issue this week. Speakers included representatives from the Grow Your Own Teachers program, career and technical education advocates, professors in educator preparation programs, the superintendent of O’Fallon Township High School Board of Education, and representatives from the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents.
Additional discussions are taking place around the Capitol about how to address the shortage, in both the short-term and long-term. More than 20 bills have been filed on the subject with potential solutions ranging from changing licensure requirements to shortening educational programs for traditional and alternative certification. The IFT is working closely with legislators as this important conversation continues.
Bills will help retirees substitute teach HB 3080 (Reis) would create a window until June 30, 2019 to allow a retired teacher to work 120 paid days (or 600 paid hours) in a school year without impairing retirement status. The House unanimously passed the bill.
HB 751 (Davidsmeyer) would allow a teacher to return to teaching in subject shortage areas without impairing his or her retirement status or retirement annuity until June 30, 2020. This bill is positioned for a vote in the House.
The IFT supports both these bills.
School funding bill moves to Senate
House members approved HB 5812 (Davis), a follow-up bill to the school funding reform law that passed last fall. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) claims that the bill must pass to ensure that the additional $350 million in funding is properly distributed under the new plan. School officials have said they will start distributing money under the new formula in April. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Committee approves workers’ comp bill
In response to concerns from the governor and business groups, the House Labor and Commerce committee passed HB 4595 (Fine). The bill would establish a not-for-profit insurance fund to help lower workers’ compensation insurance costs for employers by creating competition in the insurance industry.
Rep. Harper advances elected school board resolution HR 796 (Harper) passed the Elementary & Secondary Education School Curriculum and Policies committee. The bill urges the Illinois General Assembly to pass legislation to create an elected school board in Chicago, which voters have previously demanded. IFT and the Chicago Teachers Union (Local 1) strongly support this resolution.
E-learning pilots extended
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Curriculum and Policies committee approved HB 4860 (Fortner), which would allow the e-learning pilots in Gurnee, Leyden, and West Chicago to continue until ISBE issues a report and the General Assembly has reviewed it to consider the policy path forward. The IFT supported the bill based on conversations with members who reported successful experiences in the pilot districts.
Two school support bills pass the House HB 4409 (Pritchard) would change part of the definition of school psychologist to an individual that holds a valid Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. The bill was approved unanimously.
HB 4514 (Pritchard) would provide that only individuals licensed and endorsed as school counselors may use the title of school counselor. The bill passed the House by a vote of 106-0-1.
Both bills now move to the Senate.
Proposal would weaken collective bargaining, increase healthcare costs SB 2819 (Syverson) would remove the requirement for the state to implement Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) if high-deductible healthcare plans are imposed by the governor, as he has proposed to do. Currently, the state must make HSAs available and contribute one-third of the deductible in the event a high-deductible plan is implemented. SB 2819 would give the state full discretion to establish the amount, if any, of the employer contribution.
The IFT strongly opposes this bill because it would put public employees at risk of escalating healthcare costs with no financial support from the employer.