bill of goods?

Colorado officials are not happy with how the new federal education law is playing out. Here’s why.


That was the word used time and again by Colorado Department of Education officials and State Board of Education members Thursday to describe proposed regulations for the nation’s new education laws.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in December, was initially lauded as the end of what many considered burdensome federal mandates. But since the U.S. Department of Education released its proposed rules for how the law would be applied, the tone across the county has shifted.

In the board room Thursday there were plenty of eye rolls, sighs and head slaps as department officials picked apart the regulations on academic standards, teaching quality and testing.

“They’re going out and saying they’re respecting states. I would argue they’re not,” said Patrick Chapman, CDE’s director of federal programs, referring to federal education department officials. “They’re saying the rules are creating more flexibility. I would argue they’re not.”

Department officials told the board they believed about a quarter of the proposed regulations put new limits on states. Another quarter were not authorized by law. And “most concerning” is that 12 percent of the regulations contained statements that conflicted with the law.

The department’s aim Thursday was to brief board members on decisions they will need to help make as the state prepares a plan to address the changes in federal law, and allow the board an opportunity to weigh in as the work gets underway.

Board members, especially those who champion more control at the district-level, echoed the sentiment over and over.

“The rules seem so distant from what the intent of the law was,” said Joyce Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale.

CDE plans to continue to review the rules and submit a formal response to the federal government later this month. The U.S. Department of Education declined to comment Thursday evening on state officials’ concerns.

Complaining about federal overreach aside, here are four other things you need to know from Thursday’s study session:

While some policy shifts might be necessary, CDE officials said that Colorado’s current education laws do not need to change.

To be in compliance with ESSA, no new legislation would need to be written and no existing laws would need to be amended, officials said. That means Colorado’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation laws could go untouched.

Both were put into place in a bid to win large grants from the Obama administration, and have subsequently become political lightning rods.

ESSA would allow Colorado to dump the Common Core, as some hope, but only if the state can prove its new standards are rigorous. And while the standards are set to be reviewed in 2018 under state law, many school districts and advocacy groups have reported to CDE that a major policy shift such as new standards would be unwelcome.

Some state board members flirted with the idea of rejecting federal dollars to avoid what they consider unnecessary regulation.

State board members Val Flores, a Denver Democrat, and Deb Scheffel, a Parker Republican, suggested more than once that the state should conduct a cost-benefits analysis on the money it receives from the federal government.

“Wouldn’t it be better if we just said no to the accountability? Not that we’re not going to have accountability. But just say no to those funds,” Flores said, adding she felt Colorado would save money if it discontinued its annual testing system.

Other board members and department employees corrected Flores’s math saying the state could lose hundreds of millions of dollars if it stopped testing its students.

Flores joked that the state could sell cookies.

One of the state’s most important decisions will be over how to determine school quality.

The state faces many decisions over how its school and district accountability system will change under ESSA.

The new law requires states add a new factor — not based on test scores — to its school rating system.

Alyssa Pearson, the department’s interim associate commissioner for accountability and assessment, said it could be the state’s most important decision.

Possibilities include taking into account parent surveys in elementary school, suspensions rates in middle school and absenteeism in high school. Any new data gathered must be disaggregated by categories such as student race, income and special education status. That could prove difficult because while some of that data is collected now, not all of it is disaggregated.

“This one will be a lot of fun,” said board vice chair Angelika Schroeder, “because we’ll have 100 different suggestions.”

There was little discussion about the committees that will help write the plan.

As Chalkbeat reported Wednesday, the State Board is expected to make appointments to a committee that will be responsible for drafting the plan.

Those appointments will include a parent, business leader and taxpayer.

The committee’s first meeting is tentatively slated for the first week of August, officials said.

The board did not discuss who would be on the committee.

Interim Education Commissioner Katy Anthes will be emailing school districts with an update on the department’s work on ESSA soon, department spokeswoman Dana Smith said in an email. That message will include what the department knows about the committee, she said.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.