Education Week - November 11, 2015 - (Page 6)

In Colorado School Board Recall, Politics and Money Drive Ouster By Denisa R. Superville Three conservative school board members in Jefferson County, Colo., who pushed forward a performancebased teacher-compensation system and equalized charter school funding, lost their seats last week in a hard-fought recall election that drew national attention and money. Although the election themes in Jefferson County, a Denver suburb, mirrored those that often play out on the national stage in debates about public education, political watchers cautioned not to read too much into the results in which three Republican-backed board members were ousted by overwhelming margins. John Straayer, a professor of political science at Colorado State University, said the outcome in Jefferson County was largely the result of local factors. Performance-based pay for teachers, charter school expansion, and curriculum changes, while controversial, have been part of debates about improving K-12 for some time and have been adopted in districts without the backlash they inspired in Jefferson County, he said. The difference, he noted, was the pace and process of instituting changes, with board members quickly pushing through the initiatives. As a result, their actions were not "seen as an effort to press toward school improvement," Straayer said, but more like a "takeover." School board members in three other districts were also recalled last week. In Selma, Calif.; Golden Plains, Calif.; and Caldwell, Idaho, eight school trustees lost their seats in recalls. Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York City, who tracks recall elections nationally, said the outcomes were not surprising. Unlike regular elections, which favor incumbents, the opposite is true in recalls: There is a more than 50 percent chance incumbents will lose. Other Recalls Since 2012, 307 school board recalls have been attempted, he said. Among those that made it to the ballot, 24 officials lost their seats, 21 resigned, and 13 survived. Local school board races, even recalls, are normally low-key affairs, he said. But the Jefferson County race attracted extra attention because of the political undertones-including Colorado's role as a swing state-and a controversy involving the district last year centered on the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum. Spivak said it's possible that grassroots organizations of all political types could take cues from Jefferson County and mount similar campaigns against board members who back unpopular policies. The ousted board members- John Newkirk, Julie Williams, and Ken Witt-were elected to the Jefferson County board in 2013 after defeating candidates backed by the Jefferson County Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. On a fivemember board, they became the new majority. They pushed through a new teacher-compensation system that tied pay to evaluations and gave stipends to teachers who were rated effective or highly effective. They adopted student-based budgeting and allocated the same amount of funds for charter schools as regular district schools. Last year, Williams forced the district of about 86,000 students into the national spotlight when she proposed a "review" of the AP U.S. History curriculum, with the goal of emphasizing patriotism and downplaying civil disobedience and strife. That move led to days of student walkouts, teacher sick-outs, and community mobilization. Eye-Popping Cash Unhappy with those policies, a coalition of residents launched Jeffco United For Action, which called for the trio's ouster. Recall organizers accused the three members of holding secret meetings and engaging in wasteful spending, including paying new superintendent Daniel McMinimee more than his predecessor and hiring a separate attorney and a separate communications firm for the board. Critics have also argued that the new members presided over a period of high teacher turnover in the district. The board members have denied the charges. The money spent on the recall election-on both sides-is estimated to be $1 million. The local teachers' union was a major supporter of the recall effort, while conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, threw its financial muscle behind the incumbents. With the contest over, McMinimee, the superintendent, sought to move past the discord. The school board will be composed of five new members. "We hope that our Jeffco community can heal its rifts and reunite to focus on ensuring that every Jeffco student is well-equipped and prepared to excel in his or her college life or career," McMinimee said in a statement. Founded in 2001, Penn continues to set the pace for innovative leadership development. Join a select national network of P-12 public/private, experienced educational leaders via an intensive, 3-year, cohort doctoral program in educational leadership. * Classes meet one weekend per month + one week in July LEAD SERIOUS CHANGE M I D -C AR EER DOCT OR AL * Top Ivy League faculty, leading national practitioners * Practitioner, inquiry based PR O G RAM IN EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP * All-inclusive tuition: materials, meals, accommodations JOIN US FOR OUR Virtual Open House * 80% alumni engagement Tuesday, December 1, 2015 * 6 - 8pm EST * Lifetime access to program supports RSVP to: VI SIT US: * Access to writing, research and social media coach | 6 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 11, 2015 | C ONT AC T U S : BLOGS Chemistry Classroom Fire Renews Concerns About the 'Rainbow Experiment' CURRICULUM MATTERS | Late last month, a fire broke out in a chemistry class at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va., sending five students to the hospital with chemical burns. One student with more severe injuries will need surgeries on her face. The teacher who conducted the experiment also suffered minor burns, according to reports. Students from the class said that the teacher, who has not commented on the incident, poured flammable liquid onto a desk and lit it with a Bunsen burner. She then introduced different chemicals to show how they altered the color of the flames. It appeared to be a version of a well-known but decidedly risky demonstration known as the "rainbow experiment," in which methanol is used to ignite different types of salts. In 2014, two New York City high school students suffered burns when a similar experiment sent a plume of fire across their science lab. After that accident, Ken Roy, the chief science safety compliance consultant for the National Science Teachers Association, said in an interview that methanol is "unpredictable" and can become "a death bomb." "I prefer people don't do this," he said. "If you must, you should do it under a fume hood. There should be eye protection, and you never take methanol, a bottle of it, and pour it when you have an open flame." It's unclear exactly which chemicals the Virginia teacher was using. But according to The Washington Post, "One student said the teacher was not wearing any protective gear, nor were the students in the room, including those closest to the experiment." Jim Kaufman, the president of the nonprofit Lab Safety Institute and a former chemistry professor at Curry College in Massachusetts, has been advocating for more states to require science teachers to receive lab-safety training before going into the classroom. Very few states currently have such requirements. As he sees it, the problem is not the experiment itself, but the lack of labsafety regulations. "It's unfortunate that methanol would be characterized as unpredictable," he wrote in an email after the New York incident. "Its properties are well known and easy to understand. ... Teachers need only follow proper procedures and take appropriate precautions." -LIANA HEITIN | Teacher Biases Differ for Low- and HighAchieving Minority Students INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH | A new study suggests racial bias-long found to affect teachers' expectations of students-can show up differently for minority students who are struggling and those who are high-fliers. In a study in the July issue of the journal Social Science Research, Yasmiyn Irizarry, a quantitative sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, used data from the federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to compare 1st graders' actual scores on a series of cognitive and literacy tests to how teachers ranked the students in comparison to all 1st graders. After controlling for other characteristics like socioeconomic status and parents' education, Irizarry found teachers were generally accurate in rating average-performing students as average, and there were no differences in those ratings among white, Asian, white Latino, nonwhite Latino, and black students. Among low-performing students, however, teachers consistently rated their black, Asian, and nonwhite Latino students more positively than their scores would suggest, and rated their low-performing white students more negatively. By contrast, high-performing students of color were underrated by their teachers in comparison to white high-achievers. Black or Latino students who scored in the top 10 percent of all 1st graders were 7 to 9 percentage points less likely to be rated "far above average," and they were generally rated one to two rankings lower (out of five) than white students who scored the same. Irizarry said different sides of the same racial bias could explain the expectation gaps for high- and low-achieving students. Teachers with higher expectations for white than black or nonwhite Latino students could judge low-performing white students more harshly, but underestimate the ability of top students of color. "All of the students were being pulled towards the center," she said. "Teachers may have subconscious fears of overpenalizing students of color, so they are giving better ratings because they were afraid of appearing racist." That dynamic could change how teachers interact with students in class, or how they identify students for interventions and opportunities. "If a teacher is making recommendations for a gifted program or group placement or resources and supports, she is thinking of an overall assessment of where the student is in comparison to other kids," Irizarry said. "So these general rankings are important." -SARAH D. SPARKS |

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 11, 2015

Education Week - November 11, 2015
RTI Practice Falls Short of Promise, Research Finds
Districts Confront Transgender Policies
Top Teacher’s Resignation Spurs Certification Debate
Special Ed. Law Wrought Complex Changes
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Blogs of the Week
In Colorado School Board Recall, Politics and Money Drive Ouster
‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Is Tough Call for Districts
Districts Struggle to Equip Schools With Fast, Affordable Internet
States Prepare for Shifting Role On Accountability
In Off-Year Elections, Ky., Miss. Drew Spotlight on K-12
Arizona Governor Signs Deal to Settle K-12 Funding Suit
Blogs of the Week
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Must Be Everywhere at Once
Put Our Mission Front and Center
Control What I Can
Prioritize Community-Building
How Do We Keep Good Principals?

Education Week - November 11, 2015