Take 5: ISBE ousts Koch, principal training, Latinos’ views on testing

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Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrot-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about principal training and other matters at a 2014 discussion with Catalyst.

Photos by Michelle Kanaar

Chad Adams of Sullivan High, Adam Parrot-Sheffer of Peterson Elementary and Troy LaRaviere of Blaine Elementary talk about principal training and other matters at a 2014 discussion with Catalyst.

As expected, the Illinois State Board of Education voted Wednesday to oust Supt. Christopher Koch. His replacement is Tony Smith, who previously ran the school district in Oakland, Calif., and most recently was executive director of the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, which supports children’s development and education. For weeks, Springfield insiders have been murmuring that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was pushing for Smith to be the new schools chief.

When he was in Oakland, Smith took over a district that was in financial shambles, but left a balanced budget, according to an in-depth Associated Press article. However, many educators resented the fact he wasn’t a former teacher himself. Smith was considered a “proponent of ‘full-service community schools’ that aim to combat poverty and bring families and communities into the school improvement effort,” according to the AP story. “He has advocated for charters and the privatization of Oakland public schools during his time. Smith also clashed with the district’s teachers union over contract issues.”

Koch, a former educator who later rose through the ranks of ISBE, served as state superintendent since 2006. He has overseen the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards, including the controversial use of the PARCC assessment, but has broadly been seen as a middle-of-the-road, apolitical type.

Board member James Baumann was notably absent during Wednesday’s meeting. He abruptly tendered his resignation to chairman James Meeks last week. Though his resignation letter ignored the issue of the state superintendent’s contract, sources say he was frustrated with the process of ending Koch’s contract and hiring Smith.

2. Principal training … One of the most striking findings of a new report released this week by The Chicago Public Education Fund is that what CPS principals most want is more “tailored, streamlined professional development opportunities.” That specific survey result is ironic in light of Wednesday’s news that federal authorities are investigating CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her financial ties with SUPES Academy, a for-profit group focused on principal training and development. The company got a $20 million, no-bid contract from CPS in 2013 to provide principal training — although many principals have bitterly complained about the quality from the beginning.

The Fund — which initially financed SUPES training at CPS — now funds a separate program through Northwestern University that provides professional development, executive coaching and other leadership opportunities to at least 20 principals each year. In a statement last fall, Byrd-Bennett called the Northwestern program an “unparalleled opportunity” for principals.

The Fund also found that the vast majority of principals say they’re satisfied with compensation and have a good relationship with their community, including the local school council in district-managed schools. The report also notes that six out of 10 CPS principals don’t stick around on the job past five years, which is troubling because of data that suggests that principals reach their peak effectiveness around that time. “With workforce expectations evolving toward more frequent job changes, we need to redouble our efforts to retain our highest-performing leaders for longer,” according to the report.

Catalyst wrote about citywide efforts to improve principal quality in Fall 2012.

3. Tech deals with CPS … EdSurge.com had an interesting story this week to remind educational technology entrepreneurs who want to work with Chicago schools about an important deadline. Companies have until next Thursday night to respond to a Request For Qualifications in order to be eligible to bid on future proposals for “new initiatives.” This is an important item namely because education technology can be a lucrative industry, as the Sun-Times’ stories on CPS board member Deborah Quazzo’s business dealings have shown.

By creating a list of pre-approved vendors, CPS hopes to speed up the process of getting edtech materials to schools. For example, the story notes, “a school that wants to purchase, say, 100 licenses for an online literacy product (a deal that might amount to less than $5,000) will simply issue a purchase order for what Chicago is calling a ‘Stage One vendor.’ ” For purchases to be used more broadly in the district, the district will set up a “Stage Two” category. “Eventually some companies may graduate to be ‘Strategic Source Vendors’ and will be considered top partners that have collaborative quarterly meetings with senior Chicago education leaders and other benefits,” according to the story.

On a related note, EdWeek recently wrote about how districts across the country are weighing whether it’s better for individual schools to buy tech ed software — or if the district itself should handle those purchases.

4. Concussions suit … The Illinois High School Association is trying to get a judge to dismiss a class-action lawsuit over its handling of youth football concussions, the Associated Press reports. The organization calls the suit a “misguided effort that threatens high school football.”

The lawsuit, which was initially filed last fall, seeks court supervision over how high schools manage head injuries, requirements for medical personnel to be at all games and for the IHSA to pay for medical testing of former players.

But the IHSA’s filing in response to the suit echoes previous comments from its director that these mandates “could make football prohibitively expensive for poorer schools, especially Chicago’s public high schools, and lead to ‘haves and have nots’ in the sport,” according to the story.

5. Latinos and testing …. The Los Angeles Times reports that Latino voters have more positive views of standardized tests than their non-Latino, white counterparts. About 55 percent of Latino voters say mandatory exams improve public education; that same percentage of white voters believe the opposite. Similarly, less than a quarter of Latino voters think students are over-tested, compared to 40 percent of white voters.

Socioeconomics have a lot to do with these opinions. The poll found that less educated — and likely less affluent — Latinos were more likely to favor the exams.

“Once a family has achieved a certain level of financial success, they have the luxury of worrying about their children’s stress levels,” said Dan Schnur, head of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, in the LA Times. “For families who haven’t yet made it, they see the stress that comes with testing as an acceptable trade-off in order to more precisely measure progress.”

 One last note …  It’s been a busy week for ed news, but we wanted to point readers to another development from Springfield this week. ISBE voted to give $33 million to CPS for the current school year in order to offset the bulk of state cuts. Other cash-strapped districts also got extra cash. Check out the Tribune’s story.

  • Rodney Estvan

    Aside from the removal of Dr. Koch the ISBE approved transfering $33 million to CPS to offset cuts to General State aid and special education funding for the rest of FY 15 from a $97 million special fund to help school districts in fiscal crisis. The ISBE documents related to that transfer reveal CPS had by this point in the school year under 30 days cash on hand and could not have made its payroll with the impending cuts without additional short term borrowing. That story also merits some contemplation.