Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Commissioner finalists: Penny Schwinn

We have three finalists for Commissioner of education

Jeffrey C. Riley, superintendent/receiver of the Lawrence Public Schools
Angélica Infante-Green, deputy commissioner, Office of Instructional Support P-12 in New York State Education Department
Penny Schwinn, chief deputy commissioner of academics at the Texas Education Agency

Let's start with Penny Schwinn.

You can find Schwinn on Linked-in, which is always useful in tracking someone's career; she's a UC-Berkeley grad, who did a three year Teach for America stint in Baltimore  (getting her MAT at Johns Hopkins) before working in data management. She came back into education through the St. Hope Foundation, which is a community development foundation which runs charter schools in Sacramento. She is a founder of Capitol Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Sacramento.
During that time, she ran and won a seat on the Sacramento County Board of Education. From that election:
With a decade of experience in K-12 education, Penny has worked to increase parent choice and involvement, fiscal accountability, and student achievement in public schools. Building on her early teaching career as a Teach For America corps member in inner-city Baltimore, Penny continued to dedicate her career to education. She later worked as a manager at a multi-billion company in Los Angeles, where she worked to forge partnerships between business and schools.
She addressed the California Charter School Association annual conference in 2013 (That's a video), where she commented that she was able, on the Board, to "push for choice."
While she was on the county board of education, she was hired by the Sacramento district (which is not subject to the Board on which she was serving) to become assistant superintendent, which raised some eyebrows:
Bites did a double take when charter-school advocate Penny Schwinn resigned her elected post on the Sacramento County Board of Education last month in order to take a high-paying job in the bureaucracy of the Sacramento City Unified School District. She’s now SCUSD’s new assistant superintendent of performance management—which comes with a $133,617 salary. The job is one of many, many six-figure gigs in the administration, and is described as being “the accountability leader” for the district, which is also the job description of the district’s chief accountability officer ($149,914).
Note that she was appointed to serve on the oversight board of the charter school she established when she had to resign her job with the charter school to take the Sacramento position. She also resigned from the Board after serving less than a year.
She spent a year as an assistant superintendent in Sacramento, before moving to Delaware to become their Chief Accountability and Performance Officer. Though she doesn't mention it on Linked-in, she is a Broad Center alum, which it looks as though she did while she was in Delaware. As you'd expect from the title, she oversaw things like the state's district report cards and state turnaround districts, which was not popular, to put it lightly. She clearly was applying for other jobs during that time; she was, for example, a finalist for superintendent in Osceola County in Florida. When she left Delaware after two years, it led to blog posts like this; note the poll on how long Schwinn would stay in Texas.

Her move to Texas in 2016 was part of a major re-organization of the Texas Education Agency:
Three of the five hires have extensive charter school experience and only two appear to have solid Texas ties — something teacher groups and traditional public schools were quick to point out.
Three were also Teach for American alums. It gives some context to read about Mike Morath, who brought her to Texas.
That was in April; she was at the same time a finalist for commissioner of education in Ohio, where she was billed as "Schwinn is a vocal advocate for school choice."
Schwinn was interviewed by the Texas Tribune in 2016, largely about the state's new literacy programs.

It is, of course, not a good week for state education with regard to civil rights in Texas, with the federal finding that the districts did not give special education services to thousands of students in the state in order to meet the state-set 8.6% of students in services. In December, the state dropped a $2 million no-bid contract on special education data mining; in November, the state director of special education was fired. The contract was supposed to be part of the effort to improve special education in Texas, even prior to the federal involvement. The fallout and blaming over the civil rights findings last week is still happening, with districts blaming the legislature after the Governor issued a statement blaming the districts. When the allegations were made to the federal government:
TEA Deputy Commissioner of Academics Penny Schwinn wrote: “The allegation that the special education representation indicator is designed to reduce special education enrollment in order to reduce the amount of money the state has to spend on special education is clearly false... Allegations that TEA issued fines, conducted on-site monitoring visits, required the hiring of consultants, etc. when districts provided special education services to more than 8.5 percent of their students are entirely false.”
"TEA has not received any formal or informal complaints demonstrating that specific school districts have engaged in such an effort to deny eligible students with disabilities the services they need based on the special education representation indicator in PBMAS."
Last week, the federal Department of Education said that was untrue, as it references that 8.5% indicator in the opening paragraph of their letter of rebuke to the state:
This Enclosure provides OSEP’s analysis of factors related to the declining identification rate, and addresses the effect of TEA’s 8.5 percent special education representation indicator (known as the 8.5% indicator in its Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS)) on the declining identification rate, as evidenced through ISD-level data that documents the number of children identified as children with disabilities eligible for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The U.S. Department of Education found last week that the agency was more likely to intervene in school districts that provided services for more students with disabilities, incentivizing administrators to cut back on services.
UPDATE (1/17): The Dallas Observer has a piece this morning on the special education debacle in Texas, including the no-bid contract overseen by Penny Schwinn. Schwinn again is quoted as denying that the state has capped the percentage of students to go into special education. And:
The TEA spokesperson wouldn't say how school districts were able to use 8.5 percent as the target for 13 years and deny thousands of students special education services without the agency knowing that it was happening.

will update as necessary; blog post on Angelica Infante-Green is here

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