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Quality Counts subtext: Time to implement reforms

Posted by Jan 13th, 2011.

Paul Teske is dean of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Every year Education Week gathers data on all 50 states and compares them along various dimensions in the publication’s Quality Counts report.

As always, this year’s data are interesting and worth more than a glance (due to data lags, most of the data actually come from 2008).

While I usually use this data to show how badly funded Colorado is compared to other states (we appear to be 39th in cost-of-living adjusted per pupil spending), this year I want to discuss it, in aggregate, in a somewhat different way.

Quality Counts provides four databases for states, with scores incorporating multiple data comparisons.  Colorado’s rank among the 50 states (and letter grades) are as follows: school finance 44th (D+), K12 achievement  21st (D+), chance for success 11th (B), and transitions and alignment 29th (C).   Overall, Ed Week ranks Colorado 39th, with a grade of C.

While one can quibble with the indicators used and how they are aggregated, it is important to note that, unlike state level interest groups here in Colorado, Ed Week has absolutely no stake whatsoever in where Colorado is ranked.

When we lost the Race to the Top last year, there was a widespread local feeling that we were robbed, because of our active reform agenda.  And maybe we were.  But R2T included lots of emphasis on proven results, not just on future promises, and no matter how you slice it, aggregate Colorado performance to-date is simply not impressive.  Indeed, R2T winning states were ranked #1, #2, #3, #5, #8, #11, #19, #20, #22, #23, and #31 by Ed Week – all the winning R2T states (except for DC, a special political case I think), were ranked substantially ahead of Colorado (at #39).

As one engaged in the processes of ed reform in Colorado, I do feel the state has done a great deal of legislating, and now needs to focus on implementation, which if done well can have a good payoff.

Policy scholars like to paraphrase some version of Yogi Berra on pitching when discussing the topic of implementation, noting that it is 90 percent of half of the game.  That is, the legislative fight over SB 191 was exciting, controversial, and well-engaged on all sides, but now that it is passed, the group that is, even today, meeting to implement the details of the legislation, in a context where there is considerable statutory contradiction and ambiguity, may be more important in terms of getting it done.

In my view, we have greatly underdone successful implementation in Colorado, partly because it takes resources we don’t have.   We typically have to beg one of the four or five friendly local foundations for the couple of hundred thousands of dollars to do state level studies of new reforms.  Then we expect the districts to implement the reforms with no new resources, indeed at a time when their resources are being reduced significantly.  I think that if Republicans and conservatives didn’t support most of these reforms they would tend to call them “unfunded mandates.”

So, “reform with resources,” or “resources and reform” seem like good rallying cries for the near future in Colorado.

I’ll end with a couple of specific Ed Week data points, which I think help make my point:

Colorado is ranked:

  • 46th in eligible children enrolled in kindergarten programs (2009)
  • 49th in the change in the scale score reading-gap for 4th grade NAEP (change from 2003-2009)
  • 50th in the actual reading gap for 4th grade NAEP scale score (2009)

Popularity: 12% [?]

2 Responses to “Quality Counts subtext: Time to implement reforms”

  1. Jeffrey Miller says:

    I applaud your efforts and search for a winning tagline. We do need more resources. My argument is how you and others justify the request.

    I beg to differ on your assessment of how SB 191 was engaged. Legislation was introduced late in the session with the payoff of RttT dangling like a lottery jackpot bauble in front of us all. Once the final version of 191 was rolled out, there was little time for analysis or rebuttal. News reports portrayed the delay as an effort by Johnston to garner support; though such may have been the case, the effect was to create a rush to pass.

    I never saw any research or any credible shred of evidence 191 would or could work. Perhaps you or others could show me where to find it. I don’t have all day to do the research while teaching an overload of students to prevent layoffs–you understand. The percentages laid out for teacher effectiveness scoring from different measurement protocols seemed reasonable at the level of common sense but lacked empirical and theoretical support.

    You ask for resources. The legislation is, as you admit, fraught with “ambiguity”. Interpretation of 191 is to be accomplished by an unelected body. Can’t we just step back and admit that this was a politically-opportunistic piece of legislation with little empirical support and much guesswork that would attempt to satisfy multiple constituencies while furthering the cause of quality public education not at all? I do not recall seeing any claims of how 191 would improve student achievement by how many CSAP points over what period of time. Again, I may be sadly misinformed. Feel free to correct me.

    This council that has been created–four teachers serve. Four. Why four? Do they fairly represent the diversity of schools in this state? And forget representation as a formality. Do they have the expertise to be fair arbiters in the assessment other teachers? You know, when I really spend some time and think this through, I marvel at how anyone allowed 191 into law. One at-large member with expertise? Why just one with the possibility of holding some kind of objective viewpoint or assessment stance?

    Why should I, or any citizen, support your request for resources for these new series of mandates not yet even in evidence, brought into existence by a non-accountable political process fraught with ambiguity lacking measures of success?

  2. Gary Barrett says:

    Most studies I have seen show that there is very low correlation between education expenditures and standardized test scores. This would suggest that more money is not necessarily the answer to improving student performance.

    I suggest you decide how to confront data that is presented in such studies as “How Per Pupil Spending Affects Academic Success” Luci Duan and Jenny Xue.

    I believe you must first make the case that existing funding is being utilized optimally before you ask for more.

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