Robert Reichardt is director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis, School of Public Affairs, at the University of Colorado at Denver.
The drumbeat for school reform will continue through 2011 as we figure out what it means to run an education system defined by standards and accountability. With this in mind here is my Colorado-centric education reform agenda for 2011.
Federal Agenda: The vehicle for federal efforts will shift from Race to the Top to the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. A key NCLB priority is starting over on the definition of Highly Qualified teachers. At a minimum Highly Qualified should not include certification. There is no doubt that teachers need training and content knowledge to be effective, however the current Highly Qualified system is too focused on inputs and puts too much power over hiring in the hands of state and district administrators.
The new NCLB should provide a system of waivers from the Highly Qualified requirements, immediately releasing very effective districts and schools from all Highly Qualified requirements and giving the same authority to less effective districts if they meet certain performance goals over time. A second NCLB goal is to make Adequate Yearly Progress similar to Colorado’s accreditation system with a mixed model of both a value-added or growth models, mixed with status measures.
A third federal priority is not NCLB related, but about pensions. We know we have a funding crisis for our public pensions. But, pensions also contribute to human capital problems. Too many educators stick with teaching to reach the large pay-off of the defined benefit plan. A solution to this problem is to switch our pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans (such as 401ks). However, this switch could only happen with a large revolving loan fund that would sustain the current defined benefit obligations as people began to build up the their 401k plans. The federal government should help with this switch by creating this revolving loan fund.
State agenda: Our state policy system is overloaded with major reforms: New standards, new teacher effectiveness systems, new approaches to turning around low performing schools, new accountability systems, and new connections between early childhood, K-12 and higher education. All this during a funding crisis and a search for a new commissioner.
Without the benefit of Race to the Top funds we need to prioritize our reform efforts. State leadership needs to establish a clear, shared understanding of how each of these reforms fit together with realistic and logical implementation timing.
We need to make sure the foundation to all of our reforms, the new common core standards, are done right. If we don’t make sure teachers and schools are able to select and use classroom materials that are aligned with the new standards, then the rest of our reforms will be built on a house of sand. We won’t know whether our new measures of performance and accountability are measuring poor performance or simply teaching the wrong curriculum.
So we need to push forward with the plans contained in our Race to the Top application to build capacity to identify, create, verify, and share aligned class, course, and subject materials.
A second priority is reworking the framework for our new teacher effectiveness system as laid out in SB 191. As I have blogged earlier, the current framework depends on student growth measures that don’t exist. We need to use the existing growth measures as a way to hold systems accountable.
A third priority is education finance. Our state is going to face significant financial pressure over the next five years. The fact that 16 of 23 mill levy overrides passed in the November elections suggests to me that communities are willing to support their schools. If we are faced with a choice of cutting overall K-12 funding or asking communities to pick up more of the tab, I think we need to create more opportunities for communities to support their schools.
This agenda is all part of getting standards based reform right. This is not a partisan agenda, but can easily be derailed by partisan politics. In the end, our education system needs to have aligned curriculum and assessments, be able to allocate resources towards effectiveness and need, and have effective and nuanced accountability systems.
We have made a lot of impressive progress. This agenda would be very different if we did not have the choice and charter options we already have in Colorado. I am confident we can continue to move in the right direction.
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