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Archive for the ‘Legislature 2010’ Category

Fix SB 191 before it dies

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Robert Reichardt is director of the Center for Education Pollcy Analysis, School of Public Affairs, at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Senator Mike Johnston’s Bill on educator effectiveness (SB 191) is slowly dying, weighed down by its technical impossibilities.  The absurdity of rating teachers on student growth when no measures of growth exist for two-thirds of teachers is an insurmountable roadblock.

This technical impossibility has gummed up the work of the Council for Educator Effectiveness. The lost time and effort will be greatly magnified if we push the implementation of the current law down to districts and schools. Imagine what you would do as a principal if you were told you had to rate teachers using a statistical measure with little or no relation to actual “true” value. A good principal would delay, distract, and obfuscate as she worked to keep teachers focused on teaching.

This is not to say SB 191 does not have valuable components.  Some parts should be implemented without modification or delay:

  1. Districts should implement new teacher evaluation systems by 2013-14 that have at least three levels: Highly effective (top 10 percent of teachers), effective and ineffective (bottom 10 percent of teachers).
  2. Districts should use the information from evaluations to inform decisions about compensation, hiring, placement, promotion, professional development, and retention.
  3. Probationary teachers should have three years of good evaluations to become non-probationary (i.e. tenured).
  4. Tenured teachers (non-probationary) with low evaluations for two years lose their tenure.
  5. Placement of teachers in schools should be based on the mutual consent of both the school and the teacher.

The changes to growth score component of SB 191 should focus on using good information, when it is available, to evaluate both teachers and systems.  When available, growth data should be used as part of teacher evaluations, along with measures that apply to all teachers such as peer and supervisor observation, as well as student and parental feedback.

At the same time, teacher growth scores should be used as a yardstick to judge evaluation system integrity.  Districts should publicly report the proportion of teachers in tested subjects who fall in the top and bottom 10 percent of growth scores statewide.  At the same time districts should also report the proportion of teachers in non-tested subjects that are evaluated to be highly effective and in-effective.

This public reporting will create pressure on districts for rigor and alignment of evaluation systems.  For example, if districts have relatively more highly effective teachers in non-tested subjects districts will need to explain why their most effective teachers are not in tested subjects.

Developing these evaluation systems is important.  However, this hard work is only one component of an even larger change.  Districts and schools need to embrace continuous improvement to be able to incorporate the information developed through evaluations.  We must push through these technical challenges and keep our eyes on the larger prize of improving instruction and student learning.

Popularity: 7% [?]

The 2010 election and ed reform

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

One of the ongoing lessons of the shifting electorate is that party affiliation is less and less likely to predict specific election outcomes.  It’s simply no longer possible to count votes based purely on one’s declared party.  2010 clearly demonstrated this trend with victories for three officials — none of whom previously held statewide office — in related positions: a governor from one party, combined with a treasurer and secretary of state from the other. So, ignoring the limited lens of party affiliation (if we might), how was Colorado’s 2010 election for education reform?

Last fall saw a bitter contest — most of it within the Democratic party — on SB 191.  At the time, and exacerbated after the failure of R2T dollars to follow, there was the fear that 191 would be a ed reform waterloo, and many of the Democratic legislators who defied party stalwarts and traditional supporters to vote in favor of the bill were warned that they would suffer a lack of Democratic support, enthusiasm, and dollars in upcoming elections.

So how did they do?  Of the nine democrats (and 21 total legislators) who voted for 191 and were up for election, just one lost his seat — in a race where education was not a factor.

Also consider the local efforts of Stand for Children, a national nonprofit group founded by Jonah Edelman, son of activist Marian Wright Edelman. Stand is an non-partisan advocacy group for kids in a public school sector where most of the decisions are made both by and for adults (disclosure: I recently joined Stand’s local advisory board). For this election cycle, Stand both contributed money and developed an endorsement strategy that reached across party lines to find candidates whom its members believed were true education champions for children.

For Stand, party affiliation means little — it is the impact on the educational prospects and outcomes for kids that matters. Stand screened a number of candidates, with final endorsements contingent on a super-majorty vote of its members (a far more collaborative method to determine support than most organizations).  Stand eventually supported 18 candidates for Colorado’s legislature (a mix of 12 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 1 Unaffiliated). On the dawn after Tuesday’s election eve, fully 15 of the 18 candidates will be in the legislature for the next session.

Stand’s singleminded focus on outcomes for kids rather than the interests of adults makes for shifting alliances: Stand and the Colorado Education Association (CEA) agreed on 8 candidates, 7 of whom won. However there were also four candidates that Stand supported and CEA opposed, three of whom won.

Election reformers had reasons to celebrate further up the ticket as well, with the narrow election of former DPS Superintendent Bennet, whose organization produced a remarkable GOTV effort that seems to have picked up where his personal shoe leather campaign for Manual left off.  In fact, if there is a unknown variable in Colorado’s post-election education reform algorithm, it is probably future Governor Hickenlooper, whose education policy statements have been bland and inconsequential — a reflection of a campaign where a viable strategy was not to draw too much attention to himself while his opponents cut each other into smaller and smaller pieces.

Where — and to what extent — Hickenlooper decides to pursue a specific education agenda is still a very open question.

Education has been mentioned as a potential wedge issue to separate Democrats.  But this survival of Colorado’s pro-reform Democrats in what may be the toughest partisan election in their careers makes that claim hollow.  Instead, it seems like education — mentioned specifically by President Obama as one of the areas where he hopes to find common ground with the new Congress — can serve as a meeting place for sanity, somewhere in between the conservative Scylla’s who wish to abolish the Department of Education and the liberal Charybdis’s who fight any change to the failing status quo.

Perhaps the group who emerged with the least amount of bruises, and the most hope, from the torrid Colorado campaign season are those who are still too young to vote.

Popularity: 6% [?]

A concise summary of education legislation

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Hear Education News Colorado Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl on Colorado Public Radio’s Colorado Matters program, analyzing how education fared in the just-concluded session of the State Legislature.

Popularity: 1% [?]

EdNews’ Todd Engdahl talks bills

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Listen to EdNews’ own Todd Engdahl on the Colorado Public Radio program Colorado Matters, discussing big bills still undecided in the 2010 legislative session.

Popularity: 1% [?]

A parallax view on SB 191

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

With Mike Johnston’s teacher evaluation bill headed towards a vote later today, the heightened rhetoric has now eclipsed the likely impact.  For while I wholeheartedly support this bill, I also think the fevered opinion has given it a prominence that overshadows its relative ability to produce significant change.

With the rising antagonism between supporters and opponents, both sides went for the jugular: CEA publicly attacking Commissioner Dwight Jones and flexing its substantial lobbying muscle, while supporters enlisted the cumulative wisdom of the past 36 years of Colorado governors as well as district superintendents from Mapleton, Harrison, Denver and Aurora. In order to pass/block the bill, both sides must argue to its greatest possible impact. The end result is to inflate SB 191 to an elevated importance that no single proposal could possibly merit.

For if the bill passes (without too much change), it is both unlikely to be either a panacea leading to better educational outcomes for students, or the sudden arrival of nuclear winter for teachers. In truth, SB 10-191 is only one part of the institutional changes we need concerning teachers in public education, and in my view is probably of lesser importance than some related areas.  If this is the only evolutionary step we make for education reform, we are unlikely to crawl out of our current muck and rise to our feet.

To improve the quality of teaching, we need three primary changes (and a lot of secondary ones): First, find a way to move bad teachers out of the classroom. Second, retain the outstanding teachers who voluntarily leave the profession.  And third, widen the pool of potential hires so that we can recruit the best possible candidates into the classroom. Now don’t misunderstand, there are a lot of other tasks — many of these district-related policies that prevent current teachers from being able to do their best work (I have long believed that we have better teachers than we have teaching, due to various impediments). But at a macro level, we need to address these three issues first.

Even rough numbers should help us gauge relative importance.  Colorado hires between 6,500 and 7,000 new teachers annually.  Of these, roughly 50 percent do not progress beyond their 5th year.  In contrast, the number of teachers who are likely to be “evaluated” out of the classroom is far smaller than the number of either better candidates that we might attract, or retaining the best teachers who leave. For without the ability to replace bad teachers with better ones, evaluating teachers out of the classroom will accomplish virtually nothing. While SB 191 may be a substantial change to the teaching profession, by itself it is unlikely to have significant change on educational outcomes for students.

SB 10-191 — laudable and important as it is — only directly tackles the problem of removing bad teachers (although it might help marginally with retention).  Now we all know there are teachers who should not be teaching, but in comparison to recruitment and retention, I think these numbers are fairly small.  My guess is that even if this bill is applied as aggressively as possible, the percentage of teachers affected will be in the small single digits. The impact of SB 10-191, by itself, is unlikely to move the needle of student achievement across the State.

What else should we do?  I’d posit two approaches.

To retain the outstanding teachers who leave the profession, we need to start by abolishing the collective bargaining agreement’s single salary schedule.  In no other profession are the best performers in an industry confined to being compensated at the same rate as their average (or below-average) peers. Most of the people testifying in support or against 191 have achieved professional distinction, and are both recognized and compensated for their accomplishments.  We need to extend to our best teachers the same respect. SB 10-191 may help us better recognize these top performers, but they are unlikely to remain in the profession without accompanying incentives (and this should start with, but not be limited to salaries).

In addition, we need to phase out teacher certification, which serves primarily as an artificial barrier that discourages potential teachers and diverts resources that could be better applied.  Programs like Teach For America and the New Teacher Project have shown no substantive difference between traditional teacher certification and alternative (and usually far less extensive and expensive) methods.

Other avenues of preparation should be offered – both TFA and NTP programs, and expanded teacher residencies, which provide hands-on experience and mentoring. The requirement for teacher certification, and the related increase in pay for advanced degrees with no correlation with teacher quality, primary results in tuition dollars and a transfer of wealth to schools of education that provide little to no value to K-12 students.  While it has been a few years since Art Levine’s seminal report on teacher education, little has changed.

Funding these changes will be hard, but not impossible.  Districts spend considerable amounts on new hires; reducing attrition will eventually have a positive impact on budgets.  But to start, redeploy the salary dollars we have away from fixed raises for seniority and professional certification to instead recognize outstanding teachers as determined by school leadership (which would incorporate, but not be limited by the evaluation procedures in SB 10-191).

Secondly, pursue policies that shift the substantial dollars provided to schools of education into residency and alternative training programs.  Meaningless academic educational programs – most at private universities — suck millions of dollars in tuition and valuable time directly from teachers.  This is a billion-dollar industry that provides limited value — a remarkable waste of resources in the struggle to improve public education.

Prospective teachers should be given a choice between paying for these programs – often highly expensive, particularly given teacher starting salaries – and contributing to residency and other programs (which would also provide jobs upon successful program completion).

So, in the heightened shadow of SB 10-191, here is a modest proposal: migrate teacher preparation from mandatory certification to alternative and residency programs, shifting tuition dollars that enrich private universities to public school systems.  Abolish the single salary structure, using the premium formerly paid for advanced degrees to reward outstanding teachers for the achievements in the classroom.

And in the wake of what I think will be the successful passage of a mostly-whole SB 10-191, do not, for one minute, think that the effort to improve public education in Colorado has taken more than a small step forward, with a long distance still to travel.

Popularity: 9% [?]

Four Colo. governors endorse Johnston’s bill

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

This is a big deal, since we’re talking Democrats and a Republican. Click here to see the endorsement or read it below:


By Richard Lamm, Roy Romer, Bill Owens and Bill Ritter

Over the 36 years we collectively governed this state, the four of us have disagreed over a number of issues. Today we join together to enthusiastically support Senate Bill 191, Sen. Mike Johnston’s proposal to help Colorado develop great teachers and leaders. With one voice, we passionately urge the legislature to pass this bill.

As governors, we each worked to improve public schools because we know a high quality education
system is the key to Colorado’s economic future. Today’s education is tomorrow’s prosperity.

Colorado is honored to have many great teachers. We are in awe at their dedication and hard work, but the current system does not distinguish between effective and ineffective educators. It does not take the crucial step to link evaluations to actual impact on student growth. At a time when we have the tools to measure performance, this is a mistake. A recent influential study (The Teacher Quality Crisis) found that 43 percent of the variance in student achievement is based on teacher effectiveness, only slightly less than the 49 percent influence of home and family.

We know principal and teacher effectiveness counts—a lot. Any new system should be designed to
identify our most effective teachers and principals so we can learn from their success. It must create
good feedback for educators so they can improve, and it should identify teachers who are not bolstering student achievement. We believe it honors all of the great teachers and leaders across the state to recognize that we have uneven teacher and principal quality, and we should use the evaluation process to improve performance.

Great teachers and principals set high expectations for students and maintain a rigorous learning
environment and actively engage students and their families. They carefully plan each unit based on the standards they want to see their students reach, they use assessments on a daily basis to figure out what students know and what they still need to know, and their students master the material in front of them. Similarly, the new Colorado Growth Model will take into account each student’s starting line. We seek a system that measures progress and is fair to both teacher and student. Sen. Johnston’s legislation proposes:

• The current satisfactory/unsatisfactory evaluation system would shift to a multi‐step ranking.
• Student achievement would become a substantial part of the evaluations.
• Principals would be evaluated on both the effectiveness of their teachers and overall school growth.
• New, probationary teachers would need strong evaluations and student growth to receive non-probationary status.
• Teachers will need to continue to demonstrate effectiveness to keep their non‐probationary status.
• High‐performing teachers and principals could have access to career ladders that would offer additional pay for additional responsibility that could support all educators in improvement.
• All hiring would be done by mutual consent, so no teacher is forced into a placement she doesn’t want and no principal or team of teachers are forced to accept a teacher who does not fit their program.

This bill also offers protections to ensure fairness and effectiveness. Evaluations are linked to how much a student has grown, not to their final score, so there is no penalty to teachers and principals who work with struggling students. There is an adequate timeline to ensure the system is developed collaboratively, continually refined and implemented responsibly. There are strong provisions to protect local control by letting districts choose assessments without forcing them to spend scarce resources to build them anew.

Collectively, we have signed hundreds of education‐related bills over our time. We all shared the same goal of improving student achievement. There have been some powerful changes in the Colorado public school landscape as a result of previous reforms, and at this time no proposal has greater promise for transforming education in Colorado than Senate Bill 10‐191. That is why we join forces today to call on the legislature to do what’s best for Colorado’s kids and support SB 191.

Richard Lamm was the 38th governor of Colorado (1975-1987); Roy Romer was the
39th governor of Colorado (1987-1999); and Bill Owens was the 40th governor of Colorado
(1999-2007); Bill Ritter, Jr. is the 41st Governor of Colorado.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Where’s the urgency?

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I will leave it to others to debate the fine points of Mike Johnston’s Senate Bill 10-191, also known as the teacher evaluation and tenure bill. Read the wide range of comments, pro and con, on our web site and blog for some thought-provoking debate. In particular, Robert Reichardt and Rona Wilensky wrote blog posts that level pointed criticism at the bill.

But as I read Todd Engdahl’s Education News Colorado story on amendments, and Jeremy Meyer’s Denver Post story on Gov. Bill Ritter’s support for the revised bill, I marvel yet again at how difficult it is to make real progress on important issues in this day and age. Sometimes you have to pull back, look at the bigger picture and gain some perspective. In this case, what you see is depressing.

Let’s face it: the Colorado Education Association is about as likely to support this bill, in whatever form, as Republicans were to support health care reform. So why waste any time trying to placate an obstinately self-interested organization? Delaying full implementation until the 2014-15 school year just increases the likelihood that unforeseen factors will intervene and doom its implementation.

The CEA will push hard to weaken the bill and to stall it, until it dies or becomes so diluted that it’s meaningless. Meanwhile, the current system, which everyone admits is dysfunctional, will continue to serve children badly.

No, the bill isn’t perfect — far from it. Major change is hard, and there will need to be improvements, modifications and/or enhancements. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, or wait forever to make a bold move. I am continually amazed and appalled by the lack of urgency displayed by people who should — and do — know better.

CEA President Bev Ingle is a nice woman, and a member of the board of the organization for which I work. But I must take issue with her op-ed column in today’s Post. Her column employs the kitchen sink approach to opposing Johnston’s bill. It’s too expensive. It’s an unfunded mandate. The timeline (pre-amendents) is too rushed. It won’t help Colorado win round two of Race to the Top.

Why not just come out and say it: The CEA does not want teachers evaluated based on standardized test scores, even using a growth model, which sets a lower bar than using “status.” I’ll tell you why CEA won’t come out and say it: Because that sounds just as bad as it is.

Just watch: Either a Republican will win the governorship this fall or the GOP will gain control of the Colorado House or Senate. Then a much harsher bill will get crammed down the throat of the CEA, whose members will wish their leadership had been a bit more enlightened when this relatively modest bill was proposed.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Legislative preview 2010

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Todd Engdahl, EdNews Capitol Editor, gives a sneak preview of the upcoming legislative session and likely education legislation. A detailed story will be posted this weekend on EdNews.

Popularity: 1% [?]

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