Who Is In Charge

Seeking state-local balance on evaluations

A central issue in Colorado’s year-old educator effectiveness law – the amount of flexibility school districts should have in evaluating teachers – was at the forefront Wednesday as the State Board of Education discussed rules for implementing the law.

The board got its first formal look at the 30 pages of draft regulations for implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness law that requires annual evaluations of principals and teachers, basing 50 percent of evaluations on student growth and removing teachers from non-probationary status if they receive two ineffective evaluations.

“This is an exciting day, an historic day,” noted Deputy Commissioner Diana Sirko.

A key issue in the draft regulations is whether districts should opt in or opt out of the model system to be developed by the state. The draft rules were prepared by Department of Education staff and are based on the recommendations of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness.

Teacher evaluationCDE is recommending that each district “shall implement the state model system” unless a district has developed its own system that meets requirements set by the department.

Sirko said a district “can use their own system; they just need to clearly demonstrate how it aligns” with state requirements.

“I think you’ve arrived at a very appropriate compromise,” said board member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District.

But Michelle Murphy, a lawyer who works for the Colorado Association of School Boards, told the board that requiring an opt-out evaluation system “is an issue of real concern for CASB.”

She argued that state law assigns different roles to CDE and to districts, with the state responsible for creating an overall framework for educator evaluations and districts allowed to design evaluation systems that meet their individual needs.

“There’s a critical difference between guidance … and technical requirements” issued by the state, Murphy said. She added that CASB feels an opt-out model system “clearly seems to exceed the authority granted by the legislature. … We’re not a one-size-fits all state.

“The local districts, the local communities need to have the right to develop their own systems.”

Berman said she didn’t quite see the problem Murphy was raising, saying districts are “asking, they’re begging for a model they can adopt.”

District flexibility has been an issue since the legislature was debating the effectiveness bill during the 2010 session. While school districts have a substantial measure of local control under the state constitution, one goal of the effectiveness law is to create a system of evaluations that would measure teacher effectiveness in comparable ways district to district. The hope is that a district would be assured a teacher was truly “highly effective” or “effective” when hiring that person from another district.

CASB has supported the effectiveness law since it was being debated in the legislature. But, as the association did raise concerns about local flexibility during the deliberations of the effectiveness council over the last year.

The proposed regulations cover several broad areas: definitions of effectiveness, quality standards and performance ratings for principals and for teachers, duties of local districts, CDE duties and the role of students and parents in evaluation. The regulations eventually will contain rules for evaluation of other licensed professionals (counselors, librarians, etc.), but language hasn’t yet been drafted on that subject.

In addition to the local control question, some other key issues facing the board include exactly how to define the first teacher quality standard, which requires teachers demonstrate knowledge of the content they teach; the specific definition of student growth and how districts will be permitted to measure it, and how CDE will monitor districts’ compliance with the law.

The proposed rules contain the four levels of principal and teacher effectiveness recommended by the council: Ineffective, partially effective, effective and highly effective.

Paula Noonan, a Jefferson County board member who testified Wednesday, suggested that the state board might want to consider at least five levels, to make the system easier to use for districts that want to tie evaluation to compensation. She said that’s Jeffco’s intention.

Here’s a look at some other provisions in the rules:

  • Probationary teachers would receive at least two observations and one written evaluation a year.
  • Written evaluations would have to be presented to employees no later than two weeks before the end of the school year.
  • Every principal would have a professional performance plan.
  • Districts would be required to set up Advisory Personnel Performance Evaluation Councils made up of administrators, teachers and citizens. District and school accountability committees would also have advisory roles in the new system.
  • Evaluators would have to have training, and teachers could serve as evaluators.
  • Districts would be “encouraged” to involve parents in their evaluation systems and “encouraged … when appropriate” to use student survey data as part of the “multiple measures” of effectiveness that will be used to evaluate teachers.

Charter schools, for the most part, would be exempt from the law, which applies to licensed teachers. Charters don’t have to hire licensed teachers, but Sirko said schools probably will have to detail in their charters how they are meeting the intent of the effectiveness law.

Some major elements of the new evaluation structure remain to be fleshed out, including detailed evaluation scoring systems, an appeals process for teachers who receive “ineffective” ratings and the system for measuring student growth in subjects that aren’t included in the CSAP tests.

Some of those things will be fleshed out based on what happens during a pilot period, when evaluation system trial runs will be held in about half a dozen districts. That process starts this fall and runs through July 2013.

The state board is required to issue final regulations this autumn, and they will be reviewed by the legislature early in 2012.

DPS innovation plans approved

The state board unanimously approved innovation status for three Denver schools, including High Tech Early College, Collegiate Prep Academy and the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning at Wyman. The first two schools are part of the district’s reorganization effort in Far Northeast Denver.

The three innovation applications were approved by DPS board May 19 on split votes.

The three schools approved Wednesday, as well as three others approved earlier this spring, are controversial because of the issue of faculty involvement in innovation applications. The state innovation law requires majority faculty sign-off on an innovation application. But, because these schools are new and don’t have existing faculties, there have been no votes. Instead, teachers applying for jobs at the schools have been informed of the innovation plans and told accepting them is a requirement for being hired.

The Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association has said it plans to file a lawsuit challenging those innovation designations.

Among other things, innovation status gives schools freedom from various personnel rules and procedures, greater control over budgets and freedom to choose curriculums.

Hope Online wins two appeals

Elaine Gantz Berman
State Board of Education member Elaine Gantz-Berman, D-1st District.
The state board voted 4-3 to grant two appeals by the Hope Online charter system. Hope, which is supervised by the Douglas County schools, sought to force the Eaton and Harrison schools districts to sign memoranda of understanding with it.

Hope operates brick-and-mortar “learning centers” as part of its online program, but state law requires school districts where learning centers are located to have the MOUs with online schools. Eaton and Harrison had declined to sign understandings with Hope.

The board votes require the two districts to negotiate such memos with Hope.

The vote split on partisan lines, with Republicans Bob Schaffer, 4th District; Marcia Neal, 3rd District; Debora Scheffel, 6th District, and Paul Lundeen, 5th District, voting for Hope. Democrats Berman, Jane Goff, 7th District, and Angelika Schroeder, 2nd District, voted no.

Berman said she voted no because of concerns about the academic quality of Hope. “I’m not in favor of poor quality online programs.”

Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning acknowledged that “we have a challenge” with the student growth scores of all online programs in the state and that “Hope is probably in the middle of the pack.”

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.