Today’s release of the 2014 TCAP scores sent members of the State Board of Education into a philosophical discussion that highlighted the group’s longstanding ideological divisions about education reform.
Member Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver kicked off the discussion, calling the results “very, very troubling” and saying the history of relatively flat CSAP and TCAP results “is even more troubling that I imagined previously.” Berman is a Democrat and a former DPS board member who’s on the advisory committee of committee of Democrats for Education Reform – Colorado.
“If we really want to see some significant improvement, what’s it going to take?” she asked education Commissioner Robert Hammond. (See this story for more details on what Hammond and other Department of Education leaders thought about the test results.)
After Hammond and other CDE brass talked about department efforts, board member Marcia Neal of Grand Junction came in with another thought.
“There’s one element nobody’s talking about,” she said. “Students not taking responsibility for their own actions. … We teach them very early on that minimum work is OK in many cases. To me that is one of the really big missing pieces.” Republican Neal is a retired schoolteacher and former local board member who often is a swing vote on the board.
Member Deb Scheffel of Parker responded to Berman in a different way. “We’re going to continue to get these kind of results if we continue a regulatory approach to reform,” she said. “Students and parents need more choice. … We really need a different model, a different funding model so that money follows kids.” Scheffel is dean of the School of Education at Colorado Christian University.
“I second that,” murmured member Pam Mazanec of Larkspur, a Republican who’s been active in the Dougco school district.
Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder suggested the board should perhaps take a closer look at the performance of choice schools, and Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada commented, “I can’t say that I have seen eye-popping examples of innovation” at non-traditional schools. Schroeder is a former college accounting professor, and Goff is retired Jeffco teacher and administrator.
“We’ve had decades to do it this way,” Mazanec said. “We’ve never tried the choice model. … I’d really like to give that one a try. I don’t know for sure if we’d get better results, but we’d have happier parents.”
Berman defended her own choice credentials, noting the extensive choices available in DPS but wondered about the diversity of many charter schools. “Deb, how many low-income kids of color go to those schools?” (Berman was referring to four charter schools whose students posted high ACT scores.)
“We need more schools like that so [those students] can go to them,” Scheffel responded.
Berman rocked her fellow board members a bit when she replied, “White parents will take their kids out [of choice schools] because they don’t want their kids to be with kids of color.”
Republican chair Paul Lundeen of Monument generally sides with Scheffel and Mazanec, and he did say, “I think we’re a regulatory track, and we’re trying to regulate our way out of this situation.” He said good schools aren’t rewarded and failing ones aren’t punished “like in the marketplace.”
But he tried to calm the situation, saying, “Let’s do this at another time” and praising Berman’s “eloquent and wonderful” remarks. “I respect very deeply your feedback.”
He and Berman went back and forth a bit more about choice until Lundeen said, “I don’t know exactly where the board would like to go with this conversation,” adding that the group wasn’t “in a position to give specific direction” to CDE right now.
Another ideological discussion avoided – or delayed
Another item on the board’s Thursday agenda was a Lundeen-proposed resolution strongly criticizing the planned new framework for the Advanced Placement U.S. History class and test. The resolution criticized the framework because it allegedly “emphasizing negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects,” among other alleged lapses. (Get more details in this Chalkbeat story.)
But Lundeen pulled the resolution off the agenda, saying other members had asked him for more time to think about it and that it might come up again at SBE’s September meeting.
The resolution was criticized by academics and school district officials. See this letter from University of Colorado history professor Fred Anderson for an example of that reaction. Fritz Fischer, director of history education at the University of Northern Colorado, sent this letter.