What does a Colorado kid need to know to successfully move from high school to college, other training or the workforce?
Teams of Colorado educators and others think they’ve managed to answer that question in three pages that list the content knowledge and learning and life skills necessary for what’s called in current jargon “postsecondary and workforce readiness.” (The unavoidable acronym is “PWR.”)
Creation of that document is required by the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids law, which calls for descriptions of school and postsecondary/workforce readiness, new K-12 content standards, new statewide tests, adoption of high school graduation requirements by school boards and general alignment of the K-12 and postsecondary systems.
The State Board of Education got a look at an almost-final version of the PWR description Wednesday. The board and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education will meet together on June 30 to jointly adopt a final version. (Further tweaking is expected before that meeting.)
In broad terms, the document lists the content skills high school graduates should have in literacy, math, science, social science and the arts and humanities. The description also lists learning and life skills in nine areas. (For more details, see the diagram on this page and the link below to the full document.)
According to the description, “Postsecondary education and workforce readiness assumes that students are ready to demonstrate the following without the need for remediation.”
Some may see the document as a statement of the obvious, but it’s meant to provide the broad guidelines for the more detailed requirements of CAP4K. Those include a total update of state content standards, due to be finished and approved by SBE in December, and selection of new state tests by December 2010. Following that school districts will have to align graduation requirements and curricula to the new state system.
The PWR description was developed by staff at the departments of education and higher education. Several public meetings on the issue were held around the state, and various K-12, higher ed and business groups also were consulted.
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SBE cautious about national standards
Some board members Wednesday raised some concerns about the current push for national content standards.
Gov. Bill Ritter and education Commissioner Dwight Jones last month enlisted Colorado in a 49-state effort to develop common K-12 core content standards in English and math.
The project is organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers. National standards, at least voluntary ones, have drawn increasing interest recently as part of the broader debate about improving achievement and making American education more competitive internationally. (Go here for more information from the NGA.)
Member Marcia Neal, R-3rd District, remarked that the project “was not well met” by several people she had talked to in her district. “The idea that we would do this … kind of blew my mind,” Neal said, adding that she thinks the board should pass a resolution saying Colorado won’t be bound to adopt any eventual national standards.
Jones was quick to note that “just because we joined the effort … we are not bound to participate.” (Jones’ June 1 news release about the project did specify, “engagement in the effort in no way forms an obligation to adopt the proposed common core standards but potentially provides a way to leverage the good work already underway in the state.)
SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, noted that such voluntary national changes have a way of turning into federal requirements. “It’s easy to say we’re not obligated” now, Schaffer said, but there could be problems down the road if national standards tied to federal money emerge. He cited No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top portion of the stimulus as examples.
So, Schaffer said, it wouldn’t hurt to pass a resolution. Member Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, agreed. Neal is expected to prepare a draft for consideration at the board’s August meeting.
Member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, was skeptical, saying, “We can’t speculate on what’s going to happen 10 years from now.”
A few words on school finance
The board took a few minutes in a packed agenda to meet with members of the legislative interim committee that will study the school finance system this summer and fall.
Board members had several pieces of advice.
“What we’re doing now isn’t going to get us” to significant education improvement, DeHoff said, urging finance reform but warning, “There is not this huge pot of money out there.”
“I really think you have an incredible opportunity … to make some pretty big changes,” said Gantz Berman. “Everything needs to be on the table,” including Amendment 23.
Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, urged the committee to take a look at the cost of state-imposed mandates on school districts.
There also was brief discussion of outcome-based funding – supporting education based on student results rather than just enrollment and school days.
Schaffer urged the lawmakers to think “outside the box” but warned that interim committee recommendations often get drastically changed in the full legislature.
Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, had a blunt piece of advice about controlling education costs. “No new education bills – stop,” she told lawmakers in the audience.