CEA won’t sign on for round 2 of R2T

CEA President Beverly Ingle

This article was updated Thursday with reaction from education Commissioner Dwight Jones and this link to the CEA radio ad against the proposed bill.

The Colorado Education Association is withholding support from the state’s application to win up to $175 million in round two of the national Race to the Top competition.

Tony Salazar, the CEA’s executive director, told the state’s education commissioner in a letter Tuesday that the 40,000-member union was angry over remarks that appeared in the Denver Post on Monday.

In a commentary, Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones expressed support for a bill introduced by state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, that would overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system and tie student achievement to decisions about pay, retention and dismissal.

Jones wrote that he believed passing Johnston’s bill “might boost our chances in the second round” of the Race grant competition.

Jones alluded to the CEA’s letter during a briefing to the State Board of Education Thursday morning.

“We may have our work cut out for us [with] our unions across the state,” Jones said. “I don’t know if that decision [to not participate in R2T] is final. I’ll continue to have discussions.”

The commissioner said he hopes the CEA will see that the R2T bid is more important than its differences with him over the column he wrote supporting Senate Bill 191.

“I was surprised to see how closely you link the legislation to the pending success of Colorado’s Phase 2 Race to the Top application,” Salazar wrote to Jones. “As long as you are tying Colorado’s Race to the Top success to Senator Johnston’s legislation, we are unable to remain partners in the Phase 2 effort.”

The CEA wrote a letter of support for the state’s application in the first round of the Race competition, seeking millions of dollars to jump-start education reform efforts across the state. Colorado was one of 16 finalists in round 1 but only Delaware and Tennessee were named winners.

But even with the statewide union’s support, only 41 percent of local unions agreed to participate in initiatives outlined in the application should Colorado be successful.

Deborah Fallin, CEA spokeswoman, said the statewide group is telling local affiliates “don’t commit” to anything for round 2, which has a June 1 deadline.

Fallin said the CEA might be willing to support the state’s application if it is no longer linked to Johnston’s bill, Senate Bill 191, or if the bill fails to pass into law.

“As long as these two things are linked, we can’t be on it because we are adamantly opposed to Senate Bill 191 and we are not going to participate if that is going to be everybody’s basis for what we’re going to do with Race to the Top,” she said.

“If those two become unlinked, or the bill doesn’t pass, we would certainly be willing to look at that process again. But right now, where things are, we can’t play.”

Salazar, in his letter to Jones, pointed out that teachers believe they have been unfairly scapegoated for the state’s placing 14 out of 16 finalists in the first round of Race to the Top.

Some observers initially criticized Colorado’s application as weak because it featured an appointed Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness to decide how to boost teacher and principal quality. Other states had more concrete plans, such as Tennessee, which passed a law requiring student achievement be used in teacher and principal evaluations.

But Colorado did not lose an inordinate number of points for its council, according to first-round scores. Its application received 47.6 points out of a possible 58 – or 82 percent of points possible – in the category of “Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance,” while the two winning states had scores of 50.4 and 53 in that category.

One of the five reviewers who scored Colorado’s application did note, “This plan relies on future recommendations, not yet specified, being made to the Governor and to the legislature regarding modifications to current state law.”

Colorado lost a higher percentage of points in categories such “Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals,” achieving 17.4 out of 25 points or 70 percent, and “Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals,” with 13.8 out of 21 points or 66 prcent. See a chart comparing the state’s points in every category with those of the winning states.

Still, the fact that fewer than half the state’s unions were willing to participate in Race reforms was cited several times at different points in the application.

“Successful state reform efforts must have the strong support of the local unions,” wrote another reviewer, citing the low participation rate.

Johnston’s bill keeps the Governor’s Council but shortens its timeline and includes provisions such as requiring teachers to have three years of demonstrated results improving student achievement before they receive tenure.

“The CEA stands firm in our support for the Governor’s Council,” Salazar wrote to Jones. “Shortcutting this process with political motivations to strip teachers of their rights does nothing to help build a better education system focused on teaching and learning.”

Salazar also said Jones should focus on “all areas of the state application that need improvement” in the Race second round.

The state’s current teacher evaluation system requires teachers be labeled either satisfactory or unsatisfactory and, in most large districts, nearly 100 percent are labeled satisfactory.

“The evaluation system we have now is, teachers call it a joke,” Fallin said. “We want a new credible, objective evaluation system.”

The CEA is vigorously fighting Johnston’s bill, which was introduced Monday. CEA President Beverly Ingle issued a press release calling it “too much, too fast.” See her comments here.

In the first round of the Race contest, “you stated that you were not willing to throw teachers under the bus,” Salazar said in his letter to Jones. “Your support of the Johnston bill and its linkage to Race to the Top does exactly that!”

Click on these links to see recent EdNews’ coverage of Johnston’s bill and of Colorado’s Race to the Top application. And click here to read the entry in Westword breaking this story.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”