Who Is In Charge

Effectiveness council still getting organized

The State Council for Educator Effectiveness is considering ramping up its meeting schedule to handle the work assigned it by the state’s groundbreaking new educator evaluation law.

The council held its fifth meeting Wednesday, but the panel is still struggling with organizational issues.

Members did agree to an “initial draft” of a teacher effectiveness definition and began discussion of more-detailed quality standards for teachers.

And, education Commissioner Dwight Jones dropped by to give the group a brief pep talk.

“Thank you for doing this important work,” Jones said. “I sure plan to get more engaged … just to listen and offer any support where you think it might be helpful.”

Jones noted that the council’s duties expanded when Senate Bill 10-191 was passed after the council was created. He encouraged members to challenge their “core beliefs” as they do their work.

“The governor’s very interested in what ultimately is going to come out of this council,” Jones also said. (Gov. Bill Ritter, who originally created the council and appointed its members, will be out of office by the time the group makes its recommendations to the State Board of Education next March.)

A significant part of the discussion Wednesday focused on organizational issues.

Members recently filled out a survey about the council’s work, and co-chair Matt Smith noted the survey found “a frustration that the council’s work wasn’t moving as rapidly as some would like.” Smith is an executive with United Launch Alliance.

Smith also noted members have varying opinions about how much of the group’s work should be done by the whole council and how much should be done in small groups.

“I’m not sure the meeting structure we have … is going to get us where we want to go,” said Tracy Dorland, director of teacher effectiveness for the Denver Public Schools.

The group discussed whether to meet more often than once a month and whether to hold a multi-day meeting in the fall.

“The more time we spend in one shot, the more we’re going to get accomplished,” said Margaret Crespo, principal of John Evans Middle School in Weld County.

Dwight Jones and Matt Smith
Eduation Commissioner Dwight Jones (left) gave a pep talk to the State Council for Educator Effectiveness on July 21. Co-chair Matt Smith (right) led the discussion about the body's pending organizational issues.

Smith finally suggested having small groups do preparatory work for full-group sessions, meeting twice in September and twice in October and holding a retreat sometime in the fall. The details are to put in writing and circulated among members for approval.

Nine of the council’s 15 members attended the monthly session. One of the council’s four teacher members was present, and the council’s two school board members and one superintendent were absent. (Council members were appointed from various segments of the education community.)

The council also spent considerable time discussing an initial definition of teacher effectiveness, with members going back and forth on elements that should be included and the level of detail a definition should include.

As a starting point, members finally settled on five core elements used by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Those are:

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
  • Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students.
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
  • Teachers are members of learning communities.

Under the requirements of SB 10-191, the council has until March 1 to make recommendations to SBE on definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness, different levels of effectiveness, permitted differentiation of evaluations, testing and implementation of new evaluation systems, appeals processes, parent involvement and on costs of the new system.

The council is being advised by a 22-member volunteer Technical Advisory Group, which reviews education research and prepares documents for the council. Co-chair Nina Lopez, a CDE executive, noted Wednesday that the exact details of the working relationship between the two groups still are being ironed out.

The state board will have until Sept. 1, 2011, to adopt regulations and also is allowed to make decisions on any issues on which the council doesn’t act. And those SBE regulations will be subject to legislative review.

If the whole process plays out as planned, the law won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-14 school year (detailed background on SB 10-191).

Council webpage with minutes, current meeting schedule and full list of minutes

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.