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Reactions to SB 191 rules seem positive

The clock is ticking for the State Board of Education to adopt regulations for implementing the educator effectiveness law, and the last full public hearing on the issue drew a large crowd Wednesday.

In other action

  • Grad guidelines
  • School finance
  • NCLB waiver
  • Teacher licenses

The drafting process has been going on for months, often focused on debate over how much flexibility school districts should have in designing systems to evaluate principals and teachers.

The latest proposal (the third) by Colorado Department of Education staff was praised by witnesses on both sides of the debate, but several said the groups they represent want further tweaking of the rules’ language.

The board is scheduled to adopt rules at its November meeting.

Senate Bill 10-191 requires that principals and teachers be evaluated annually, that 50 percent of evaluations be based on student growth and experienced teachers who have ineffective ratings two years in a row lose their non-probationary status.

That all sounds good to many people in the Colorado education world but, as the cliché goes, the devil is in the details. The appointed State Council for Educator Effectiveness labored for more than a year to draft a detailed proposal for the new evaluation system, which CDE staff members and the board have been working on since last spring. (See this article for details of the council’s work.) The system won’t go into effect for three years, after extensive pilot testing in selected districts and likely further tweaking of the regulations.

A key element of the debate has been the degree to which districts will be able to deviate from a state model evaluation system. Many districts, led by the Colorado Association of School Boards, have argued for flexibility, while some teachers have urged a more uniform system.

In the first draft of the rules, CDE educrats proposed an “opt-out” system and later modified that in favor of more flexibility. The third draft, discussed at Wednesday’s hearing, proposes that district evaluation systems would have to “meet or exceed” state standards, and that districts would have to document their systems related to state standards.

“I think this first draft is a great start,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and prime author of the law. He was talking about the system of “assurances” CDE is proposing through which districts would demonstrate that their evaluation systems comply with the law. But, Johnston said, the rules need “some real teeth” to deal with districts whose systems don’t meet state standards.

Several other witnesses and one board member said they like the meet-or-exceed idea:

  • “I think you may have struck the balance.” – Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock and a SB 10-191 author.
  • “The latest draft of rules has come a long way.” – Amy Spicer, policy director of the reform group Stand for Children.
  • “I believe this supports the intent of local control to the extent that is practicable.” – Jerry Wilson, superintendent of the Poudre/Ft. Collins schools.
  • “I think meets or exceeds is much clearer.” – Member Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District.

Margaret Crespo, Thompson district secondary instruction director who’s a member of the educator effectiveness council, said that group “spent significant time struggling with the same issues” and would submit more detailed written comments before the state board’s November meeting.

Most of the witnesses had a “but” in their testimony, indicating CDE staff will be receiving plenty of additional advice before the board vote.

Once the board acts, the rules will be subject to review by the 2012 legislature. And it’s widely assumed that the regulations will be modified in the future based on the experience of the district pilot programs.

In other action

As has been the case for the last several meetings, the board crammed its work into a single day, making for a long session and short shrift for some discussions and presentations. Here are some thumbnails on other issues of interest:

Graduation guidelines: Another decision that’s bearing down on the board is adoption of state guidelines for high school graduation requirements.

“If this goes well, it will answer the question of what is the minimum value of a Colorado high school diploma,” Assistant Commissioner Jo O’Brien told the board.

The idea, she said, is that local districts will continue to set graduation requirements “as long as they meet or exceed the minimum standards for competency.”

But, she noted, because of the constitutional guarantee of local control, the state board can’t require specific courses or even set certain test scores to define competency.

O’Brien said she have “a series of options” for the board in November, ahead of a December decision.

Member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, was taken aback. “We’re told we can set proficiency guidelines, so what are we setting? … I don’t understand what guidelines we can actually set.”

Berman said, “This seems huge to me, and I’m not sure we’re devoting enough time to it.” The board already has packed agendas in November and December.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond acknowledged the time squeeze, saying “Let’s see what we can work out … and if we need to go back to the legislature” for an extension of time.

Colorado schools districts are all over the map on graduation requirements, as this slide show presented by O’Brien details.

School finance: Leeann Emm, CDE school finance chief, briefed the board on prospects for the 2012-13 state budget, saying, “We don’t know where they’re going to land, but there will be some kind of cut.”

Emm estimated statewide enrollment could be about 808,000 this year, after the Oct. 1 count is tallied, instead of the projection of 805,000 students used in the current budget.

Both Emm and Hammond said they don’t know what level of K-12 funding Gov. John Hickenlooper will propose when he releases his budget plan at the beginning of next month.

“I’ll be interested to see what the governor’s office brings out in November,” Emm said. “I’m unclear at this point if we’ll be able to fund any growth.”

She also said, “Our office has been cautioning districts to expect cuts in 2012-13 and to be very conservative in budgeting.”

Hammond noted that while districts are hurting financially, “my message has been” that continuation of implementing reform efforts such as the new teacher evaluation system “is non-negotiable.”

Legislative priorities: Board members spent some time word-smithing their 2012 legislative priorities. During discussion of the section on school finance, Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, made it clear “I don’t want any part” of any priority that would involve increasing taxes to fund education or, as he put it, “Fleecing taxpayers.”

NCLB waivers: Hammond told the board, “We believe we’re positioned for the first wave of waiver requests,” which are due to the federal Department of Education Nov. 14. The state is seeking a waiver from having to comply with NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirement so it can use just the Colorado accountability system to rate districts and schools and require improvement plans. Hammond said he feels Colorado will be among the first three or four states to receive a waiver.

Teacher licensing: The afternoon was waning and the members were flagging as CDE staff launched into a briefing on a new project to study how to improve the teacher licensing system and align it with new requirements for educator effectiveness.

Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education / File photo

Bob Schaffer, chair, State Board of Education / File photo

The discussion prompted Schaffer to say, “There’s absolutely no value in a teacher’s license in Colorado,” adding, “It tells you absolutely nothing” about a person’s actual teaching skills. His point was that as teacher preparation programs are improved and districts implement teacher evaluation systems, licenses might become superfluous.

Schroeder pointed out that lots of professions are licensed but that “a license has never been a guarantee of quality. … It really means they’ve jumped through a number of hoops.”

“It’s a debate we could have for a long time,” Schaffer said. They undoubtedly will later.