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Hick, Bennet join NCLB reform push

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet Tuesday enlisted in the Obama administration’s campaign to reform the No Child Left Behind law, telling Colorado reporters that change in the law can’t wait.

Along with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the two participated in a conference call with Colorado reporters with as part of the administration’s campaign for a major overhaul of the law, signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

The administration released its detailed plans for what’s also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on Sunday – Links to documents. And Duncan and President Obama touted their plans during an event at a Maryland middle school on Monday – Video of Obama speech and link to text.

Opening Tuesday’s conference call, Duncan cited Colorado education reforms and praised Hickenlooper and Bennet for “their extraordinary courage” on education issues.

Bennet served as then-Mayor Hickenlooper’s chief of staff before becoming Denver schools superintendent and later being appointed to the Senate by Gov. Bill Ritter. Hickenlooper and Bennet were elected to their seats in November.

The governor said to Duncan, “I cannot express how much we appreciate your sense of urgency … in a very real way we’re losing a generation of kids.”

Bennet picked up on the same theme, saying, “I look forward to working (with the administration) to make sure we can move this along.”

Duncan said there’s “a lot we have to fix” in NCLB, called it “very punitive in nature” with “no real rewards for success.”

Hickenlooper cited his proposed Education Leadership Council and implementation of the educator effectiveness law, which passed before he became governor, as key Colorado initiatives.

He didn’t mention the $332 million cut he’s proposed in K-12 spending, but reporters brought that up during a question-and-answer session.

“These budget cuts aren’t anybody’s first choice or anybody’s second or third choice,” the governor said. He said that in recent meetings with teachers “there was a clear willingness to stepping up and doing what they need to do” to improve the state’s schools. “This is a hard time. This requires everybody to pull together and find ways to do more with less.”

Hickenlooper added, “I do think we are close to a tipping point” that will see significant school improvement in the next few years.

Key elements of the administration’s proposed NCLB overhaul include:

  • Improved tests
  • School measurements that focus on student growth, not the pass-fail grading system of NCLB, under which 82 percent of U.S. schools are expected to fail
  • Encouraging states to adopt college and career readiness standards
  • Investment in state and local efforts to improve curriculum and allowing subjects in addition to reading and math to be included in accountability systems
  • More flexibility in school improvement strategies
  • Incentives for putting effective teachers in the schools that need them most
  • Elimination of unnecessary federal mandates
  • Competitive grant programs for teacher improvement, extending time spent in school, new tests and other programs
  • Investment in “ambitious efforts” to improve the lowest-performing schools
  • Support for reforms specifically tailored to rural schools

See Department of Education fact sheet about the proposals and a video of the president explaining his goals.

Many of the proposals match Colorado reforms passed in the last three years, including:

  • The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which led to new state content standards and definitions of school readiness and college and workforce readiness and which calls for new state tests and alignment of high school preparation and college entrance requirements.
  • The new state accountability system, launched last August, which bases ratings of schools and districts to the Colorado Growth Model.
  • Last year’s educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 10-191, the rules for which are still being drafted but which will ultimately tie 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations to student growth and change the procedures for how teachers gain – and lose – tenure.

No major K-12 reform bills have been proposed in the 2011 legislature, which is heavily focused on the proposed education budget cuts forced by declining state and local revenues.

The centerpiece of education policy during the first two years of the Obama administration was the Race to the Top competition, which awarded grants to a handful of states for various reform initiatives. Colorado applied twice but finished out of the running both times.

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