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Licensing study group works to find its footing

The 35-member panel that’s studying state teacher preparation and licensing policies spent its second full meeting chewing on problems like teacher supply and retention, as well as wondering where to go next.

What’s called the LEAD Compact Working Group, launched by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mike Johnston, is supposed to come up with suggestions for teacher licensing legislation expected to be introduced during the 2014 legislative session.

The daylong discussion during a Tuesday meeting at the University of Colorado Denver sparked lots of comment about the purposes of formal teacher preparation and licensing.

Chris Gibbons, CEO of STRIVE Preparatory Schools, framed the issue this way: Either the state has to raise the bar for entry to teaching to make sure a license ensures readiness to work, or the state has to give schools more hiring flexibility. As a charter operator, Gibbons said his preference is to “lower barriers and sort it out at the hiring stage.”

Ken DeLay, who represents a different constituency as executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, pretty much took the same view. “Quality is a matter for the employer to figure out.”

Johnston sounded the same note. “We’re never going to be able to develop a statewide system of screening” that’s as effective as good local ones. (The Denver Democrat is expected to be the driving force behind any 2014 legislation. He drafted a bill for the 2013 session but didn’t introduce it. He leans toward greater teacher hiring flexibility and also is interested in tying license renewal to results of teacher evaluations.)

There also was some disagreement over whether Johnston’s 2013 draft bill is supposed to be the starting point for the committee’s work or not. Tony Lewis, executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, argued that it is. Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, said, “I thought we were starting from scratch.” Lewis isn’t a member of the group but sits in on the meetings because his foundation is partly funding the effort.

(It’s been made clear from the start that the panel’s working is to be completely advisory to Johnston and other lawmakers who may introduce legislation.)

As the discussion wandered at mid-afternoon, Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, tried to buck up fellow panel members. “We’re in the muck right now,” she said, noting such discussions are unavoidably messy. “I trust we’re going to come through it. … I think we all agree we have a problem, but we don’t identify the problem in the same way.”

“It’s kind of a messy, organic process,” agreed facilitator Janesse Brewer.