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Panelists: Results of education reform will take time

Centennial district Principal Curtis Garcia was among experts who discussed educational change at panel discussion.
Centennial district Principal Curtis Garcia was among experts who discussed educational change at panel discussion.
Colorado Education Initiative

“Let’s not give up on all the hard work,” Colorado education commissioner Robert Hammond told a Denver audience Thursday, predicting that education reforms enacted in the last six years ultimately will pay off in student achievement.

That sentiment was echoed by panelist Curtis Garcia, school principal in the 220-student Centennial district in the San Luis Valley. “We’re only a few years into some of this change. … I always argue for patience. Give us the time to invest where we know is right.”

The two participated in a panel discussion on student achievement sponsored by the Denver Business Journal and the Colorado Education Initiative. The other panelists were Aurora teacher Jessica Cuthbertson and Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds.

“This is probably the most interesting time to be in education,” Hammond said, noting the wave of major education laws passed in recent years, including requirements for new standards, tests, school accountability, student career and academic plans, and teacher evaluation. “All of that has transpired in the space of a few years.”

But, Hammond noted, “Just remember that last year was the first year our schools were teaching to the new standards.”

He added that the new standards are the centerpiece of educational improvement, saying, “We believe kids with high expectation will attain those expectations, but you need to start with high standards.”

Two sets of Colorado standards, language arts and math, incorporate the Common Core State Standards, which have come under increasing criticism, primarily from conservative groups.

Hammond noted that the state adopted its standards before the Common Core – “Colorado was ahead of the game” and said the “modification was very small.”

Cuthbertson said Colorado’s education system “needs is equitable funding. Some of the initiatives and reform efforts are great strides, but without equitable funding we can only go so far. That would be my plea for our legislature.”

Laband said the state needs to maintain momentum to improve schools – “Shine a bright light on what’s working and turn a bright light on what’s not.”

He said educational improvement is vital for the whole state. “Colorado’s kids right now are not ready for Colorado’s jobs. … It’s a moral issue for Colorado’s kids.”

Laband also made a pitch for the importance of educational data, saying, “Data can drive key decisions” for parents trying to choose schools, for teachers working to improve instruction, for principals who are evaluating teachers, and for policymakers trying to figure out what works.

And data is vital for “identifying the achievement gaps. We need to be mindful of that.”

Anxieties about data privacy and the amount of standardized testing have been rising among parent and activist groups in the last couple of years. A variety of bills to reduce testing, set limits on data collection, pull Colorado out of the Common Core and change the teacher evaluation system are pending during the 2015 legislative session. Some education reform groups fear such measures could weaken the education initiatives of recent years.

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