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State board member Joyce Rankin on testing, standards and a new education commissioner

The Colorado Department of Education.
The Colorado Department of Education.
Nicholas Garcia

Joyce Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, was first appointed to the State Board of Education a little more than a year ago. Now, the former educator and wife of a popular rural lawmaker is asking voters in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District to elect her to her seat outright.

Rankin’s challenger is Democrat Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, a bankruptcy lawyer from Pueblo who has run unsuccessfully for the state board before.

The winner will go on to serve a six-year term and represent Colorado’s largest congressional district, which includes the entire Western Slope and portions of southern Colorado such as Pueblo.

The state board is currently under Republican control, 4-3. But this year’s race could see a shift in the balance of power. All three races feature Republican incumbents. Political and education observers consider Rankin’s seat safe given the GOP has about a 5 percentage-point advantage in registered voters in the 3rd District.

Joyce Rankin
Joyce Rankin

Below, Rankin answers Chalkbeat’s questions regarding the issues facing the state board, including a review of the state’s academic standards, hiring a new commissioner and rolling out new federal legislation. Pacheco-Koveleski did not return Chalkbeat’s questionnaire. Rankin’s answers have been lightly edited.

What are the greatest issues facing Colorado schools today and how do you hope to address them as a member of the state board?

  • Encouraging student self-direction toward successful, challenging, rigorous study for lifelong learning.
  • Improvement of student outcomes for career and college success.
  • College training and professional development tools so that teachers learn and grow in their profession. Use of classroom technology needs to be a requirement for teacher training.

As a Board Member, I will address the issues by promoting evidence-based programs to identify and reward exceptional teachers.

What role should the state board serve in shaping state education law and policy?
Monitor legislation and assist legislators.

Colorado Votes 2016 | For more coverage on issues and races this election click here.What sort of relationship should the Colorado Department of Education have with local school districts and other education associations and advocacy groups such as the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives?
The Colorado Department of Education should provide support to local school districts. The advocacy groups can communicate and share the vision and priorities of CDE and the legislature.

Colorado needs a new education commissioner. What qualifications would you want in the ideal candidate?
The ideal candidate would be a strong leader with a keen understanding of successful programs for large and rural/remote small school districts. The commissioner must also be able to work well with diverse groups of people.

New federal law is supposed to grant states flexibility over issues like school accountability and teacher quality. What do you hope to see changed under the new Every Student Succeeds Act?
Greater flexibility, higher achievement for every student coupled with local control.

Some school districts hope Colorado explores new alternatives to testing for accountability purposes. Should Colorado change its testing system? If so, how?
Colorado should change testing only if there are results-driven alternatives.

Some 30 schools and eight school districts are expected to reach the end of the state’s accountability timeline for chronic low performance. The state board must act. What role do you see the board playing? Would you move to close low-performing schools or turn them over to charters?
Every school and district at the end of the accountability clock is unique. It is the board’s responsibility to ask the hard questions, and then decide if the students are better served by reorganization or closure. The students’ best interests must come first.

After six years, Colorado is set to begin reviewing its education standards. What do you hope the outcome is? Would you support whatever the panel recommends even if it went against your personal opinion of the Common Core State Standards?
There is nothing wrong with reviewing standards. In fact, I believe it is the board’s responsibility to look at them periodically. Changes should occur only if there are strong recommendations that have become evident since the last review. I will be a good listener before any decision is made.

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