Who Is In Charge

Teacher effectiveness council starts 18-month run

Colorado’s experiment in crafting a new educator evaluation system kicked off Thursday with the first meeting of the 15-member Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness.

The council, created by Gov. Bill Ritter as part of the state’s Race to the Top application, is based on the premise that more effective and durable reforms can be achieved through a process representing a broad array of education interests, from the Colorado Education Association to administrators and from school board members to one lone student.

That approach stands in contrast to the more top-down way some other states have approached both the quest for federal education stimulus funds and the broader national push to improve teaching.

Thursday’s session, held at the Lowry headquarters of the state Community College System, was the usual first-meeting mix of introductions, setting expectations and deciding on a future meeting schedule.

The introductions gave some hints of how individual members are approaching the 18-month assignment.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien
PHOTO: via E. Genco, Achievement School District
Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien opened the first meeting of the Educator Effectiveness Council March 11, 2010.

“It’s always the adults who find it hardest to change.” – Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who welcomed the group but isn’t a member

“We shouldn’t be constrained by the past. … We’re not looking for a little tweak.” – chair Matt Smith

“My expectation is that we will be brave but cautious.” – CU education dean Lorrie Shepard

“My hope is to make a great system that is fair and equitable.” – Brighton teacher and union official Shelley Genereax

“Every time I think about this work I feel a weight upon my shoulders.” – vice chair Nina Lopez

The governor’s charge to the council is to develop a proposal under which teachers are:

  • “Evaluated using multiple fair, transparent, timely, rigorous, and valid methods, at least 50 percent of which is determined by the academic growth of their students.
  • “Afforded a meaningful opportunity to improve their effectiveness.
  • “Provided the means to share effective practices with other educators statewide.”

The council has a Dec. 31 deadline to draft definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and to “develop and recommend guidelines for adequate implementation of a high-quality educator evaluation system,” in the words of the executive order.

The order also sets a Sept. 30, 2011, deadline to make recommendations to the governor, legislature and State Board of Education on policy changes to:

  • “Support districts’ use of evaluation data for decisions in areas such as compensation, promotion, retention, and removal, as well as the criteria for earning and retaining non-probationary status.
  • “Ensure that the standards and criteria applicable to teacher and principal licensure and the accreditation of preparation programs are directly aligned with and support the preparation and licensure of effective educators.”

State education leaders have repeatedly acknowledged that despite a series of recent education reforms, Colorado is weakest in the area of educator effectiveness. The 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions passed important education reforms in the areas of standards, testing, P-20 alignment and school and district accountability. Last year lawmakers also approved creation of an educator identifier system that ultimately can be used to link teachers and principals with student achievement data.

There’s been debate in education circles about why Ritter chose to use an executive order rather than pursuing legislation this year. When he announced the council, Ritter pointed to some other states, which have been busy in recent months passing new laws to burnish their R2T applications. “That’s simply not how we go about school reform in this state. … Collaboration is essential to this process,” the governor said.

Colorado is one of 16 finalists for the first round of R2T grants, and the state’s application asks $605,000 to fund the work of the council, primarily for staffing.

Educator Effectiveness Council
Members of the state Educator Effectiveness Council met for the first time on March 11, 2010.

Council member Kerrie Dallman asked, “Who’s going to pick up the slack?” if Colorado doesn’t win. Lopez said, “This work should be done regardless of the funding.” Ritter education advisor Liz Aybar said, “We’re in conversation with some other folks” about support. “Just rest assured that what you guys need will be taken care of.”

The group will meet again in April. The executive order expressly says that the council’s decisions are to be reached by consensus.

Council members

  • Chair and at-large member: Matt Smith, vice-president of engineering, United Launch Alliance
  • Vice chair and Department of Education representative: Nina Lopez, special assistant to the education commissioner
  • Department of Higher Education: Lorrie Shepard, dean, School of Education, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Teachers: Shelly Genereax of Brighton School District 27J (also president of Brighton Education Association), Kerrie Dallman of Jefferson County Public Schools (also president of Jefferson County Education Association), Amie Baca-Oehlert of Adams District 12 (also an at-large Colorado Education Association director and union chief negotiator in his district), Nikkie Felix of Aurora Public Schools
  • Public school administrators: Margaret Crespo, principal of John Evans Middle School in Weld County, Tracy Dorland, executive director of teacher effectiveness in Denver Public Schools
  • Public school superintendent: Sandra Smyser, superintendent of Eagle County Schools, which has a pay-for-performance system and an evaluation system that includes student achievement
  • School board members: Bill Bregar of Pueblo District 70, Jo Ann Baxter of Moffat County
  • Charter schools: Colin Mullaney, principal of Cheyenne Mountain Charter in Colorado Springs
  • Public school parent: Towanna Henderson of Denver Public Schools
  • Student: Shelby Gonzales-Parker of Justice High School in Denver Public Schools, and a member of the student group Project VOYCE, which participated in drafting the state’s Race to the Top application

The council follows the classic Colorado “one-of-each” model for creating balanced commissions. Various members were selected with the advice of the following interest groups:

  • Teachers – Colorado Education Association
  • Administrators and superintendent – Colorado Association of School Executives
  • School board members – Colorado Association of Schools Boards
  • Charter representatives – Colorado League of Charter Schools
  • Parent – Colorado PTA

Do your homework

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools

Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Colorado Votes 2018

Five things we learned when Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates got on the same stage to talk about education

Colorado Republicans running for governor addressed some of the state's school board members at a forum hosted by the state's association of school boards. From left are George Brauchler, Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nine Republicans and Democrats hoping to become Colorado’s next governor offered contrasting views Friday of the state’s public schools to an audience of more than 100 local school board members.

Most of the five Republicans told the crowd of locally elected officials — who are charged by the state’s constitution with governing Colorado’s public schools — that their programs were in need of improvement and innovation, and that they were there to help.

The four Democrats hoping to succeed fellow Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited, pledged to reform the state’s tax code to send more money to schools.

The candidates spoke at the annual fall delegation conference of the state’s association of school boards.It was the first forum of its kind to address education issues exclusively this election election cycle.

Unlike previous elections, Colorado’s public education system has been a key policy debate early in the campaign. Several candidates, especially Democrats, have worked on education issues before.

Here are our five takeaways from the forum:

The Republican candidates didn’t pull any punches when they said the state’s public schools were in need of improvement — and several said that they were the ones to do it.

From District Attorney George Brauchler to businessman Doug Robinson, every Republican candidate said one part or another of the state’s school system needed to do better.

“Education is life itself,” said former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell. “And there is no greater challenge facing our state than 50 percent of our at-risk kids who graduate can’t complete college-level course work.”

Both Mitchell and Robinson pointed to their experience as entrepreneurs as evidence that they could help set the state’s schools free of what they consider unnecessary red tape. Brauchler called for empowering teachers and parents.

Every Democrat and several Republicans agreed that the state’s schools were in a “funding crisis.” But they offered very different paths forward.

It was an easy question for Democrats. Businessman Noel Ginsburg, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne were in lock-step that the state’s schools are in need of more money.

“If we don’t fundamentally solve this crisis, the rest of the issues don’t matter,” Johnston said.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne talk after a forum for gubernatorial candidates. Both are Democrats. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Johnston and Kennedy forcefully pledged to take on the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits how much tax revenue the state can collect and requires voter approval to raise taxes.

Lynne was more tempered. While she acknowledged tax reform was needed, she said wanted a legislative committee working on school finance to complete its work before suggesting any overhauls.

Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker and a small business owner, was the only GOP candidate who said he would take on the state’s complicated tax laws. If elected, he promised to establish a committee to send a reform proposal to voters.

Robinson and Brauchler acknowledged that schools were in a funding crunch. But they stopped short of saying they’d send more money to schools.

Mitchell said “he wasn’t sure” if there was a funding crisis, but added, “The system should be reformed before it’s fully funded.”

PERA, the state’s employee retirement program, could play a prominent issue in the election — especially for Republicans.

Earlier at the conference, school board members received a briefing on a proposed overhaul to the state’s retirement program, which includes school district employees.

While the situation is not as dire as it was a decade ago, the program’s governing board has become so increasingly worried about unfunded liabilities that it’s asking state lawmakers to pass a reform package to provide more financial stability.

Two Republicans, Brauchler and Steve Barlock, who co-chaired President Trump’s campaign in Colorado, said PERA was in crisis. Barlock warned school board members that their budgets were in jeopardy as lawmakers fiddle with the system.

Neither went into any detail about how they hoped to see the retirement program made more fiscally stable. But watch for this issue to gain greater traction on the campaign trail, especially as Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton ramps up his gubernatorial campaign, and as lawmakers begin to wrestle with PERA reforms next year. (Stapleton did not attend the forum.)

Some candidates offered careful responses to a question about school choice. Others, not so much.

Every Democrat and one Republican, Brauchler, said they respected a family’s right to choose the best school for their children. But that choice, they said, should not come at the expense of traditional, district-run schools.

“I’m concerned that we’d build a system where the success of some schools is coming at the expense of other schools,” Kennedy said.

Republicans strongly supported charter schools, and in some cases, vouchers that use taxpayer dollars to pay for private schools. Robinson called on creating new ways to authorize charter schools. Mitchell said he wanted to repeal a provision in the state’s constitution that has been used to rebuff private school vouchers.

There’s no party line over rural schools.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the state needed to step up to help its rural schools, which are typically underfunded compared to schools along the Front Range. They need more teachers, better infrastructure and fewer regulations, the candidates said.

“We need to get rural areas into the modern age,” Robinson said.