Can Colorado Afford More "Effective" Teachers?

April 14 2011, 6:37 AM

CSAP isn't enough, says Nina Lopez of the state's mandatory student-achievement tests. Her words echo the sentiment various lawmakers expressed last year when they passed the so-called "Teacher Tenure" bill, landmark legislation that was vociferously opposed by the state's largest teacher's union but supported by many state Democrats and a smaller teacher's union.

Lopez is a member of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which has been tasked with carrying out the bill's mandate of developing new requirements to evaluate teacher and principal "effectiveness" based on student achievement. The council provided a first look at its recommendations yesterday, including descriptions for four tiers of performance and six standards for teacher evaluations, among many other proposals. Two consecutive low ratings for a teacher could amount to a loss of tenure, although the council will also craft an appeals process for those impacted (9News).

In hearing the draft recommendations, state Board of Education chair Bob Schaffer would rather see a "marketplace" approach to education reform, although he doesn't have the authority to override or alter the bill. "It seems to me there might be an incentive…to push your bad students out of the school.… Am I wrong about this?" (Education News Colorado). The estimated price tag on the system's initial implementation is $42.4 million—with districts picking up additional costs.  

Schaffer isn't the only one concerned with the new system. Teachers across the state are weary. The liberal American Prospect takes an in-depth look at how Colorado's new system, "one of the most aggressive education-reform experiments in the country," could play out. The changes will come after two years of major cuts, including the $250 million that will almost undoubtedly be slashed once the state House of Representatives passes this year's budget bill. Republicans shot down more than two dozen amendments offered by the minority Dems yesterday, and the House is expected to formally vote on the budget today (Chieftain).

But education advocates are holding out hope, as members from both parties and legislative chambers are proposing other bills that could soften some of the budget blows (Ed News). The most promising is a bipartisan-supported Senate bill that would restore money to education—perhaps as much as $62 million—if state revenue exceeds projections (Ed News).

Although they're advising districts not to count the money yet, the Pueblo City Schools Board of Education is hoping additional funds might help prevent it from outsourcing transportation services and making other cuts in an attempt to balance its budget (Chieftain).

Still, the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus remains "grim" about the present and is bracing for the future. During a forum in Steamboat Springs, the caucus noted that the most recent available data puts Colorado at 40th in the nation for education funding—a ranking that doesn't include the cuts that have taken effect since 2007 (Steamboat Today). On the positive side, rural districts are overachieving in various categories, including CSAP scores, despite the odds.