Too Late For Reformers

Governor Hickenlooper unveiled an educational blueprint for Colorado on his way out of office. Better late than never.

It seems to be more political posturing for a possible presidential candidate because the report has no teeth and no breakthrough visioning. Increasing teacher pay is hardly a novel concept. Forging partnerships between business and education is already happening, including the privatization of public education. Colorado’s visionaries also suggest revamping the school finance formula. Until then, teachers can sell pencils.

The legislators who served on the Education Leadership Council that wrote The State of Education praised the report. State Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat and former teacher who will chair the Senate Education Committee, said she was committed to taking action.

State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale who served as co-chair of the Education Leadership Council with Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes, said that during his years in the legislature the state lacked a broad vision for education. The State of Education provides that vision, Rankin said, and can serve as an anchor for lawmakers drafting bills and district leaders looking for new ideas. It’s also a way to show the public how Colorado could be a national leader in education, starting in preschool and continuing all the way through retraining for workers changing careers, he said.

As the report concluded, “there is no individual person or group that can solely drive Colorado’s education system to higher performance. A collective effort is essential. The vision framework, principles, and strategies presented in the State of Education are built from a collective view of what our education system should deliver and how it can get there. We believe even stakeholders who find specific policies they cannot support still recognize the value of this overall collective approach and understand that this work is not about mandates but about building cohesion and shared momentum toward the dynamic future we want. As you read the detailed vision framework, principles, and improvement strategies, we hope you will find the same energy and optimism for our education system that we did in developing the State of Education.”

education reform

Even as the plan lays out ways to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, it also highlights the state’s acute need for many of those students to choose careers in education. Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who was heavily involved in the project, noted that the “talent pipeline” for early childhood teachers in particular needs to be larger and that pay and opportunities for advancement will have to increase if more workers are to enter and stay in the profession.

The report calls for higher base compensation for teachers, for financial incentives like loan forgiveness and paid student teaching, and for evaluating and improving the working conditions in “hard-to-staff” schools. It also calls for more stringent teacher licensing and for alternative certification programs.

In contrast to earlier pushes for school improvement that focused on test-based accountability for schools and teachers, this report frequently mentions flexibility, collaboration, support, respect, and empowering educators.

The report calls for schools to provide a greater diversity of learning experiences for students, to be more flexible in where learning occurs, and to pay more attention to the challenges students face outside the classroom. It calls for deeper exploration of the community schools model, which involves greater collaboration between parents and teachers and a wide range of services not just for students but also for parents and younger siblings.  

The Educational Leadership Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, educators, business and community leaders, and heads of state agencies, produced The State of Education report. Members surveyed more than 6,000 people about their education priorities and conducted more than 70 roundtable discussions.

Polis campaigned on a platform that included funding full-day kindergarten and significantly expanding access to preschool. Some lawmakers have suggested special education needs more attention.

Rankin said the state budget has money for targeted programs — Hickenlooper’s proposed 2019-20 budget already includes $10 million to fund ideas developed by the Education Leadership Council — but he also stressed that districts and local communities don’t need to wait for the state to pursue the ideas in the report.

“There is significant money going into education even after the failure of Amendment 73,” said Rankin, who also serves on the Joint Budget Committee. “There’s always room for new initiatives, whether they happen out in rural Colorado or in Denver Public Schools. I think it’s going to be up the districts themselves within their budgets to take up some of these priorities.”

Members of the incoming Polis administration have been briefed on the plan, and Hickenlooper said he hopes the plan will prove useful. Hickenlooper said providing all students with a good education is essential to maintaining Colorado’s strong economy.

Governor Hickenlooper formed the Education Leadership Council in June 2017 to create a vision and strategic plan for the education system, spanning from a person’s early childhood into the workforce. It’s unfortunate that it was released after the voting booths closed in November.

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