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Colorado voter turnout shows high interest in education reform

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Near-record campaign contributions, national media attention and large voter turnouts revealed deeper public interest in education in Colorado this year.

Mostly stagnant graduation rates and the increasingly costly needs of remediation for those students who decide to pursue higher education have spurred a reform movement offering myriad choices for quick change.

Others see the movement as a convenient tactic used by corporate reformers to keep them in a profitable business.

In any event, education has caught the public’s attention.

“For a long time, urban school boards were left to special interest groups — which weren’t all bad, but people weren’t engaged that way,” said school board expert Don McAdams, founder and now chairman of the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems. “All around the country, more reform-minded candidates are being elected. It’s a really important trend.”

Voter turnout in districts with hotly contested school board races was high, especially given it was an off-year election and there was only one statewide ballot question. About 37 percent voted this year in Denver, nearly 35 percent in Douglas County and 51 percent in Jefferson County.

The education reform movement also pushed Colorado into the national spotlight, as other states struggle with the same problems of marrying two education philosophies that don’t easily agree.

Those typically labeled as reformers often advocate for accountability, testing for data-driven instruction, and quick change.

“Pay-for-performance systems, for example, no reformer says this is the solution,” McAdams said. “But they say this is something we can do in the meantime. We have to try something.”

On the other hand, groups who oppose those types of change have been labeled anti-reformers. They often prefer changes that take into account years of data as proof that the new solutions won’t worsen the current problems.

“We are too impatient as a country,” said Margaret LeCompte, education-reform researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s school of education. “We need to spend more money training teachers to be able to be better teachers.”

In Colorado, some current reforms have both sides working together.

“There’s impressive alignment. All the leaders are on the same page,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver. “That’s one thing that’s unique about Colorado, we’re both moving forward courageously and collaboratively.”

Johnston cites the work that followed the passage of Senate Bill 191 during the 2010 legislative session. The bill pushed by Johnston changed the way teachers and principals are evaluated and retained. Union groups — including the Jefferson County Education Association — originally stood against the bill, but later participated in developing the rules by which educators will be measured.

“They’ve been some of the most active, committed members, even though it’s a bill they opposed; they’ve really been one of the leaders in the implementation,” Johnston said.

Jefferson County union president Kerri Dallman said her group has embraced reform’s middle ground.

“While we certainly opposed the measure while it was moving through the legislature, once it passed you have to roll up your sleeves and make sure it’s implemented in a way that’s going to help kids and be fair to educators,” Dallman said.

Dallman said the teachers union supports accountability and urgent change, but believes the key to implementing those reforms properly is inviting all stakeholders to discussions and really listening to what they say.

When the Jeffco district needed to slash $40 million from its budget last year, the district and the union put that collaborative theory into practice, Dallman said.

“Cutting $40 million in one year, in one district the size of Jefferson, is monumental,” Dallman said. “The fact that we were able to do it is because we really wrapped our heads around what’s best for students.”

Allegra “Happy” Haynes, tagged a reformer during her successful run for the Denver Public Schools board, said she is more dedicated to a middle-ground world without labels.

“I think there’s always room for people to work on common concerns and goals. We all want kids to succeed, and there are many different ways to ensure kids do succeed,” Haynes said. “People in Denver really understand the value of public education. It’s what they care about.”

Yesenia Robles

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  • comment avatar John November 28, 2011

    A voucher system is the only way to achieve everything we need.

    It rewards good schools and teachers. Everybody gets the same amount on his voucher.

  • comment avatar Sammy518 November 28, 2011

    Until this country faces a few facts, education will continue to go in the dumper, lack of parental involvement, the lowering of standards. we have fallen in rank in the world from the top to 30. We’re going backwards.

  • comment avatar 2Cents November 28, 2011

    For such a progressive state, Colorado lags in education both in funding (bottom 10 in the United States) and in performance (ranked around 20th).

    If accountability is to be fair, then teachers must be given more authority in the classroom.

  • comment avatar Talk2TheHand November 28, 2011

    John-Galt wrote:A voucher system is the only way to achieve everything we need.

    It rewards good schools and teachers. Everybody gets the same amount on his voucher.

    That is not the answer – all that will do is dilute the performance of privates schools. The success of children in private schools has more to do with the kind of children who enroll there. In addition, parents of these children and the children themselves value a good education – something that is oftentimes lost on the parents and children of poverty.

  • comment avatar Richard Kaiser November 28, 2011

    Let’s hope this time those who “rule” realize that educating our students is a community effort not a legislative one. One cannot mandate that a parent, from day 1, do everything possible to help their child read, write, and have basic skills. But something has to be done to encourage that to occur. Teachers must, even if swimming against the tide, care enough to establish the highest reasonable standards possible and withstand pressures to lower the bar for any student. You can’t make teachers care, but the overwhelming majority do, more than most know. Everyone needs to begin looking at the student, and parents, as consumers and provide the best education possible. And, if one is looking at the education of any student, how about we revise college education? The lecture format is one that does not work well for most. In any job, it is the practice that allows us to get it right. That is what we should be doing with students. Give them the information, ensure they are interpreting and applying the information correctly. Assist them in establishing connections between finite concepts and real-world applications, then put them to the test. Have them work math problems that arise in industry, engineering, physics or other applications. Write an essay that matters, perhaps one that would persuade a legislator to adopt a point of view. The same should be done in all applications. Oh, and by the way, bring back physical education, band, and choir. These offerings have been proven to make a positive difference in so many ways. Or, we could just implement a new evaluation system for those “Top” dollars, and call it good.

  • comment avatar Dean November 28, 2011

    If we are 40th in funding but 20th in performance that means that we are getting better value for our education dollar than a lot of other states. People often talk of education expenses as an “investment”. If that is to be the case then we need to consider how much value we get for our education spending.

  • comment avatar MJCB November 28, 2011

    With all the problems our nation faces that can be divided up pretty equally between the parties as far as culpability and blame goes, public education and all its assorted failures and problems can be mostly laid at the feet of the liberals/progressives, the Democrats, the unions, and various progressive ideas, methods, and tactics over the last 50 odd years, the last 30 especially since the Dept of Education was created.

    Every major urban school district (and the cities they lie within) in America has been run and controlled by the Democrats and their union buddies for decades. From LA to Denver to Chicago to Detroit to Cleveland to Philadelphia to NYC to WashDC to Baltimore to Atlanta to New Orleans to Houston, and all points in between. Failing schools, falling test scores, deplorable graduation rates – especially for minority kids, and 2+ generations of “lost” children with no education and no skills to compete in this global economy.

    Though we spend almost 400% more on education than we did 40 years ago and we have more “staff” than ever before, the results speak for themselves. Every time any effort is made to reform education who is standing in the door saying “NO!!” for every idea? The teacher’s unions and their enablers, the Democrats. Republicans have been mostly barred from this area of public policy so there are few, if any, conservative fingerprints on this disaster. Yea, we get the occasional GOP POTUS who might deliver a public ed bill or legislation, like Bush43 did with NCLB, but look at the pushback and heated rhetoric that resulted in from the rank and file – even though Teddy Kennedy helped write the bill. The “boots on the ground” and day-to-day policies are driven from the left for education all over America and it has been this way for a long, long time.

    Everytime a true reformer does come along and achieve some measure of success, like Michelle Rhee in probably the worst public school district in the USA – where they spend more per student than anywhere else – WashDC, they are run out of town as quickly as possible to protect the status quo and the status quo is protecting union jobs and union dues to fund political agendas and politicians. Movies like “The Lottery” and “Waiting For Superman” really brought this problem to the public eye, along with the obstinate and almost hysterical refusal by unions and their supporters to any new ideas, whether it is charter schools or vouchers or online learning or whatever.

    Even when an alternative program does show lots of success and is supported by the community it serves and costs very little money, the Dems and the unions have killed it. Leaving more families and children adrift and trapped inside a failed system with no options. This is what happened to the DC Voucher Program that Obama and the Dems killed, on orders from their benefactors, the teacher’s unions.

    Barack Obama and the DC School Voucher Program

  • comment avatar ThinkingAhead November 28, 2011

    “We are too impatient as a country,” said Margaret LeCompte, education-reform researcher and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s school of education. “We need to spend more money training teachers to be able to be better teachers.”

    The pull quote of the piece.

    No Ms. LeCompte the country is not impatient. Standards and learning have been declining for years. What has been the reason for the declining standards and the lack of teaching, even the basics in some case, it’s ALWAYS not enough money. Any time politicians want to raise taxes they put the measure in to form of “it’s for the children”. Yet the children can’t read, can’t write, and can’t add, subtract, multiply, or divide. Defeated Proposition 103 is a good example, raise taxes of everyone in the name of education, except the money would have gone into the general fund. Why the deceit?

    People are beginning to take notice to the lack of the basics being taught, and the increase in the social engineering and propaganda being taught, which has also been going on for years.

    The Occupy protesters, that face of hope and change, put a very negative light on the government run education system in the country.

    A bill pushed by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver changes the way teacher and principal are evaluated and retained. So a Democrats pushes bill affecting teachers and principals, while those teachers and principals supports the union, through dues, the unions, national, state and local support Democrat candidates with campaign contributions. I get it.

    This decline of American education began when it become political, and childern became pawns.

  • comment avatar Scott A November 28, 2011

    You may want to actually do some reading on the subject instead of listening to Rosen or John Stossel :-)

    The myth of declining U.S. schools

    “U.S. students, who once led the world, currently rank 21st in the world in science and 25th in math,” Newsweek reported in September. I hear that a lot. Politicians and business leaders often bemoan the decline of American education compared to the rest of the world. We are doomed, they say, unless we [fill in here the latest plan to save the country.]

    So I was surprised to find, in the latest report by the wonderfully contrarian Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, that the notion of America on the downward track is a myth. The data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964. If anything, we have lately been showing some signs of improvement.

    Loveless, senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, says in his annual report on American Education:

    “The United States never led the world. It was never number one and has never been close to number one on international math tests. Or on science tests, for that matter. It is more accurate to say that the United States has always trailed the world on math tests.”…s_schools.html

    If you want to read the actual report…_loveless.aspx

  • comment avatar 2Cents November 28, 2011

    Colorado is actually ranked #17 and their education reform efforts earned a grade of “B” … … densed.pdf

    Colorado ranked #40 in this state ranking, … nding.aspx

    Colorado is also ranked #2 in per capita income and combined with its #40 ranking showed the largest DISCONNECT between per capita income and per pupil funding and is considered one of the best values in education in the United States yet voters in our state continue to demand “better results” before supporting education. It just goes to show just how uninformed our voting populace is.

    I’m glad I’m no longer an educator. I make more money now, have 100% control over the “product” I produce, and am much happier. My problem as an educator is that I cared far more than most of my peers and grew tired of the public’s “let the beatings continue until morale improves” approach regarding teachers. The profession is losing its best and brightest more often than the very teachers the public continually condemns.

  • comment avatar Scott A November 28, 2011

    For all of you voucher advocates

    Vouchers have been on the ballot 12 times in the last 25 years. They have been defeated each and every time. The last time in that liberal bastion of…UTAH, where the initiative lot in every single county.

    Voucher results in Cleveland and Milwaukee, the longest running programs, have been mixed at best,
    DC, you say,?
    A 2010 report by the Education Department, the final evaluation of the voucher program ordered by Congress, said, “There is no conclusive evidence that the [the program] affected student achievement.” In this case, student achievement meant standardized test scores, which, any reader of this blog knows, I don’t think is real achievement. The report also said, almost as an aside, that “the program significantly improved students’ chances of graduating from high school.”

    So, I suppose if you want to use those vouchers to make sure kids graduate, that is fine, but the extended time doesn’t seem to make a difference in their academic achievement


  • comment avatar William T November 28, 2011

    Voters have expressed their opinion on “reform” as it is defined here: they rejected almost all tax increases. Yet “reform” as it is defined here is guaranteed to required more money. Evaluations, additional testing, and pay for performance drive up the cost of education while not promising significant improvement in outcomes. Indeed, many would argue that these measures may decrease overall educational outcomes.

    The problem with the current reform effort is that is samples too little of what a good education should deliver. It makes about as much sense and measuring the temperature once during the year and claiming you understand the climate of Colorado and therefore can evaluate the Dept. of transportation’s snow clearing efforts.

  • comment avatar Mo Jo November 28, 2011

    I think we have pay for performance all wrong. How about we take away any child tax credit, public assistance and food credits for parents of students that do not perform. In other words if we are going to pay people to be parents lets make them be parents.
    Putting the onerous on teachers for the health of community is wrong minded social engineering.

  • comment avatar HelloGoodBye November 28, 2011

    Education reform starts with parents who give a darn about their student’s education. This means they work with their students after school on assignments and homework. A teacher can only do so much if the parents would rather watch TV reality shows then be part of the educational process. Divorce and unstable family lives hurt student learning, and that is not the teacher’s fault.

  • comment avatar William T November 28, 2011

    I moved on from education because I have always felt there are a great flaws in the system. It is not possible to change the system as a teacher or even a school board member. It will require innovative thinking and leadership at the state and federal level if we are to see real change soon. We can wait and use the systems that have been developed in India, China, and Europe.

    Maintaining motivation is a key improving education. Unfortunately, “let the beatings continue until morale improves” has been a tool for students as well as teachers. The system needs to deal with individual differences and increasing the depth of instruction rather than relying on remembered width.

  • comment avatar Sid James November 28, 2011

    Promoting an educational system that wants a college education for all students is promoting one that refuses to recognize that not all students are academic in nature or have talents that are best used in non academic endeavors (Need someone to work on your car, fix your plumbing, build your house, grow and process your food, make real things in factories, and on and on? Those aren’t and shouldn’t be the realm of college.)

    Every child, every person, has unique and useful talents and natures, but the school system seems unwilling to cater to or educate for anything other than a few types of people and with only a few end results in mind.

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