Colorado Education's Political Soap Opera Almost Makes Me Want to Change Channels

I’m much too young for soap operas (hopefully, for the rest of my life). But the politics at the Capitol around SB 191, educator effectiveness, teacher tenure, and K-12 education accountability at large… well, it seems kind of like a soap opera these days. Call it General Assembly, or The Young and the Tested, or As the Education Committee Turns.

Last week, in an op-ed co-authored with the head of the state teachers union, the architect and champion of Senate Bill 191 announced that he was agreeing to a timeout of sorts in implementing the new educator effectiveness regime:

For the 2014-2015 year, districts and schools will fully implement professional practices for educators’ final evaluations under the new system. However, districts will not be required to use student growth data as part of those final evaluations for the 2014-2015 school year.

Students will still take assessments; teachers and principals will still see their results; but districts will not be required to use that data as a part of the final educator evaluation for that year so that fair baselines can be established for those assessment tests. Once baseline data has been established for our new evaluation system, districts in 2015-2016 should be ready to fully implement the evaluation system with both professional practices and student data.

The news came like one of those dramatic plot twists designed to get viewers to tune in next week. No, it’s not exactly like the co-star’s ex-husband going into a coma, the boss’s mysterious admirer blackmailing his best friend over a long ago Peace Corps mission gone bad, or the twin sister separated at birth suddenly suffering from memory loss.

But all that comes before you throw in the response from conservative Douglas County school board leaders. Given that Dougco’s own Republican Rep. Carole Murray is teaming up with Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver) to co-sponsor the SB 191 timeout, the press release from school board president Kevin Larsen comes across as striking:

Why, when we know these state assessments aren’t ready for use in teacher evaluations, do we not also postpone the forced implementation of these PARRC [sic] tests on our students? Local districts need flexibility to measure what really matters for their students, no less than the flexibility to measure what really matters for their teachers.

Larsen goes on to ask pointedly if Johnston was able to extract anything positive out of the deal, a similar thought to my own. Like maybe in exchange get the Colorado Education Association to drop HB 1268 or its lawsuit guaranteeing teacher tenure rights at the cost of undermining principal control and accountability. (Well, HB 1268’s first hearing was pulled from the calendar today, but that just might be a coincidence.)

It’s also worth pointing out the union’s prominent role on the Council crafting the guidelines to put the new educator effectiveness system into place. Perhaps some districts aren’t fully prepared for SB 191, but a number of local districts have put their own systems in place. If after nearly four years the implementation of SB 191 still has missed the mark, are we supposed to trust that union leaders and state bureaucrats will have it all under control in one more year?

Sigh. I may be going out on a limb. But to me that makes the case for deeper, more fundamental reform. Give it a little time, and then the real soap opera begins. Or else, I’m just changing the channel.