Colorado Loses Race to the Top: State Board's Bob Schaffer, Marcia Neal Respond

Update, 3 PM: State Board member Randy DeHoff also added some comments. Scroll to the end of the post to read them.

At my age, I figured I knew pretty well how the world works. I told you that Colorado’s green light from the National Council on Teacher Quality made them practically a sure thing to win a share of Race to the Top round two federal dollars. Was I wrong or what? Instead of Colorado becoming one of the 10 winners, our state finished 17th out of 19! Let me tell you what: I can’t wait to see the explanation for this one. It’s not just me. Education policy guru Rick Hess says it’s ludicrous that Colorado and Louisiana were “left out in the cold.”

Curious themselves, my Education Policy Center friends asked some Colorado State Board of Education members for their reactions to the surprising news.

“It’s a shame funds purloined from Colorado taxpayers will now head to other states, in greater quantities, for the education of other people’s children,” said State Board chair Bob Schaffer, R-Fort Collins. “Nonetheless, accepting cash from the federal bureaucracy always comes at a competing price. In this case, the attached strings and red tape are considerable. In the end, the opinions of Washington, D.C.’s government workers are not what matters most when it comes to the quality and direction of Colorado’s schools.”

Another board member chimed in with her initial reaction. “It was a disappointment as, without those funds, Colorado will be hard pressed to complete reform plans associated with SB 212 (CAP4K) under the present time line,” said Marcia Neal, R-Grand Junction. The state’s hopes to fully implement the new academic standards and adopt new assessments is a lot less likely to take place in the next couple years.

Neal noted the possibility that we might see an effort to slow down or roll back Senate Bill 191 — the tenure and evaluation reform legislation that passed with bipartisan support and with many believing it would put Colorado on the inside track to win RTTT. She also mentioned that she has “received significant communications from various school leaders asking me if the decision to sign on to the Common Core standards might be reversed if we don’t secure the award.”

“If we are to remain a great nation we absolutely must produce students that are prepared for the technological future that they will inhabit,” Neal concluded. “There is a lot of great work going on at [the Colorado Department of Education] and we must be sure we continue on that path.” [Links added]

Chairman Schaffer also ended on a hopeful note. “Our goal will continue to be toward the establishment of world-class schools — moving toward more academic choices and options for parents to select for their own kids, moving toward internationally competitive academic standards and moving toward treating teachers like real professionals rather than union workers,” he said. “I think, in the long run, the independence of states to innovate will be more valuable than the short-term infusion of federal cash that comes at a price of mediocrity and servitude.”

State Board member Randy DeHoff brought attention to a key fact that begins to explain why Colorado lost out today: “…what was immediately obvious is that two of the five [RTTT grant] reviewers don’t understand local control. It also appears they scored us significantly lower because we did not have teacher union support for our application. Those two reviewers gave us an average of 350 out of 500 points. The other three reviewers gave us an average of 450 points, which would have placed us among the winners. Obviously there was a problem with the way the applications were scored – a problem that was pointed out after the first round but was not changed.”

DeHoff concluded, “I believe the reform agenda we are on is the right agenda. We had adopted these reforms before Race to the Top, and we will continue pursuing these reforms with or without [it]. Without those extra resources, it will obviously take longer to do some things (but not everything), but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to do them.”