How Far Will Colorado Reform "Human Capital" to Win Race to the Top?

Education leaders here in Colorado have shown a great deal of interest in the federal Race to the Top dollars, a multi-billion dollar program that we are told is designed to spur reform. In order to be eligible for rewards, states will be rated according how well their policies and goals line up with innovative practices mostly aimed at boosting student achievement.

But no category will carry more weight in the Department’s Race to the Top determinations than “Great Teachers and Leaders.” That’s why the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has created a very handy scorecard (PDF) to help you figure out whether Colorado or any other state might be on the right track to pursuing needed “human capital reforms.” I like going to Coors Field and keeping track of what happens on a baseball scorecard, but I don’t think that’s exactly what they mean.

Just what sort of things could Colorado do to get a high score in the area of “Great Teachers and Leaders” and increase our state’s chances of getting Race to the Top funds? Some of the “bold practices” NCTQ indicates would really help us include (in no particular order):

  1. Make measurable student learning the main criterion in the teacher evaluation system
  2. Award tenure to teachers only on the basis of proven instructional effectiveness?
  3. Create an entirely different set of dismissal procedures for teachers based on poor performance as opposed to poor behavior
  4. Stop automatic pay raises for master’s degrees and re-direct the funds to reward teaching performance
  5. Implement a “performance matrix” to help school districts identify where to assign principals based on their ability to raise student achievement, prevent teacher turnover, and the like
  6. Enact a “mutual consent” policy that requires both a principal and a teacher to agree on that teacher’s placement to a particular school
  7. Put in place strategies (through incentives) to ensure high-quality teachers make extended commitments to serve in high-needs schools
  8. Install policies that lighten the load for new teachers in high-needs schools
  9. Reform the pension system so that early-career teachers are not penalized
  10. Beef up math skills tests for teachers at both the elementary and secondary levels
  11. Provide compensation support so high-quality teachers can instruct more standard classes (e.g., 9th grade remedial English vs. AP English)
  12. Create a statewide data system to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their effectiveness

That’s just one sample list of a not-so-dirty dozen ideas in the NCTQ report. There are more suggested “bold” reforms, as well as plenty of those considered “challenging”, “foundational”, or “necessary.” So far, 36 states in all have filed letters of intent with the U.S. Department of Education to apply for Race to the Top funding. How many of them will pursue truly groundbreaking reforms to make great teachers and leaders a priority? Will Colorado be among them?