January 13: Landmark Day for Colorado K-12 Productivity and Innovation?

Today, January 13, 2011 … a significant day for innovation and productivity in Colorado K-12 education? It’s too early to say for sure. But a couple of Board decisions may mean as much. First, the Colorado State Board of Education — which yesterday broke in its new members by making their first decision on a charter school appeal — has an exciting resolution on its agenda for this afternoon. Here’s the main punch of the resolution:

BE IT RESOLVED: That the Colorado State Board of Education encourages Colorado’s local Boards of Education to implement cost efficiencies and adhere to the Secretary’s recommendation to improve the productivity of the education system through smart, innovative and courageous actions including, but not limited to, the following areas:

(1) Streamlined administrative operations; and
(2) Competitive contracting; and
(3) Digital learning; and
(4) Enhanced educational options; and
(5) Performance-based compensation systems.

“The Secretary’s recommendation” refers to something I highlighted a couple months ago: a speech by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in which he called for school districts to be more productive and do more with less.

It will be interesting to see what the State Board does with this non-binding resolution, but one school district in the Colorado Springs area looks ready to take on the productivity challenge with a serious, innovative restructuring plan. And being January 13, the Falcon 49 Board of Education is prepared to vote on it tonight.

All the local media attention is going to a Falcon board proposal under consideration to overhaul the school district’s busing transportation system. But less attention has been given to a dramatic proposal (see pages 31-41) that would restructure the district into a leaner, more decentralized, competitive and performance-based school system. The plan up for debate at tonight’s meeting would set in motion a few major changes:

  • Empowering each of the district’s three high school principals as “innovation leaders” within their “Learning Communities” with greater flexibility and responsibility to make key educational decisions;
  • Reconfiguring the central office as a series of resource departments to serve each of the three new “Learning Communities,” including possible private, competitive contracting of various functions; and
  • Implementing a system of “backpack budgeting” where more money follows the student to his/her school of choice among the distinct identities of the three feeder groups.

Down the road this also could lead to such changes as replacing the traditional single salary schedule with performance-based strategic compensation for educators. Of course, one of the driving factors behind instituting a significant local reform like the one Falcon is contemplating is the need to deliver a high-quality education on a tighter budget. The goal is later in the year to craft a proposal under the Innovation Schools Act that would make Falcon a “district of innovation,” subject to approval from the State Board of Education.

Which brings us back to the first point. The State Board can send a strong message by approving its resolution at the February meeting. And if the Falcon school board agrees to go ahead with its proposal tonight, they will have helped to authenticate the message and show a way that other local boards can seek to follow. Simply put, in 2011 local innovation is where it’s at.