State Board Resignation Raises Eyebrows

I wanted to do a fun Friday story today. I really did. But duty calls, and we need to talk about something important in Colorado education: The resignation of Chairwoman Marcia Neal from the Colorado State Board of Education.

Many of you are already familiar with Marcia, but here’s a quick bio for those of you who may not be fully plugged into the Colorado education scene. The short version is that she taught for 21 years and served on the Mesa County School Board for eight more years before heading to SBOE, where she’s been for the past six years.

Marcia’s departure comes on the heels of some pretty weird (and weirder) occurrences on the State Board, particularly in areas related to testing. It also coincides pretty obviously with the departure of Education Commissioner Robert Hammond and, according to the Denver Post, four other executive-level employees at the Colorado Department of Education. Colorado education veteran Elliott Asp will serve as an interim commissioner until a permanent replacement for Hammond is hired.

What gives? I can’t speak for Hammond or the others, but a pretty scathing resignation letter from Marcia Neal paints a clear picture of her motivations for leaving the board. Included among her reasons: Frustration over breaches of board protocol, increasingly unproductive conversations about testing and accountability issues, and personal health concerns. She doesn’t name any names, but a subsequent interview suggests that friction between her and new board member Steve Durham may have played a significant role in her decision to call it quits.

If you’re interested, Chalkbeat rounded up some statements from education players about Marcia and where we go from here. The statements are all nice, but you can tell that there’s a little trepidation, and maybe even a little bad blood beginning to develop. You’ll also note that Chalkbeat accidentally (it was accidental, right?) forgot to include the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, where my favorite policy friends live.

Had those friends been given the opportunity, they would have thanked Marcia for her service, applauded her steadfast support for reasonable levels of testing and strong accountability systems, and told her how much they appreciate her longstanding commitment to students in a variety of capacities. They also would have wished her all the best in her future endeavors, and expressed hope that she will stay connected to the Colorado education world even as she moves away from her official capacity.

All told, the future of the State Board—and the Department of Education more generally—is a bit unclear right now. Much will depend on who emerges from the 3rd Congressional District vacancy committee to replace Marcia. Even after that is settled, a new chairperson will need to be elected. And, of course, we still need to find a good, strong, permanent commissioner and build out his team.

In other words, there is a tremendous opportunity here to see some very cool stuff happen down at the CDE building. On the other hand, there’s also the possibility that everything will go completely haywire. I very sincerely hope that however things shake out, the State Board can go about tackling Colorado’s tough, complicated issues in a thoughtful way. And hey, maybe they can even tame some of that shaggy CDE bureaucracy while they’re at it.

We’ll miss Marcia greatly, but the education reform wheel has to keep turning. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t turn so fast it falls off.