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March 25, 2016 03:09 PM UTC

Derailing Ed Reform With Colorado Senate Republicans

  • by: Colorado Pols
From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.
From top: Sens. Owen Hill, Vicki Marble, Tim Neville, Laura Woods, Chris Holbert.

Chalkbeat Colorado’s Todd Engdahl reports on another odd development in the GOP-controlled Senate Education Committee, where a bipartisan bill to alleviate high-stakes testing pressure on high school freshmen in Colorado went off the rails yesterday:

A bill that would ban mandatory state language arts and math tests in ninth grade cleared the Senate Education Committee Thursday. But the panel added seemingly extraneous amendments that are likely to reduce the bill’s already slim chances of passing the full legislature.

The original version of the bill merely would have banned ninth grade testing and was sponsored by conservative Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, along with liberal Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and two committee Republicans. All the sponsors were dissatisfied with last session’s compromise testing law, which retained ninth grade exams.

But from there, bipartisan consensus came apart as bizarre GOP amendments piled on–in particular:

Rural districts that chose not to give the ninth grade tests would be allowed to hire non-licensed teachers… [Pols emphasis]

That’s right–Republicans actually passed an amendment to this bill allowing unlicensed teachers to be hired in rural school districts.

“I’m baffled by the amendment,” said Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.

“I see absolute no connection,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “This completely changes the direction of the bill.”

Hill offered no detailed rationale for the changes, either during discussion or during a brief hallway interview after the hearing…

It’s anybody’s guess what Sen. Owen Hill was trying to achieve with this amendment, but the rest of the Senate Education Committee including top-tier Democratic target Sen. Laura Waters Woods all jumped on board. Earlier in this same hearing, a bill for tax credits to offset private school tuition passed on a party-line vote. Perhaps this bill to eliminate ninth grade testing was a little too bipartisan, and Hill needed to spike it?

Whatever the reason, you had Senate Republicans yesterday, including their most vulnerable incumbent, voting for private school vouchers–and then voting to let unlicensed teachers into rural schools. The grand scheme at work here had better be good, because on any normal day we’d call these highly toxic votes.


15 thoughts on “Derailing Ed Reform With Colorado Senate Republicans

  1. There is a link between teacher preparation (including being highly qualified in the subject area(s) they teach, and student achievement. Not as strong a correlation as smaller class sizes, having paraprofessional aides, good early childhood education, and parent involvement, but yes, there is one.   I don't know about the teachers at those schools you mentioned – usually schools post statistics on their websites about what % of teaching staff has master's degrees, etc.

    My guess is that the "non-licensed rural teachers" amendment came out of the difficulty of attracting and retaining qualified teachers in small rural districts.

      1. In order to become a licensed teacher through the Colorado Department of Education, one must pass an accredited teacher preparation program, in a content area such as English, math, K-12, Special Education, etc, pass content mastery tests such as PLACE or PRAXIS, slog through the "methods" classes, which is basically an unpaid 2 semester-long teacher internship with sponsoring teachers, or equivalent OJT training. Teach for America places young teachers in high need schools on an alternative licensure program.  They have a helluva turnover and drop out rate.

        Probably some of these rural school districts are looking to recruit through an alternative OJT licensure program without the formal training. Not really sure what you're asking. I certainly believe that better, formal teacher preparation leads to higher student achievement.

        There is quite a lot of research out there that shows that certain teacher preparation paths lead to better student outcomes. I tend to take them all with a grain of salt, unless they are peer-reviewed 2-3 year studies. Otherwise, they tend to be marketing jobs by someone with a curriculum to sell to a district.

        I'm not going to sift through the dross for the gold, as you could do it yourself to satisfy your curiousity. The NEA site is a good place to start. Their research and resources provide a good overview of current education research on "closing the achievement gap".

      1. I think the popularity "testing" has with certain folks has as much to do with the bottom line of a giant industry as it has to do with any benefit for students. Public policy is only rarely solely predicated on public need. 

      2. No gaf, testing and measuring progress have little to do with one another in Colorado. You have to go way back into the legislative archives, to find the purpose of the CSAPs, as they were called then. Bill Owens was one of the biggest boosters of high-stakes testing. Students were to be tested on a schedule and any school that failed three years in a row was to be closed and turned into a charter,  The plan was to progressively turn al of the schools over to private charter companies that could undoubtedly do a better job for less money; just ask a Tea Partisan. Most people no longer seem to remember this history, But I do. It's kind of like the way people were hornswoggled into turning the Lotto money over to GOCO when Lotto was approved specifically to fund prisons.

        1. I don;t recall it that way at all, so I did some research.  This link details the history that Lotto was initially approved by the legislature for parks and conservation (50%) and the half for construction, which included prison construction — but not actually running those facilities.  The legislature moved more and more into capital construction, so the initiative was enacted to create GOCO and require more to parks and conservation.

    1. Back in the dark ages when I was in High School anyone who completed the course work recommended for the college bound with decent grades found themselves prepared when they entered college. We weren't constantly being tested and I didn't know anyone who managed to get Bs who needed remedial courses in college. There were no AP courses or other means of inflating averages with extra point As and a B average was good enough to get into a top tier state university as long as you also had good SAT and/or ACT scores. In fact I didn't know anyone taking remedial courses in college, period. I assume it's because in those days you couldn't get Bs, much less As, without being proficient.

      I don't know what's changed since then to the point where so many kids who graduate with good grades aren't prepared for college without remedial work but I doubt spending less time learning and more time taking tests is going to fix it.

      1. I remember frown taking 1 or 2 standardized tests per year in HS. I don't know how it affected my course of study, probably not much. Looking back I think they were mostly practice for the ACT and SAT. In any event, when I took those college entrance tests neither the format nor the strategies for doing well were a surprise.

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