Future of Teaching

Johnston: SB191 delay not needed

Sen. Mike Johnston, author of Colorado’s landmark educator evaluation law, says “It’s premature to change any timelines now” in rolling out of the new system for rating principals and teachers.

Sen. Mike Johnston
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, speaks to state educator effectiveness council on Friday.

Johnston met Friday with the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, the appointed body responsible for making recommendations about the design of the system to the State Board of Education and the Colorado Department of Education.

As the council has continued its work, some members have become worried about whether a sustainable system can be put in place under the timelines set in Senate Bill 10-191.

“Our feeling is the only thing worse than change that’s not fast enough is change that’s so fast it can’t incrementally build on itself, and it craters,” Matt Smith, an aerospace executive who chairs the council, told Johnston. “We want to go fast … but not so fast that the quality of the product and the sustainability of the outcome is compromised.”

SB 10-191 timeline
  • 2011-12 – Elements of system piloted for principals
  • 2012-13 – Pilot testing for teachers and principals
  • 2013-14 – All districts to use the state system or an approved local system; evaluation results won’t affect tenure status
  • 2014-15 – Ratings of partially effective or ineffective will begin to affect tenure status
  • 2016-17 – First year a teacher could lose tenure (“non-probationary status”)

Key provisions of the law

  • Annual evaluations of principals and teachers
  • 50% of evaluations based on student academic growth
  • Teachers lose tenure if rated less than effective for 2 consecutive years
  • Loss of tenure does not mean automatic loss of job
  • Assignment to a school requires mutual teacher-principal consent

Teacher ratings

  • Highly effective
  • Effective
  • Partially effective
  • Ineffective

Concern about the timetable have been circulating in some education quarters and bubbled to the surface at a council meeting in late September. Johnston was asked to meet with the group to air out the issue.

Elements of the system currently are being tested in selected districts, but all districts are supposed to roll out the state system – or an approved local equivalent – starting in the fall of 2013. Evaluations of less than effective in 2013-14 won’t count against a teacher’s non-probationary status, commonly called tenure.

Johnston said he believes the current timetable is viable because of the two pilot-test years and because evaluations in 2013-14 won’t start the tenure-loss clock for ineffective teachers. He said next year is “in essence, a third pilot year.”

He also said there will be plenty of opportunities to fine-tune the system along the way: “The new evaluation system will have challenges, and it will have weaknesses. … No one believes that version 1.0 is going to be final. … The only way to start is by starting.”

Johnston was asked what happens if the system clearly isn’t ready to go next June, when the second year of pilot testing ends.

“We could find a way to turn the ship,” Johnston said, saying the State Board could be asked to suspend the regulations that drive the system, perhaps buttressed by an executive order from the governor. Then the 2014 legislature could decide what to do, he said. Johnston told EdNews Colorado later he doesn’t see the need for tinkering with SB 10-191 during the upcoming 2013 legislative session.

“That allays some of our concerns,” said council member Joanne Baxter, a former Moffat County school board member.

Baxter had said earlier that she’s particularly concerned about implementing the half of the evaluation that’s based on academic growth of students. Growth will be measured not only by performance on TCAP tests but also on district, classroom and other assessments that will vary.

“It’s the growth standard that’s of great concern … the timeline doesn’t allow us the time to implement that,” Moffat said.

“Clearly we knew that the growth standard was going to be the hard part,” Johnston said but again expressed confidence that the pieces would fall in place under the current timetable.

Impact of new tests

Johnston also was asked about the implications of Colorado changing testing programs in the middle of implementing the evaluation system. The current TCAP reading, writing and math tests are scheduled to be replaced by national tests being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, starting in the spring of 2015.

He said he believes the Colorado Growth Model, the data system used by the state to calculate student academic growth based on multiple years of TCAP scores, can accommodate the switch.

Of more concern to legislators and the public, Johnston said, will be the inevitable drop in percentages of proficient students after the new test is launched. “There’s always going to be a year in which that happens,” he said.

What’s next

The council currently is developing recommendations for how to evaluate what are called “other licensed personnel” such as counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, social workers and various kinds of therapists. The recommendations are due in January to the State Board of Education, which decide what regulations to issue on the evaluation of those professionals.

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.