These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

2014 Legislation Alert: Mutual Consent, Common Core, and Accountability

Dear Members and Friends,

Denver Public Schools has its faults, a fact we rarely fail to point out. However, it also deserves praise and support. Student achievement has increased at a historic rate, dropout rates have decreased, and more students are in top-rated schools than ever before. These gains are a result of Denver’s ability to enact some of the boldest and most effective reforms of any urban district in the country. Some of these reforms are now under attack because of the adult interests that seek to uphold the status quo– even at the expense of students. Now, a trifecta of bills and a lawsuit threaten Denver’s progress and that of the state as a whole. A+ is asking you to take action and reach out to your elected representatives on three key issues: mutual consent, common core, and accountability.

Below each section, you will find a template letter you can use to email your state legislators to urge them to stop the lawsuit and bills. If you don’t know who your state legislators are, click below to find out.

Step 1: Find your state legislators and their contact information

1. Mutual Consent. A lawsuit brought by the teachers union (CEA) seeks to reinstate forced placement. Simultaneously, Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, have co-sponsored a bill (HB14-1268) that would gut mutual consent from SB-191.

Four years ago, Colorado was the first state to pass landmark legislation to end a practice called forced placement. What began decades ago as an attempt to protect teachers’ job security against unfair firing had spiraled into a system wherein teachers, granted almost automatic tenure (non-probationary in Colorado) after three years, were effectively guaranteed teaching jobs for life – regardless of their preparation or effectiveness. Under the old system, any non-probationary teacher that had lost their position because of a drop in enrollment or school closure and could not secure a new position would be directly placed into another school, frequently against teacher and principal wishes. In Denver, at least 70% of these teachers were forcibly placed in high poverty, low-performing schools. SB-191 replaced forced placement with “mutual consent” wherein both the teacher and the school administration must agree to a teaching assignment. Mutual consent allows schools to take ownership of student achievement and increases the odds that a child will have an effective teacher.

Now, if there is a reduction in force, affected teachers are paid for 12 months and are afforded priority interviews through two hiring cycles. If a teacher is then not among the 750-800 teachers hired each year for two consecutive hiring cycles, that teacher is put on unpaid leave. Unpaid leave effectively guarantees that when that teacher does find another teaching job, their new salary and benefits build upon their former salary. Since the mutual consent provision was adopted in 2010, just 57 teachers have been put on unpaid leave and are unable to find jobs (fewer than 20 per year).

There is now a small group of teacher union leaders and disgruntled teachers that want to return to the days when teacher job security was guaranteed regardless of classroom effectiveness. The question at hand in the lawsuit is whether non-probationary status (tenure), which has been almost automatically granted to every teacher after three years, is a property right that guarantees a salary or pension for life.

A+ Denver does not believe that tenure was ever intended to keep ineffective teachers in classrooms. We are part of a coalition that includes education and business groups and Colorado Governors Hickenlooper, Ritter and Owens. The coalition has called on the CEA to drop their lawsuit, and on lawmakers backed by the union to drop the legislation that would unravel 191.  Read this recent op-ed by Ritter and Owens.

Download Template Letter on Mutual Consent

2. Dissolving new state “Common Core”: SB14-136 would rollback the implementation of the Common Core and delay the switch from TCAP to PARCC assessments.

The “Common Core” is a set of national standards that would replace Colorado’s standards. There has long been a push to create a set of national norms so that when kids move from state to state, the expectations of learning remain the same, and so that the math kids are required to know in California is the same as Colorado is the same as New York.  Within the past couple of years, a coalition of states developed standards that are more relevant to the real world, more rigorous, and stress critical thinking. Forty-five states and Guam have adopted Common Core – the first set of internationally benchmarked standards in the US. For Denver, Common Core is essential to reform because our students will need to compete not just with other Denver kids, but with kids from around the world for the best jobs.  We owe it to them to set them up for success by having high education standards that link to those in other states and nations.  Note that Common Core sets targets for what skills kids need in primary subjects. They aren’t curricula and leave lots of room for local or state standards to supplement them with local context.

This bill to reject Common Core is being sponsored by Senator Vicki Marble, a tea party activist who recently made a name for herself for bizarre comments on race. The bill would roll back implementation of the “Common Core” and the shift from TCAP (aligned to CO standards) to PARCC (aligned to Common Core), a move already well underway in hundreds of schools. PARCC tests are more inquiry-based than TCAP, addressing one major criticism of TCAP. Both the new standards and tests have support from educators and the leading education political leaders on both sides of the aisle. A change now would be a huge blow to Denver educators that have worked so hard to implement them, and would set us far behind other states and nations that are ratcheting up their public education systems.

Download Template Letter on Common Core

3. Districts opting out of accountability. HB14-1202, led by Douglas County, would allow school districts to opt out of state tests. It could effectively dismantle the new teacher evaluation system.

Many complain that tests are onerous and imperfect and should be improved. These critics have been heard, and as a result tests are improving. Imperfect or not, standard assessments are also the only and best tool for determining whether students are learning. Without them, we can’t close, restructure, or phase out the worst schools – perhaps Denver’s best strategy for improving student achievement. Furthermore, the new educator effectiveness system that was overwhelmingly supported and is just now starting to go into effect, could be crippled by the DougCo bill.

The waiver bill is being driven by the Douglas County school district because the district claims that the state’s testing regimen is too burdensome and is not rigorous enough for DougCo students. There is actually nothing preventing Douglas County from having even higher standards in the classroom.  DougCo may want more rigorous standards, but many other districts will want less rigorous ones, and this bill could create a free-for-all.

This bill would not only destroy the current state accountability system for schools and districts but also gut the new teacher evaluation system, which is tied to assessment systems. The purpose of having state standards with an accompanying assessment system is to be able to make determinations about what is and is not working so that the public and policy makers can make adjustments to improve quality. This bill would undermine our ability to make comparisons and accordingly improve public education. It would also make it nearly impossible for parents to make informed decisions about the quality of school and which school would best meet the needs of their child because we wouldn’t be able to compare schools accurately.

Download Template Letter on Opting Out

These moves to undermine reform efforts have created an unholy alliance between the far right that wants no state or federal intrusion into local school districts and the extreme left who mindlessly support teacher unions rather than support great teachers. Each of these three bills could have a catastrophic long-term impact on student learning in Denver. We urge you to speak up on behalf of kids by letting your representative know you reject these bills and other legislation that undermines reform.

Thank you for your support.

A+ Denver