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

The End of School Accountability?

accountability end

Last week, the Colorado State Board of Education turned its back on the 83,475 students in turnaround and priority improvement schools when they gave Aurora Central High School and HOPE Online a free pass to continue to continue to collect our tax dollars despite not educating our students.   

The Colorado State Board of Education voted 7-0 to support Aurora Central’s half-baked improvement plans and 6-1 to support HOPE’s minor tweaks to their governance and program.  The state will require both of these schools to continue annual monitoring and superficial adjustments for another two years after each of these schools have been failing their kids by any objective measure for the last seven years.

Aurora Central and HOPE are the worst performing schools in Colorado with fewer than 10%, yes 10%, reaching the state’s professed minimum education standards. Over 70% of jobs in 2020 will require a post-secondary degree. Colorado’s standards are designed to be the benchmark for being prepared for college and career. This means that over 90% of the graduates of these schools will struggle to gain access to meaningful work, a living wage, and college. These schools are not meeting the imperative of our school system which is to create opportunities for every child, regardless of zip code.

We know that many of the state’s lowest performing schools are difficult to turn around for a wide array of reasons including poor leadership, lack of faculty capacity, turnover of staff, ineffective plans and sometimes lack of resources. But we also know it is possible to turn schools around. Many states from Massachusetts, Louisiana, New Jersey, even California have supported policies and practices to improve the lowest performing schools in their states.  

It is even more depressing is that these decisions by the Colorado State Board and Colorado Department of Education will have ramifications for all of the 83,475 students stuck in failing schools. The remaining turnaround and priority improvement schools and districts can rest assured knowing that they can continue to operate dropout factories with very little oversight or interference from the state of Colorado. CDE and the State Board now will have enormous difficulty coming up with any other more radical interventions (closure, charter conversion, district consolidation, reorganization of district governance) for these other schools and districts when two of the worst schools in the state, HOPE and Aurora Central, were left once again to stay the course–a course which has quite simply not borne out for students.

Our state constitution claims a “thorough and uniform” public education for all students. National education advocates look to Colorado’s school accountability laws, like SB 163, as an example. Yet, it means nothing if policymakers are unwilling to enforce these laws.

Colorado, like many states, is at an important turning point as our economy changes faster than it ever has with rise of automation and the loss of many categories of jobs. The expectations for graduates in terms of knowledge, skills, and habits has never been greater, yet our public education system still reflects a 20th century factory model that seems incapable of adapting to meet this challenge.

I can only hope that our next Governor and other leaders soon wake up to the crisis that thousands of Colorado families are facing with such an inadequate public education system. All of Colorado’s students deserve a lifeline if their local schools are unable to support them to succeed.