Archive for the ‘Colorado Education Association’ Category

School board election to test public education

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Non-partisan school board elections have turned highly partisan in the Denver metro area.  The Republican party has gone full forward against two teachers’ associations – the Jefferson County Education Association and Douglas County’s American Federation of Teachers.

What’s interesting is that both districts do well in the state’s academic assessment program.  Douglas County, which rims the south metro area, has a mostly white population, with a 10 percent poverty rate.  Jefferson County, which at one time mirrored Douglas County’s demographic, now is much more diverse with a 30 percent poverty rate.

Jeffco School District is the largest in the state with about 85,000 students.  Its students test well above the state average on the Colorado School Assessment Program (CSAP) tests.  Of the 140+ schools in the district, one is considered non-performing.  The district has numerous schools ranking among the top 10 percent in achievement.  Douglas County Schools are similar in their test results, with no non-performing schools.

Douglas County has also been at the front end of pay for performance reforms.  It is about to release a revised performance pay package.  Jeffco is currently testing pay for performance strategies in a federal pilot program based on a $38 million grant.

Nevertheless, the Republican party is pushing a hard, anti-union agenda, on the premise that unions provide dollars to Democratic candidates. The Jeffco district, with a majority Republican board, advocates, and is trying to implement, a voucher program allowing up to 500 students to attend private schools, including religious schools.

The cry in Jefferson County by Republican candidates is for more “choice,” even though every school in Colorado is a choice school.  Jefferson County has 12 charter schools and has received only one charter application in recent years.

In addition, the Jeffco Republican candidates, along with a current board member, will put pressure on the superintendent to “follow directions.”  It’s likely that the superintendent, elected Colorado Superintendent-of-the-Year by her colleagues in 2010, will leave the district if the Republican candidates, known as the “two dads,” win.

The two dads state that a voucher plan is not their goal.  But Republican candidates for school board in Douglas County said the same thing in the 2009 election, and now that district is fighting for vouchers in the Colorado state court system.

November 1 is Election Day.  Both districts, representing about 17 percent of Colorado kids, face stark choices.  The school boards elected in this election will test how citizens see public education in the future.

School board conflicts threaten school district performance

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

School boards have taken their hits lately as school board members become testy with pressure to improve student academic performance and drum up money to meet budgets.  In Colorado, two of the largest districts are having similar conflicts over school reform and board behavior, with threats of recall and votes on censure.

Denver Board boils over school reform plans

Denver’s school board has seen huge discord as its Superintendent, Tom Boasberg, has tried to bring reform to the Montbello articulation area in the northeast part of the city.  His actions roiled the waters in this largely minority part of town, as the high school and feeder schools have new principals and have worked to improve their results.  Nevertheless, Boasberg asked the board to completely revamp the schools, a request recently approved on a 4-3 vote by the Board, producing tears among students and staff.

The arguments in Denver are among Democrats – those supporting the teachers’ union and those supporting Superintendent Tom Boasberg –  with the President of the Board, Dr. Nate Easley Jr., the swing vote who supported the Superintendent.  Easley is now threatened with recall as the teachers’ association and its supporters call foul. Easley won his election in part based on union help.

Jefferson County School Board censures a member

The Jefferson County School District Board, with its 6500 employees and 85,000 students, has recently censured board member Laura Boggs, a first in the history of the district.  Boggs, elected a year ago by just over 51 percent of the vote, has not turned away from controversy.   On visiting a local high school, she got involved in an English teacher’s lesson on acronyms.  The acronym was SCHOOL, to which Boggs attached STUPID to the S.  Other actions have aggravated her relationship with the superintendent and the teachers’ association.

Boggs is a Republican on a board that is 3-2 Democrat.  The censure vote was 4-0 (Boggs was not allowed to vote).  Based on these proximate situations, one wonders about the proper role of a board member and how to promote school improvements in the face of chronic board conflict.

No trust at heart of problems

Republican Boggs has a lot in common with Democrat Andrea Merida, a leader of the Denver Board’s minority faction.  Both do not trust district decision-making and push their bureaucracies’ buttons.  Merida has publicly complained that Denver Public Schools Administration withholds information Jeffco’s Boggs has repeatedly asserted that teachers should take an across the board pay cut, which has put her at cross purposes with the Jeffco teachers’ association. Neither board member trusts their superintendent.

The challenge for all board members is how to push for positive change while allowing districts to conduct their business.  If a board member does not trust the district, but then behaves in a way that compromises the trust citizens endowed them upon election, chaos ensues, constructive conversations die, progress slows, and no change is accomplished.

Denver will move forward with its Montbello plans and Jeffco will move forward with its facilities and budget struggles.  Both Andrea Merida and Laura Boggs will face some big decisions about how to effect change, or simply make lots of noise.

Colorado Lost RTTT, but Jeffco wins big with TIF

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Public school teacher compensation has taken shots from every direction based on its lock-step grid structure.  Generally, all teachers in a district who have worked ten years and have 30 post-secondary credits receive the same salary.

Jefferson County School District in Colorado, the largest district in the state, is piloting a completely different compensation program funded by a $32.8 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant.

The grant provides money for a 20-school pilot project at elementary and middle schools with at least 50% of students on free or reduced price lunch.  Ten schools will pilot the new compensation plan; ten “control” schools will receive an across-the-board one percent pay increase and all the additional professional development services of the grant.  Teachers in the control group will continue to be paid for “steps and levels” negotiated in the District’s teacher contract.

The new strategic compensation plan is the result of collaboration by Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), the teacher’s bargaining unit, district administration, and the school board.  It divides compensation into three tiers:  new teachers, experienced classroom teachers, and teacher leaders.  The pay structure looks like this:

Tier 1:  $40,000-$50,000

Tier 2:  $55,000-$75,000

Tier 3:  $80,000-$100,000

In Jeffco’s “steps and levels” structure, beginning salary is $33,000, and salaries top out at about $85,000.

How does the compensation plan work?

New teachers will start at $40,000 and will have a minimum of three years, and up to five years, to move out of the first tier.  During that time, they will establish annual individual, team, and school goals.  They will receive additional compensation, up to a total of $10,000, for goals met.  Goals include student achievement and growth using the Colorado Department of Education growth model.  Theoretically, new teachers can earn up to $50,000 their first year out.

Tier 2 teachers represent the experienced teacher corps.  These teachers will also establish individual, team, and school goals.  They will receive pay based on goal achievement levels, with up to $20,000 on the table.

Tier 3 teachers will serve as teacher leaders.  This level continues the career pathway set by Tiers 1 and 2, focusing on additional value that leaders bring.  These teachers may work longer days or more days during the school year.  They will mentor, provide data analysis skill, do model teaching, and/or perform peer performance evaluation.  With an entry salary of $80,000, these teachers can earn up to an additional $20,000.  Ideally, this tier will offer teachers a chance to try out leadership roles that can prepare them for administration leadership positions.

Additional professional development

Compensation change isn’t the only purpose of the TIF grant.  The district will create professional development programs for both pilot and control schools.  Schools will also receive an additional half-time vice principal to help manage the grant.

Overall the grant, distributed over five years, encourages creativity and innovation to ensure that children in low-income areas receive the support and powerful teaching necessary for their success.

Program received with mixed results

The JCEA is now meeting with the 25 elementary and middle schools that meet the free and reduced lunch criteria.  High schools are currently excluded from the study because of their size.  Issues have arisen around teachers at the top end of the current salary structure.  Some salary adjusting in Tier 2 will have to occur to accommodate the transition.  Some teachers are eager for the opportunity; others see risks and are “wait and see.”

Teachers’ union key to developing the plan

The Jefferson County Education Association was a critical player in developing the plan.  The union wants to take a lead role in figuring out how their professional compensation will look in the 21st century.  Kerrie Dallman, president of JCEA, said, “I am excited about this grant because it gives Jeffco teachers the opportunity to shape our profession now and in the future.  We know change is coming, and we want to help plan that change.”

Answering important core “reform” questions

Does teacher compensation affect teacher performance?  Does more focused professional development make the most difference for kids?    A related question is whether such a plan will attract a broader array of college students into the teaching profession if they can increase their income faster than in the current system.  JCEA wants to know if having a career path giving teachers more leadership opportunities will make a critical difference.

The five-year time frame may not be long enough to adequately test these premises, but much is at stake in the Jeffco study: new ways of thinking about compensation, professional development, career opportunities, new teacher training, and especially union-management collaboration.

Waiting for the Teachers Unions

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

When the Puritans settled on the East coast, in spite of many beliefs people nowadays find, well, puritanical, those men and women did believe in education for all members of the community.  They arose against the idea that only children from wealthy families who could afford tutors and governesses would be educated.

It’s also true that by the 19th century the number of teachers graduating from normal schools and accepting positions in small mid-western towns put up with poor wages and behavior rules we citizens would still find puritanical.

Things weren’t equal for children, of course.  Think of slave children, poor rural children hidden in Appalachian mountain valleys and deep in the French Louisiana bayous, immigrant children who didn’t speak English crowded into urban schools.

No wonder joining together to put pressure on the powers that be to improve conditions became a choice many shared.  For teachers, as well as miners, train conductors, factory and construction workers, the changes came by supporting each other.

Eventually heroic efforts gained job security, improved salaries, safe conditions for school buildings, and health benefits.  Can anyone discount the improvements for teachers and students? The National Education Association (NEA) locals and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliates are proud of solidarity, mutual assistance, and well-established worker’s rights.

Today, however, schools are at another precarious stage and trouble is brewing.  Today the monumental concern is not over salaries or benefits for teachers, but how to improve the curriculum for students so they achieve academically and succeed in the 21st century.  Why are unions still standing on the achievements for teachers’ rights gained 50-60 years ago?

It is hard to grasp why the teachers unions have not taken the upper hand in the current debate.  After all, the overarching purpose of the teachers unions is to set conditions so students succeed.

Teacher evaluation is the highest priority of most states and the bane of teachers unions.  Since the 1980’s numerous proposals have appeared in the education world to evaluate teachers: Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) programs, “value-added” models, point scales of performance to name three.  Why don’t teachers unions with all their resources take on the job of designing a fair evaluation system, including pay?  A change in evaluation procedures will not help every teacher.  Some will have to go and part of the teachers union expertise would be better used to help teachers make the transition.

The Common Core Standards Initiative (CCSI) has already developed and state departments of education have voted on Core Curriculum Standards to help teachers design their curriculum.  Teachers, countrywide, should be happy.  Now texts will actually be organized to help set up pertinent lessons, not be arranged to support purchase by 50 different states with 50 different curriculums.  And one day tests will actually assess what students have learned so teachers can spend their time and effort helping low-performing students achieve.  Unions should be advocates for such testing changes, setting forth guidelines for the tests, offering personnel to help design the tests.  Don’t fight with Education Testing Service (ETS), join them to make sure the tests reflect what teachers want.

Last, as teachers unions represent a professional group, it would seem better for NEA and AFT newsletters to address the best-researched curricula; highest assessment successes; fairest evaluation models; strongest plans for infrastructure; most professional school boards.  No longer write articles and press releases only about how a local has stood up against some stupid school district regulation.  Good to know, but the thrust should be to ensure the schools supported by teachers unions are the best schools that have turned around.

Colorado’s Race to the Top app foundered

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Colorado’s Race to the Top application foundered, as expected, on its lack of progress on teacher evaluation and tenure.  To give Colorado a second chance at RTTT funding, State Senator Michael Johnston has introduced SB10-191 to change the state’s evaluation and tenure process.

Tenure hit with new bill

Currently, teachers get tenure with three years of satisfactory probationary teaching, and it’s very difficult (at least three years) to remove teachers with tenure.  With SB10-191, new teachers must show three years of “highly effective” teaching in their first three years, and if tenured teachers receive two years of unsatisfactory reviews, their tenure can be yanked.

The state will define “highly effective” teaching.  Fifty percent of teacher evaluation will depend on student performance, based on annual yearly progress on state tests.  Sixty-six percent of principal evaluation will depend on student performance.

Teacher evaluation goes from once every three years to once a year

The bill will change the current evaluation system from once every three years for tenured teachers to once each year.  The bill also will “reward” excellent teacher performance with career development and compensation.

No new state dollars for the program

What the bill does not do is provide extra dollars for compensation.  It assumes, apparently, that those dollars will come from RTTT.  At some point, however, Colorado, and all states, will need to get serious about compensation if they expect teachers to play to the new tune.

In the Denver metropolitan area, new teachers make roughly $35,000 per year.  That’s about the same as a retail store manager.  A starting engineer will make somewhat north of $65,000, depending on the engineering field.  A starting lawyer will make about $75,000, depending on the size of the firm.  A new physician can make up to $100,000, depending on the practice.

Teachers will get paid less at least through 2011

The incentive for new teachers to become “highly effective” based on compensation is nil.  The only incentive is pride and love of the job because the opportunity for a raise in the current economic environment is not what it was even two years ago.  Right now, most school districts in the state are cutting their budgets, telling staff that they will make the same in 2011 as they did in 2010.  In fact, they will probably have made more in 2009 than they’ll make in 2011.

The state legislature is cutting about $250 million from the 2010-2011 school budget.  That’s the wrong direction if the state intends to implement a system that puts a teacher’s employment at risk each year.

State hopes for RTTT to add to compensation

If the state is serious about implementing a new evaluation system, it also needs to get serious about compensation.  Offering a new teacher at least $45,000 seems reasonable.  That’s the only way school districts will be able to attract and retain highly competent new teachers after firing all those incompetent old teachers.

State doesn’t fund evaluation program

The state also needs to come up with a support system for the increase in teacher evaluations.  The main complaint from principals is that they don’t have time for frequent evaluation.  If that’s the case, then schools may have to create a whole new class of educator, the teacher evaluator, which may be a good thing.  This person theoretically can be an instructional leader.

But the teacher evaluator position does not currently exist in Colorado.  Will this position be supervisory or licensed?  Will it be a part of the new “career ladder” envisioned in the law, or one more trend that eventually is discarded.

Democrats will fight over the bill; GOP just needs to stay out of it

Many in Colorado support education reform.  A huge fight is already heating up between Democrats who want schools to get better faster and Democrats who receive much of their candidate funding from the Colorado Education Association.  Republicans can just stay out of the way and watch the pots boil over.

But more money?  To get more money, teacher supporters have to come up with a 2/3 majority of legislators who are willing to put an initiative on the ballot.  That’s not likely.

So if teacher evaluation goes forward, and nothing changes related to compensation, the state may get the opposite of what it wants:  a system with fewer teachers, doing less with less, facing an evaluation program requiring them to do more with less.  It’s difficult to figure how that scenario can lead to anything but complete breakdown in the entire system.