Education, Paul Lundeen

The CEA roadblock to accelerating Colorado education

Around Colorado, Olivia, Lucas and the high school Class of ’32 are being born into a world with a chaotic future. Communities worldwide are accelerating their children onto an educational freeway. If we leave our schools on surface streets or get lost on an endless frontage road, these fast-tracked competitors will leave young Coloradans behind.

We must move past the slow-lane school system and build on-ramps and expressways to get our children up to speed.

One of the most powerful accelerators we can offer children is a great teacher. In 2010, a bipartisan consensus of leaders took on the challenge. They responded to the educational imperative by building an on-ramp for educator effectiveness, commonly called Senate Bill 191. As a good-faith effort to improve educator quality, the Educator Effectiveness Act earned support from parents, educators, and business leaders across Colorado.

Now, just as schools and teachers are getting up to speed, the Colorado Education Association wants to drop a concrete roadblock in the middle of the on-ramp.

CEA leaders want us to slow down, back up, and return to a bureaucratic maze of rules that shield low-performing educators from accountability.

Specifically, the CEA has filed suit to block a provision of the law known as “mutual consent.” The old practice of forced placement can assign a weak-performing teacher to a school over the objections of the principal and leadership team – often displacing an effective teacher with less seniority.

Under the new provision a teacher can only be placed in a new assignment after a team of administrators and teachers at the receiving school agrees.

CEA’s lawsuit seeks to grant unilateral veto power to ineffective teachers and the union that defends them. Slashing the provision would render SB191 powerless. If schools can be forced to accept incompatible teachers over principals’ objections, then why even track teacher performance? If teachers cannot be held accountable, then principals, schools, and districts all have an automatic excuse for unsatisfactory results.

Districts, schools, and educators across Colorado have invested enormous resources in navigating the transition to new accountability standards under SB191. Many districts have mothballed older evaluation systems to make way for online, standards-based rubrics for teacher performance. New systems incorporate student performance data and raise the bar for educator effectiveness.

By the time Olivia and Lucas graduate in 2032, they will have had dozens of unique educators guide their academic journey. The main purpose of SB191 is to assure parents that more and more of those teachers will be highly effective, and that their ineffective counterparts will improve or leave the classroom.

CEA instead ought to honor the example of the teachers at Evans Elementary, a school in the district I represent.

As part of the innovation initiative in Falcon District 49, teachers at Evans decided to forego seniority-based protections and voluntarily laid down their tenured status. In exchange they gained the chance to be part of a school judged on outcomes, not inputs. These teachers serve a disproportionately at-risk and mobile population, yet those very students excel at a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Across town, Centennial Elementary has helped 90 percent of its third-graders reach the critical mark of reading proficiency, though a similar share of its students come from low-income families. Centennial belongs to Harrison District 2, which years ago leaped ahead of SB191 with cutting-edge teacher performance pay.

Both examples represent uses of public funds that are responsive to families seeking the best possible educational outcomes. They point the way to many more on-ramps that can guide students onto expressways that accelerate learning.

Let’s reject the CEA roadblocks and join the teachers at Evans, Centennial, and around Colorado who are leading students on a freeway to the future. We owe it to Olivia, Lucas, and the thousands of other young Coloradans who depend on our schools to keep pace with the world.

Paul Lundeen, an entrepreneur and small-business owner for nearly 30 years, is chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education. This column originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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