Education, Michael Fields, Politics

Fields: Strengthening education means common sense ideas

One of the first bills that was debated in the Senate Education Committee at the General Assembly was a proposal to provide $56 million in bonuses to highly effective teachers. Almost half of Colorado’s teachers would have qualified for a $2,000 pay increase. After all, what better way to recruit and retain quality teachers than by encouraging and rewarding quality work?

Coloradans on both sides of the aisle have been vocal about this issue, so you’d think a bill like this would garner broad support. Unfortunately, Democrats killed it on a party line vote. Their reason? Because lower performing teachers were left out. So, this means nearly 25,000 of Colorado’s best teachers won’t get a pay increase they deserve. If legislators are going to claim to care about teacher pay, they should at least vote that way when given the opportunity.

There’s no doubt that we need to address structural problems in education funding within our state. As a former middle school teacher, I know that it’s not easy to live off a first- or second-year salary. While our state’s budget surplus has allowed us to put more money into education in the last few years, we need to do more to address how those dollars are being spent. Currently, our state’s funding formula is not equitable enough from district to district, teacher compensation is too back-loaded, and administrative costs are out of control.

Denver Public Schools (DPS), for example, has 1 administrator for every 7.5 instructional staff. DPS is far above the state average for administrators, but the state average is also above the national average. As a state, only 53 percent of the money we spend on education goes to “instruction.” If we want more money to go to teachers and classrooms, we need to get administrative costs under control.

When it comes to accountability, we have to ensure that the progress we’ve made since education reform passed in 2010 is not reversed. A big part of this reform was ensuring that at least 50 percent of teacher evaluations be determined by the academic growth of students.

Student growth is one of the fairest measurements for teacher evaluations. This is because students might come into a classroom far behind or far ahead, but growth accounts for how much they learned that year under that teacher. Some legislators want to diminish (or totally get rid of) using student growth metrics in teacher evaluations. Instead, they want evaluations to be more subjective. This would be a mistake – and it would be bad for kids.

Our current system is far from perfect, but any new reforms still need to keep student success as its main focus. We need to know how teachers and schools are doing when it comes to the most basic question in education: are kids learning?

To most Coloradans, making sure students are actually learning, and putting more education dollars into classrooms are common sense ideas. It was disappointing to see a bill that took a small first step to address this go down in such a partisan way. Hopefully, legislators will work together to move the needle on strengthening our education system for all Colorado students.

Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising Action.

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