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Colorado Has Made Some Progress, But a C for Teacher Policy Isn’t Good Enough

Now that School Choice Week is over, and I’m able to relax a bit after my manic phase of hyperactivity, it’s back to the (fun) edublogging grind. Right out of the gate, it’s time to tackle an important education reform item that emerged last week but falls a little bit outside the school choice arena. A January 25 Denver Post story by Yesenia Robles proclaimed that “Colorado gets a C for teacher policies”:

Colorado has developed good policy for dismissing unqualified teachers, but not for increasing the pool of well-prepared teachers entering the workforce, according to a report out today.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a national nonprofit, released the report today grading every state’s teacher policy. Colorado averaged a C letter grade, up from a D+ in 2009, but was ranked as No. 12 among the states making the most progress.

Yes, this is the same respected NCTQ I’ve talked about before regarding their study of teacher preparation programs. In fact, my Education Policy Center friends last year recorded an iVoices podcast with NCTQ’s Sandi Jacobs about the then-latest version of their State Teacher Policy Yearbook.

As reading the Post story might suggest, there are two distinct ways to take Colorado’s C grade in the area of teacher policy. One approach is to emphasize the fact it wasn’t graded on a curve. NCTQ correctly set a fairly high bar, so our Centennial State looks pretty good compared to most other states. Not only are we 12th in the amount of progress made in the past two years — Senate Bill 191, anyone? — but we are also 9th out of 51 (including D.C.) in the overall quality of the state’s teacher policies.

And with some good reason. While we aren’t in the elite B-range category (inhabited only by Florida, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee) and we didn’t make the most progress during the last two years (that would be Indiana), Colorado did earn the highest-possible “Best Practice” rating in the areas closing licensure loopholes and performing layoffs based on effectiveness rather than the old “LIFO” (last in, first out) rule. (Ahem, SB 191!) Our state also met the goal in four other areas:

  • Alternate Route Usage and Providers;
  • Evaluation of Effectiveness (SB 191… again);
  • Tenure (based on effectiveness… you guessed it, SB 191); and
  • (Remediation for teachers with) Unsatisfactory Evaluation (Can I get a 191, please?)

On the other hand, being 9th or 12th still isn’t good enough when you look at some of the significant weaknesses NCTQ has identified. As the Post story highlighted, Colorado hit the rock bottom rating for most of the teacher preparation goals — including elementary math, middle school, secondary, and student teaching. We also hit the lowest “does not meet” mark in the area of performance pay. While I appreciate NCTQ’s intent, and Colorado certainly hasn’t arrived, there are a number of local alternative compensation plans at work in the state’s school districts and charter schools.

On the issue of pay scales, NCTQ urges Colorado and many other states to take action by discouraging districts from tying compensation to earned degrees. Hmmm… Great idea! I’ve been on the anti-master’s bumps bandwagon with NCTQ for some time now. But there’s a good reason for that, too. The research overwhelmingly shows it has no effect on student learning. In a new piece for City Journal, Marcus Winters quantifies the value of all the major credentials educators can earn:

Research also shows that the credentials prized under the current system tell us next to nothing about how well a teacher performs in the classroom—and they explain only about 3 percent of the variation in teacher quality. Obtaining a master’s degree, it turns out, is simply unrelated to a teacher’s effectiveness….

I could go on, but hopefully you got the point. While some in Colorado might sit back and relax with a C because most states have the same grade or lower, I say it’s time to press forward and focus on continuing to fix the deficits that are holding us back from becoming NCTQ’s first state to earn an A!