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What’s Left Unsaid in CTQ Report on Implementing Colorado SB 191

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts about Colorado’s implementation of the educator effectiveness law (SB 191) — including a video from Step Up Colorado — that prompted a lengthy and thoughtful comment from an area teacher who is part of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ)’s New Millennium Initiative (NMI).

Then someone else from CTQ reached out to my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow to notify him of a report, co-authored by Denver-area teachers, with thoughts on SB 191 implementation. I thought it fitting to dig in and follow up, seeing as how it was just last week Ben shared his thoughts before the State Board of Education on this very topic.

Anyway, the CTQ report Making Teacher Evaluations Work for Students: Voices from the Classroom was released earlier this week. Some of the 21 teachers’ main points include:

  • Using locally developed assessments alongside the Colorado Growth Model to measure student learning gains [more advanced districts like Harrison Two have experience taking this approach];
  • Academic growth measures should be broken into relevant student subgroups, and should incorporate school attendance [where do online and blended learning programs fit in?];
  • Instructional evaluators not only “should be trained extensively” but also should include significant use of peer evaluation through hybrid teacher-leaders; and
  • “Professional guilds of teachers” should be afforded the responsibility of professional development and teacher remediation.

It was instructive to get a somewhat different perspective on the work of bringing an effective educator evaluation system to life, but I don’t think the report’s recommendations ultimately are bold enough to bring about needed changes. For one thing, they are too skeptical and dismissive of the baseball-like potential of value-added measures. On paper the peer evaluation piece and CTQ’s accompanying “teacherpreneur” idea read like good ideas, but to work and benefit students at scale they need the balance of serious improvements to the educator preparation process (see the review being undertaken by NCTQ).

Then there’s the notion of the professional teacher guild, which really piqued Ben’s attention. Ben asked CTQ spokesperson Braden Welborn by email: “Was there any discussion of the ongoing roles of unionism and bargaining in relation to such a re-envisioning of the teaching profession?” Welborn wrote on behalf of the 21 teachers — which represent a mix of union and non-union members, and includes a few with Teach for America and/or innovation school experience, but interestingly no one from the charter sector:

The Denver NMI team has talked about how they can work together with unions to play a more prominent role in upholding high standards for the teaching profession and the team believes that unions themselves could be more like professional guilds. This leadership could go beyond the bargaining table—unions could help ensure that evaluation systems are linked to appropriate supports (like relevant professional development and well-trained evaluators).

Again, it sounds nice. But in all seriousness how do we go beyond discussions to accomplish the transformation of teaching from the industrial union model to a true professional guild? Colorado public school teachers thankfully have membership options, and small progress is being made in other states in the forms of local-only unions, faculty senates and the like. So why not think bigger? Think bolder?

Finally, maybe it fell outside their mission, but the CTQ report essentially left the principal evaluation piece of SB 191 unexplored. The Denver NMI teachers’ written assessment of statewide educator effectiveness implementation offers some valuable perspectives and insights, but what they left unsaid may be the most telling of all.