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Colorado State Senator
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
August 26, 2011
Johnson, chair; Janis Clay, Paul Gilje, Sallie Kemper,
Wayne Popham (phone), and Clarence Shallbetter
A. Welcome and
Verne and Paul welcomed and introduced State Sen. Mike Johnston,
participating today via conference call.
in the Colorado State Senate and serves as a policy advisor to New Leaders
for New Schools.
first entered education as a Teach for
high school English teacher in
an experience that led him to write his acclaimed book, "In the Deep
Heart's Core." Later he co-founded New Leaders for New Schools, a national
non-profit that recruits and trains urban principals. Most recently,
Johnston was co-founder and principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of
the Arts, a redesigned urban high school that made Colorado history by
becoming the first public high school in which 100 percent of seniors were
admitted to four-year colleges.*
has been an adjunct professor of education law at the
Recently named to
"40 Under 40" and Forbes Magazine's list of the "7 Most Powerful
Educators," he holds degrees from Yale College, the Harvard Graduate
School of Education, and the Yale Law School.
was invited today to discuss several education changes over the past 10
years in an effort to improve learning and close the achievement gap
between minority and majority students.
Summary of the meeting--
practice of measuring growth in a school's own performance from year to
year, instead of the school's absolute standing relative to all other
schools. He highlighted
laws that allow innovative schools to break free from state and district
regulations, that remove permanent teacher tenure, and that prohibit use
of teacher seniority as the determining factor in layoffs or in assignment
C. Comments and
comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following points were
1. Measure each student's growth from year to year,
not just a school's absolute standing in performance.
Johnson first outlined what he called the
growth model, which measures how much a school improves in terms of the
growth of individual students' achievement from year to year. This kind of
measurement better illustrates performance than comparing schools'
aggregate proficiency with respect to standards. If one school has
achieved 70 percent proficiency and another, 30 percent, such data do not
serve to indicate how much growth in proficiency each school has achieved
in a year. But measuring growth from year to year gives a clearer
picture of how much each school has "added value", that is, how much
improvement in individual learning has been achieved.
guidelines on testing make no mention of measuring growth, he said. The
approach was unique when first started by
but some 15 states since have followed the
Later in the
clarified that Colorado schools continue to measure raw performance
against standards in key areas like reading and math.
2. Provide a strong framework on school choice.
Colorado's strong school chartering law was first enacted in 1993 and has
been strengthened since. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
rank's Colorado's fourth among 40 state laws. Charter schools are
relatively easy to open in the state and there is no cap on the number of
charters allowed. Both the state and school districts may act as charter
sponsors. See: http://bit.ly/oekFQz.
3. Allow innovation at the local school level. In its 2007
Innovation Schools law,
allows individual schools to seek waivers from district-wide policies,
bargaining unit agreements and state laws for the purpose of student
achievement. Upon petition from 60 percent of teachers in a school, the
school is released from school district regulations and granted full
authority to manage itself with a correspondingly high level of
http://bit.ly/dpHFT4. According to the Colorado Department of
Education, 21 schools, of which 18 are part of the Denver Public Schools,
have been approved for participation under this law.
Randolph School was the first school to receive approval to operate
http://bit.ly/pP3XGT. This past year Bruce Randolph School joined a
small group of schools in Colorado where 100 percent of their high school
graduates enrolled in four-year colleges, Johnston said.
4. Retain great teachers and principals.
Authored by Johnston and enacted in 2010, the Great Teachers and Leaders
law is aimed at improving the state's ability to recruit, train, and
reward great teaching and school management talent. (See:
http://bit.ly/pPFH2x) This legislation has several significant
a. Require an annual evaluation of teachers and principals, at least 50
percent of which evaluation must be based on student academic growth.
Student growth will be based on a series of tools, taking into account
diverse student needs and special education status.
b. Provide more career opportunities for exceptional teachers. Gifted
teachers will be encouraged to move into the role of Master/Mentor
Teacher, taking on additional responsibility to mentor new or
c. Remove permanent tenure (called "non-probationary status" in Colorado).
fundamentally changes the concept of teacher tenure. In the past, once
earned, tenure was permanent. Now a teacher can earn tenure only after
three consecutive annual performance ratings at or above the "effective"
level. However, teachers must continue to perform to keep their tenured
status. A teacher can lose tenure based on two consecutive "ineffective"
ratings. Once tenure is denied or lost, it can be earned again after three
years of consecutive "effective" ratings. A teacher losing tenure doesn't
necessarily lose a job. That decision is up to the local district. The law
applies to all Colorado teachers; no one is grandfathered in to the old
tenure scheme. Responding to a question, Johnston said that the question
of early retirement was not addressed in the law.
(Tenure originally was established at the post-secondary level to assure
academic freedom for professors, a Civic Caucus participant noted. Tenure
was not originally intended for conventional or universal job protection
for an entire labor force. However, tenure did become a K-12 mainstay
after unionization in large part due to arbitrary firing practices that
abused a largely powerless teaching profession.)
d. Eliminate last-hired-first-fired policy. The law allows school
districts to keep the most effective teachers, eliminating the common
practice of "last-hired-first-fired" lay-offs. Lay-offs are now based
first on teachers' relative growth performance, with tenure used only as a
tiebreaker. The law supersedes local bargaining agreements. Johnston
highlighted an egregious of example of a last-hired-first-fired calamity
in another state where an outstanding, national award-winning teacher had
to be dismissed because of the rigid adherence to that policy.
e. Eliminate automatic assignment to schools based on seniority.
Superseding any local bargaining contracts to the contrary, the law no
longer allows teachers the right to claim seniority and select the school
where they want to teach. Moreover, principals won't be assigned a list
from which they must select teachers, irrespective of their interest or
competence in a given position.
5. Traditional salary schedules retained for now.
doesn't require changes in the way teacher salaries have been
traditionally determined-district-controlled and usually based on length
of service and college credits beyond the bachelor's degree. However,
Johnston singled out Mike Miles, superintendent, Harrison School District
No. 2, Colorado Springs, who led in establishing a new salary schedule for
his district based on bands of performance, without guaranteed increases.
6. Leadership by
the Governor is important.
The impetus for passage of the Great Teachers and Leaders act came
initially from a host of grass roots organizations, representing a variety
of ethnic, business, labor, and community groups,
said. The Governor became a major proponent once the grass roots tide of
support became apparent. An unexpected positive endorsement by the state
Commissioner of Education in an op-ed article in a daily newspaper was a
key factor. Another was a full-page newspaper ad listing all the
Colorado Federation of Teachers supported the bill, but the Colorado
Education Association was opposed. A Civic Caucus participant noted that
in Minnesota the two teacher organizations have merged and that some
observers wonder if such mergers might have the effect of reducing the
likelihood of passage of major school change legislation.
constraints persist on raising revenue.
changes in education were largely revenue-neutral, Johnston said. Colorado
has severe restrictions on the power of localities to raise revenue. In
the past 65 percent of local operating revenue was raised locally. Now 65
percent comes from the state, he said. A participant inquired of Johnston
about a pending federal lawsuit challenging
replied that in light of state restrictions on raising revenue it's
doubtful the suit will be successful. He agrees, however, that Colorado
needs to improve its school finance system.
8. Other issues
Responding to questions
Improvements in early childhood
education were not among the recent major changes and remain an area for
Colorado, along with other states, faces
major challenges in providing "alternative" education for especially
difficult populations, such as youth in detention facilities.
He is unaware of a 2011 state law in
Oregon that establishes a board over all public education in the state
from pre-kindergarten through post-graduate and does not see that as a
near term issue in Colorado.
9. Other states cited for school improvement.
When asked to cite other communities with notable innovation in education,
Johnston singled out Louisiana, with its new "Recovery School" structure
enacted since just before Hurricane Katrina, and Washington, D.C. where
former Superintendent Michelle Rhee made major changes, as examples of
places where significant improvement is occurring.
10. Bipartisan support in
Colorado seen as serving the public interest.
Asked for closing thoughts,
said that education might be one of the few areas left where it's really
possible to gain bipartisan support, which was essential to the passage of
the Great Teachers and Leaders law.
added that major improvements in schools can succeed provided the
proposals reflect not merely a squabble among private interests but rather
are seen as benefiting the public interest. In
that difference was most apparent when people saw the full-page ad listing
all the diverse organizations that were supporting the proposal.
behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Johnston for meeting with us
today to share his account of Colorado's recent successful innovations in
the field of education.