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 Response Page - Johnston  Interview -      

These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Mike Johnston Interview of


Colorado State Sen. Mike Johnston, a leader in recent major changes in his state's education system participated via conference call from Denver. Johnston explained Colorado's practice of measuring growth in a school's performance from year to year, instead of the school's absolute standing relative to all other schools. He highlighted Colorado 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 to schools. For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Johnston. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Measure performance growth. (7.9 average response) Measure a school's own growth in performance from year to year rather than only measuring the school's absolute standing relative to all other schools.

2. Waive regulations; judge results. (7.3 average response) Allow innovative schools to break free from adherence to state or district regulations and instead be held accountable for results.

3. End permanent tenure. (7.7 average response) Replace permanent teacher tenure with a new process of annual evaluation related to student academic growth.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. (8.3 average response) Halt the practice of using teacher seniority as the determining factor in assigning teachers to schools or in determining order of layoffs. 


Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Measure performance growth.







2. Waive regulations; judge results.







3. End permanent tenure.







4. Halt seniority-based layoffs.







Individual Responses:

Shirley Heaton  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

But first a way must be found to unload the political and 'good ol' Buddy' practices which tend to dominate school systems throughout the country. I've had personal experiences in 5 different states where the practices are so deeply entrenched it'll take a bulldozer to uproot them!

Ray Ayotte  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Chris Brazelton  (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

2. Waive regulations; judge results. State and district regulations should include appropriate accountability for results and should be revamped if no longer appropriate or relevant.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. As long as seniority is considered as one of several factors.

Jim Kielkopf  (7.5)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)

1. Measure performance growth. Depends on what you're measuring for, i.e. -- what's the question?  When choosing schools, parents cannot use a year-by-year metric for other students, and a school choice framework such as Minnesota's (and CO's for that matter) requires that money for a school follows student head counts, making cross-school comparisons the only metric that ends up mattering in any actionable sense regarding where to allocate resources.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. The speaker mentioned school choice, citing that Colorado was #4 in the national rankings of a charter school advocacy group.  Minnesota, however, is already #1 in the same ranking, so that leads to the question of how much of the speakers' advice is already being implemented in Minnesota?  It seems that much of it is.

Peter Hennessey  (2.5)  (10)  (7.5)  (7.5)

1. Measure performance growth. This is an artificial choice, a false dichotomy. Standing is relative, not absolute. You can't measure standing without first evaluating performance and then comparing it to other schools.    But how do you measure a school's performance as something different from the individual student's performance? Don't we grade students anymore? Are we not in the "business" of teaching individual students anymore? What is a school's performance if not the aggregate, average of the performance of its students? And how do you measure year-to-year changes? If you get a batch of bright kids one year and a batch of dummies the next, will the drop in the students’ grades be recorded as a drop in the school's and its teachers' performance? If the same kid does well one year and badly the next, is that the fault of his new teacher? Or did he just peak?

2. Waive regulations; judge results. Well, yes, do allow schools to be as autonomous as possible. There is much too much nonsense being imposed by the federal, state, county and district bureaucracies. But again, [how] do you measure results? What does "held accountable" mean? The devil is always in the details and … bureaucrats are very good at fudging the definitions and the numbers to produce any result they want.    Missing from this discussion is the role of parents and the community in defining the goals and therefore the regulations. To whom is the school accountable, if not the students, the parents and the community? The model discussed here still sees schools where disinterested ignorant parents turn their little savages over to an industry of "experts," to be molded in the image of an ideal that the parents and the community have no role in defining or deciding if that's anything even remotely like what they'd want or consider acceptable.

3. End permanent tenure. Sure, this sounds good in theory, but how do you evaluate a student's academic growth and translate that into a teacher's performance rating? What does "academic growth" even mean? All things being equal, students can't help but demonstrate academic growth simply because they are growing and maturing, and are gaining more knowledge from their experiences in and out of school. How much of that can be credited to a teacher and to the school?    It's been a long time since I was in a classroom, but I do not recall ever seeing a principal making regular rounds to observe his teachers in their classrooms, or fellow teachers sitting in on each other's classes so they can offer critiques and suggestions or just plain moral support to each other in the faculty lounge. So how do you evaluate a teacher, independent of his students' grades?

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. Yes, well, seniority was put in place to eliminate politics and favoritism. But teacher assignments to schools should be based on goals and requirements in specific schools. A really gifted teacher sent into a class of really gifted students will race ahead and they'll all look like champs, while a so-so teacher assigned to a class of dummies will make everybody look like losers. On the other hand, assigning a so-so teacher to an advanced class will cheat the students out of real progress and achievement, and assigning the gifted teacher to the so-so class will be a frustrating waste of effort.    There are five problems with all these issues addressed here, and the solutions being advocated.  (1.)  The hyper-focus on statistics (school performance, relative standing, teacher evaluations, tenure, seniority) loses sight of the fact that we are trying to educate individual students, not hordes of genetically engineered, genetically identical lab rats. It also seems to have lost sight of the fact that individual student performance is already being measured in terms of grades. I mean, we still do grade students -- don't we? And we do base their grades on their performance on tests, homework assignments, projects, classroom participation -- don't we? And we do still pay attention to standard tests, such as the SAT, and national and international achievement levels on these tests -- don't we? If so, then what else do we need?.  (2.)  There must be less or no bureaucracy. As we have seen for decades, it justifies its existence by setting irrelevant goals and incomprehensible standards, and only serves to divert vital resources away from the classroom.  (3.)  Learn from the experience and the consistently superior performance of home schoolers. In the classroom, maximize the one-on-one time between a teacher and a student. Allow each student to proceed at his own pace, to push his own envelope. Yes, this means small class sizes and therefore more teachers. But hey, we have over-regulated and over-bureaucratized this industry so much that classroom teachers are a small minority of the total payroll. If all those useless self-preserving, resource-sucking and money-wasting bureaucrats were replaced by classroom teachers, we would easily have the best education system in the world even with just average teachers.  (4.)  Where in any of this is any role specified or allowed to the parents and the community? The model discussed here still sees schools where disinterested ignorant parents turn their little savages over to an industry of "experts" to be molded in the image of an ideal that the parents and the community have no role in defining or deciding if that's anything even remotely like what they'd want or consider acceptable.  (5.)  Yes, school choice was mentioned. But where is the explanation of how any of these statistics help parents evaluate a school and decide if it's the right one for their children? How are these statistics superior to or relevant to meeting the teachers face to face, and discussing the curriculum, the school's and the teacher's philosophy of education, the classroom routine, and other factors?     Statistics such as placing 100% of high school graduates in college can indicate many things in addition to school and teacher performance, such as a lucky coincidence of (*) motivated, above average, academically oriented students, at least enough so to have made it this far, (*) career goals that coincide with a college's course offerings, (*) parents able to afford the expense, (*) college(s) with low enough admission standards, etc.     Even here the numbers can be and are fudged regularly; for example, by shifting all job-skill courses (home economics; auto, wood and metal shop; business and commercial; art, music, etc.) from high schools to community colleges -- which means that high schools now graduate students with no job skills -- and by eliminating all academic admission standards at community colleges, you practically guarantee that 100% of all high school graduates do go on to college. This kind of statistic proves nothing, except the point that bureaucrats can make anything look like something.

R. C. Angevine  (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

1. Measure performance growth. I [believe] both measures are needed to judge how a school is performing and how the school's students are performing relative to the larger student population.

2. Waive regulations; judge results. I would prefer to see schools held accountable for their results as part of a larger state/district process.

Pat Barnum  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

1. Measure performance growth. Measuring a student's growth in performance from year to year is the only real thing that matters. MCA's are a waste of time, money, and teaching resources. Comparing a group of students in, say 5th grade, this year to the different group of students in 5th grade last year is crazy. What does an improved score or a degraded score really tell us?

2. Waive regulations; judge results. Allow all schools to break free from adherence to state or district regulations and instead be held accountable for results. And then hold them accountable.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. This one issue creates ridiculous and expensive resolutions for my district every year. If we are going to be strapped for revenues every year, yet have to increase wage and benefits to the teachers, we MUST have flexibility about who is cut.

W. D. (Bill) Hamm  (0)  (0)  (0)  (2.5)

1. Measure performance growth. This is just a new scheme of subjective internal analysis by education insiders rather than objective external analysis. Teachers and administrators have clearly proven they can not be trusted in these kinds of self serving schemes.

2. Waive regulations; judge results. Where is the accountability to the owners of the system, the people of Colorado. This is just another "Power to the education professionals" scheme that seeks to escape any accountability or input by the people who own it.

3. End permanent tenure. The problem here again is that there is intentionally no connection to the owners of the system, and no competition between teachers. The analysis for this is based again on subjective rather than objective analysis. It is a scam and a lie.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. Again, where is citizen input into this process? Just more elitist Ivy League, educrate garbage designed to continue undermining public input and control.

Dave Broden  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

1. Measure performance growth. There is a value in both specific school score and annual growth of score vs. the national score. The question, of course, remains: are scores worth the effort and cost vs. allocating this effort and cost to real education? If scores are to be continued then the improvement of each school must be measured.

2. Waive regulations; judge results. Local accountability must be priority. State or district regulation is too broad a statement to allow a statement of good or bad--regulation for minimum standards yes --regulation for check list management no.

3. End permanent tenure. Teacher tenure must be eliminated. The best process for the future should be somewhat up to the area, school, or at least the state involved. The criteria must be outcome oriented and focus on results linked to the quality of the teaching process--thus directly linked to the teacher.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. Seniority has no place in today’s world of determining quality or capability or a teachers ability to address the technology or state of the subject to be taught. Seniority must be eliminated and all teachers placed on a level playing field.

John Sievert  (7.5)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (7.5)

1. Measure performance growth. It's pointless to measure either because a school has no control of the abilities and capabilities of the children that enter it each year.  We need to go to an assessment of each child's capability and the ability of the child, the school and the parents to adhere to that plan and THEN measure the progress.  Many times, the school and parents agree on a course of action and then the parents don't follow through.  How is that the responsibility of the school?

3. End permanent tenure. Great idea, but welcome to the real world.  Consider a typical school of about 600 kids.  That school will have about 20-30 teachers all who are direct reports to the principal.   He/she is supposed to properly evaluate each teacher?  On what planet does that work?  In the private sector, we have 5-8 direct reports.  Going to this as a means of equitable teacher evaluation means adding many times more administrators (i.e. supervisors).  You ready to do that?

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. This is tied to the answer I gave above added here for completeness:    Great idea, but welcome to the real world.  Consider a typical school of about 600 kids.  That school will have about 20-30 teachers all who are direct reports to the principal.   He/she is supposed to properly evaluate each teacher?  On what planet does that work?  In the private sector, we have 5-8 direct reports.  Going to this as a means of equitable teacher evaluation means adding many times more administrators (i.e. supervisors).  You ready to do that?    In gross cases, I agree.  Gov. Scot Walker's example of the 1st year Teacher of the Year being laid off because of her seniority is a classic example.  This is a teacher who is already extraordinary.  We needed to keep her.  However, many cases are not so clear-cut and we don't want to do it on the basis of a beauty contest.  I think that getting the unions out of the middle of this and leaving this up to both peer review by other teachers (they know who the losers are), local school boards and principals, this can be worked out.

Bright Dornblaseer  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Don Anderson  (10)  (5)  (5)  (5)

1. Measure performance growth. One problem could be developing the criteria for measuring the performance standards.

3. End permanent tenure. Wouldn't you have to have some standards for the development of annual evaluations?

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. If the practice of applying standards of performance would also be applied it would be feasible.

Dennis L. Johnson  (7.5)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. General Comment: Teachers' unions will fight tooth and nail to resist any change to tenure and seniority rules. Only strong political leadership can overcome these obstacles, and this will only come from conservatives.

Marina Lyon  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (10)

2. Waive regulations; judge results. I agree in theory -- wonder how "innovative" would be defined?  Who would decide?

3. End permanent tenure. I strongly agree but expect that this would take a lot of time and money -- to understand and track each student's growth.  I would not want this to be tied only to test scores.

4. Halt seniority-based layoffs. Long overdue.

Bert Press  (10)  (0)  (5)  (5)

Laura Lehmann  (5)  (8)  (10)  (10)

 It was clear from the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” that the tenure system (which was created to shield university professors from dismissal for holding controversial opinions and should not apply to K-12 teachers) was a big part of the problem.  If The Promise Academy in  The Harlem Children’s Zone can take children in the deepest poverty and have a 95% graduation rate, that model should be studied and duplicated/adapted all over the country.

Paul and Ruth Hauge  (8)  (8)  (7)  (9)

Lyall Schwarzkopf  (7)  (10)  (10)  (10)

It is time to let good teachers teach and get the government and unions off the teacher's back.  Yet, teachers need to be held accountable for results.

Chuck Lutz  (9)  (9)  (8)  (8)

Al Quie  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Wayne Jennings  (8)  (9)  (8)  (8)

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Terry Stone  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

This last cluster of interviews forms an education policy palette of considerable merit. These are great interviews.

Tom Swain  (8)  (10)  (10)  (10)

Kevin Edberg  (10)  (10)  (8)  (8)

These are meaningful changes that are worthy of consideration in MN.  The focus on growth scores is particularly appropriate as they better reflect the influence of a particular set of staff and curriculum, and not the initial make-up of the student body.

Ralph Brauer  (1)  (1)  (1)  (1)

These proposals and evaluations are worthless data if you do not know a district, school or classroom's resource/demand dynamic. What I mean is that a teacher can have a high demand class and find it very difficult to move them up. Data from Minnesota definitively show high resource/low demand schools top state assessments which is why NCLB and the GOPs plan to reward such schools will make things worse rather than better. None of these people look at schools as systems.

Bert LeMunyon  (8)  (5)  (8)  (10)

Assigning teachers and determining order of layoffs should not be part of any collective bargaining agreement


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   Verne C. Johnson, chair;  David Broden, Charles Clay, Marianne Curry, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje,  Jim Hetland,  Marina Lyon, Joe Mansky, John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  and Wayne Popham 

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
8301 Creekside Circle #920,   Bloomington, MN 55437.
Verne C. Johnson, chair, 952-835-4549,       Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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