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Colorado schools poised to Race to the Top

Bill Scanlon
InDenverTimes.com
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado “-Colorado’s schoolkids could get immediate help in their weak areas – rather than waiting until their yearly tests are tabulated – if the state wins some $500 million in a high-stakes sweepstakes offered by the federal government to encourage school reform.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien said this week that Colorado is better positioned than almost any other state, which gives it a good chance of being one of the eight to 10 that will share the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top money.

Colorado has a plan in the works, but no money to fund it, that would keep teachers apprised of how their students are faring in reading, language, math and science on an ongoing basis, rather than once a year from the CSAP tests, she said.



“We’re in great shape for setting higher standards,” O’Brien said. “We’re the only state in the nation bringing state-level standards to a higher level – and one of only a handful revamping our testing system.”

A spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, which represents the state’s public school teachers, said much the same thing.



“It seems like we’re in pretty good shape to compete for that money,” said Deborah Fallin.

The Colorado Department of Education has in place a “longitudinal-growth” model that, along with providing quicker assessments, can show how last year’s fourth-graders are doing, now that they are fifth-graders.

“That’s what teachers have always wanted,” Fallin said. “What we’ve hated about CSAPs is the information came so late that it hardly mattered. It was a year late – the teacher didn’t have that same group of kids anymore.”



O’Brien said the award money could make a crucial difference in students’ learning.

“Kids will know right where they are toward meeting higher standards, and teachers can get right on it,” O’Brien said.

Another reason Colorado could well win the half-billion dollars is that it is poised to both bolster the state standards and compare students here with benchmark standards around the world, O’Brien said. All it needs is money to put the plan in place.

Teachers and schools would know what they need to do to, say, catch up with the Japanese in math or the Germans in science, the lieutenant governor said.

The application for the Race to the Top money is with the governor, but needs to be tweaked and finalized this summer.

Fallin predicted that if Colorado gets the Race to the Top money it will spark the state’s teachers, who for so long have been “unenthused about No Child Left Behind,” former President George W. Bush’s major education plan.

She said No Child Left Behind focuses too much on penalties for schools for not faring well on a single test score. “It doesn’t take into account where the kids come from, what they’re dealing with in terms of learning the language and so forth,” Fallin said.

Rather than rewarding schools for making decent progress with students who have difficulty learning, it looks for areas of weakness and pounces.

“It was a system that never produced anything but more pressure,” Fallin said.

“President Obama’s plan so far appears to be saying, ‘We’re going to give incentives to the states to do better,’ as opposed to whacking them on the hands with a stick,” she said.

Meanwhile, Colorado is hoping to save the jobs of 1,000 teachers when it gets the other pot of federal stimulus money geared toward education.

“Give it to the school districts – they know their needs,” Fallin said. “We hope they use it to keep teachers and programs,” she added. “The only thing we don’t want school districts to do with the money is to save it, to stash it away” and still cut programs and teachers.

She said the money is meant to be a bridge, to carry school districts through tough times and declining revenues, so they can keep their teachers and their programs until the economy improves.

http://www.InDenverTimes.com


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