Eagle County House candidates clash on education | VailDaily.com

Eagle County House candidates clash on education

Robert Allen
Summit County correspondent
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Both Ali Hasan and Christine Scanlan, rivals for Eagle County’s state House seat, say they have the background and understanding to rework the state education system and increase graduation rates.

Scanlan, the school board president and Democratic incumbent, sponsored bipartisan legislation last spring to reform the education system and improve assessments.

“We have to find a way to bring a depth of learning to our system, which has focused on a breadth of knowledge as a laundry check list,” Scanlan said.

The legislation aims to prepare children from as early as preschool for the road to college, focusing on technology and critical thinking, Scanlan said.

Hasan, a Beaver Creek Republican, said the Legislature “passed the buck” on the law, known as Senate Bill 212, leaving he Colorado Board of Education to set the new standards.

“Both parties screwed up on this bill,” he said. “They’re really dancing around this bill like it’s something good. There’s nothing in it. It’s hollow.”

Hasan’s experience includes three semesters as a “tyro-teacher” in an economically-disadvantaged Los Angeles public school. He taught and observed high-school English and social studies in pursuit of his master’s degree in teaching. Hasan left the program one semester short of graduation to pursue a master’s in film directing.

“One thing I have that Christine Scanlan doesn’t have is that I have actually taught in public-school classrooms,” he said. “I know what methods work and what don’t.”

He said the recent legislation is nothing more than an extension of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

But Scanlan said this is false.

“It is exactly the opposite of what No Child Left Behind is because it brings depth to education,” she said. “It talks about 21st century learning skills ” not just to standardize tests.”

Then there’s the so-called “Colorado paradox.” Though the state attracts intelligent students from outside the state, native-born students are ranked 45th nationwide in attainment of a bachelor’s degrees.

The Colorado Student Assessment Program ” or CSAP ” is used to measure whether schools are meeting the No Child Left Behind expectations by testing students in grades three through 10. Scanlan said this assessment has been inefficient at helping students improve.

By 10th grade, students aren’t motivated to perform well, because the CSAP doesn’t help them get into college, she said.

The recent legislation aims to align the CSAP with what’s expected on the ACT ” a college-entrance exam taken in 11th grade ” so the students can use the assessment to track their progress, she said.

“Kids see (the ACT) as enormously valuable to their future,” Scanlan said.

Senate Bill 212 also calls for release of CSAP scores earlier. Now, kids don’t get results until they’ve moved to the next grade.

Hasan said he would like the CSAP to integrate teamwork. He also said students are over-tested.

His ideas for Colorado are inspired by Finland’s education system and the Capitol School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It calls for requirements that teachers obtain “credentials for identifying multiple intelligences and facilitating cooperative learning.”

These techniques, he said, make teachers facilitators rather than disciplinarians. He said they identify the students’ types of intelligence ” such as tactile, visual, extroverted and introverted.

“They determine what the child is gifted in, and then they set up curriculums that engage every kind of child,” he said. “So a child will go into school maybe tactile but leave being engaged in all six things.”

Asked whether his approach of requiring teachers to obtain credentials in these areas should be mandated, Hasan responds: “If we have a thoughtful state representative like me, who’s served as a public-school teacher, then yes.”

Scanlan said that as a legislator, she isn’t interested in such mandates, which are a task best left to local districts.

Regarding Hasan’s strategies, she said: “I don’t have any idea what their standing is in the education community. Our goal is to provide whatever support teachers need to be the best they can be.”

Senate Bill 212 will “align goals” from preschool through college in a “student-centered” environment, she said.

Hasan also says standards and curriculum must be controlled locally, rather than by “Denver bureaucrats.”

Scanlan said his opinion on curriculum is moot, for local districts already choose their own curriculum.

“We’re not writing curriculum at the state level. Curriculum is chosen and developed by local districts,” she said, adding that good teachers consistently work to improve and update their curriculum.

She also said the state doesn’t have much choice on requiring standards, as they’re mandated by federal law.

Hasan said the Senate Bill 212 bill puts unnecessary pressure on the board of education and isn’t solving the problem.

“There are schools that are failing. There is no way that this bill is going to make them succeed,” he said.

Scanlan said the bill will increase focus on subjects “most important and critical for things to learn,” and that the state board should have more specific standards available by early 2009.

Both candidates, however, support the presence of charter schools in Colorado.

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