Johnston talks education in Minturn |

Johnston talks education in Minturn

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS Senator Johnston DT 12-13-10

MINTURN, Colorado – Education is the civil rights issue of our generation, state Sen. Mike Johnston said Monday during a visit to Minturn.

No matter where a child lives in this country, he or she should have the same access to the American dream, meaning the opportunity to go to high school, go to college and get a job.

“What is shocking and what is depressing is how untrue that basic promise is today,” Johnston said.

Knowing just three variables about a kid – income, race and ZIP code – Johnston says he can predict with striking accuracy whether the child will graduate from high school or college.

That needs to change, Johnston said.

“What does it take the dramatically change those outcomes for kids?” he said.

Johnston, who grew up in Vail and now represents northeast Denver, visited the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy Monday to give a talk on education.

The Democratic senator has been in the spotlight recently for sponsoring Senate Bill 191, a piece of legislation set to change the way teachers get and keep tenure. He was recently named to Time Magazine’s “40 under 40” and Forbes Magazine’s list of “Most Influential Educators.”

Johnston talked about some of the challenges facing educators today as well as his experiences with trying to change the system.

Disturbingly, he said Colorado ranks second among states in terms of the highest achievement gap among students of different races.

He said out of 100 low-income kids, just 50 will graduate from high school while only 9 will finish college.

But there are success stories.

Johnston talked about some of the innovative things he did at the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton to make sure every student graduated. For example, he started a ritual where students get to pick a theme song that plays once they get accepted into college.

He also went over the finer points of Senate Bill 191, which requires teacher to prove their effectiveness for three years before they gain tenure and causes teachers who are deemed ineffective for two years to lose their job security.

Johnston also told the crowd how the bill ends the practice of “forced placement” of tenured teachers, which prompted clapping from the audience. Previously, school districts had been required to give tenured teachers jobs somewhere in the district, even if, say, the school where those teachers worked closed. What had been happening, Johnston said, is the tenured teachers were often placed in some of the poorest schools in the district, where those teachers did not want to work, and principals of the schools did not necessarily want them because those principals had already picked out a full slate of qualified teachers.

At one point the discussion turned to what factors make for an effective teacher.

Johnston said studies have shown having a master’s degree has no impact on teacher effectiveness. He said the teacher’s route to becoming certified, whether the teacher graduated from a four-year college education program or entered the system through the alternative certification route, made no difference either. However, some researchers have argued that a teacher’s college GPA could matter, Johnston said. Countries with higher-performing education systems pick their teachers from among the top tier in terms of their college GPAs, whereas American schools tend to select teachers from the bottom 2/3 of their classes, he said.

The bottom line is that some of the traditional measures used to grade teachers don’t translate into effectiveness.

“This argues in favor of teacher recruitment strategies to bring people into the profession,” he said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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