Ritter launches top-to-bottom reform of public education
COLORADO SPRINGS – Gov. Bill Ritter asked educators and other members of his education reform panel to examine the state’s system from preschool through graduate school and set aside ideology and politics on Monday.”Be bold and ambitious about how we go forward,” he said, telling them he wants an agenda to take to lawmakers early next year.Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien said education is an emotionally charged issue and educators need to set aside some “preordained philosophies” and look at the entire spectrum of education.”It’s not business as usual,” she said.Ritter gave the panel a list of options to consider, including whether the state should issue high school diplomas, instead of individual school districts; how to align high school courses with college courses; and ways to recruit and retain good teachers.Ritter said 30 percent of high school students will not graduate and a high percentage of college students never get a degree.Nothing transcends educationHe said Colorado has many big issues, including health care and transportation, but nothing transcends education.”This is the most important thing we do. I really believe this,” he said.He urged the panel not to let politics and ideology get in the way of reform.”Don’t let it be polarizing. It is at our detriment,” he told the group, warning that the nation won’t be able to compete globally unless it finds ways to improve education.Ritter said he has three objectives for the panel: To cut the dropout rate in half in 10 years, to double the number of students receiving degrees and certificates and to close achievement gaps between men and women and between various ethnic groups.Education Commissioner Dwight Jones and the executive director of the Department of Education pledged to work together on ways to get more students into college with the knowledge they need to succeed.Ritter said teachers need to realize change is needed from the ground up and accept it.”We need to convince educators in this state about the reasons for the changes,” he said.However, some members of the panel said teachers aren’t well represented, and neither are students and business leaders.”If 30 percent of the students are not graduating, we have to ask them what’s wrong. We need to be talking to businesses and asking what they’re looking for,” he told Ritter.Ritter told the panel he wants a progress report by Sept. 17, with final recommendations on a legislative agenda by Nov. 16.