Vail Daily column: Train wreck: State Board of Education
February 16, 2016
For most Coloradans, the work of the State Board of Education is a mystery. The board has seven members and is elected in partisan races for regions aligned to congressional districts. Currently, the state board has a 4-3 Republican majority and is led by board president Steve Durham, a former state legislator and lobbyist from Colorado Springs.
In addition to selecting the state commissioner of education (Rich Crandall) and serving as the governance board for the Colorado Department of Education, the state board also engages in a number of complex policy questions through rule-making, which means approving the detailed regulations which specify exactly how policies will be carried out.
For most citizens,the state board operates in obscurity, but two recent behaviors from our state board deserve to be called out and openly discussed. I'll be discussing these in detail in my next two columns, one each week. As a publicly elected board, there needs to be accountability and transparency for what the state board is up to.
Last week, the state board considered a resolution to support of the Seal of Biliteracy for graduating seniors. Resolutions don't carry any real power or authority; they are merely a means for an elected body to acknowledge and publicly support some endeavor.
Eagle County is one of three districts in the state (along with Denver Public Schools and Adams 14 in Commerce City) implementing the Seal of Biliteracy as a special recognition program for our students. In addition to being biliterate, students have a number of other quality standards they must meet to earn the seal. These include civic engagement and demonstrated academic accomplishment in both English and Spanish (or other languages). Eagle County Schools currently has 70 students pursuing the Seal of Biliteracy.
The state board became interested in the Seal of Biliteracy and heard a presentation on it a few weeks ago from the three districts, including ours. It became clear during this initial presentation that the state board had little understanding of the seal and had invested little in learning about it prior to the meeting. For our staff that presented to the state board at that meeting, this meant a four-hour round trip visit to present to them, plus the time preparing for and being present at the meeting — a huge professional investment of time and energy.
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Last Thursday, the state board rejected the resolution in support of the Seal of Biliteracy. After a round of bizarre, poorly informed and borderline paranoid statements about the seal, they voted not to approve the resolution by a 5-2 vote. The board raised issues around things such as the quality of the standards relating to the seal, what mysterious groups might be working to advance it and how private student data might be leaked to outside organizations as part of this effort.
It is clear from the state board's discussion and questions that they had no idea what the Seal of Biliteracy is really about. They would have been better off acknowledging that they were not well informed about it and felt uncomfortable passing a resolution of support. Instead, we got a public hack job on this well-crafted program rooted in ignorance and fear.
For our schools, the state board's action (or inaction) on their resolution means absolutely nothing. Frankly, we don't want or need the State Board of Education mucking around in this effort, especially if they are going to bring ideology, a political agenda or a disengaged lack of understanding.
The state board's actions were disrespectful of our schools, our students and the efforts of the professional staff in our community. Going forward, we only hope they find something else in which to be interested — learn about it in earnest — and recognize good work when it's staring them in the face.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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