Colorado needs to win the Race to the Top
Meaningful education reform is finally starting to take hold in several states across the country, and many of the long-fought-for reform strategies are becoming national priorities. Colorado now has a window of opportunity to advance education reform in a way that we never have before.
The federal government has just released guidelines for a national competition among states, and its offering a large reward to a few states willing to make drastic changes. They are calling it Race to the Top, and the window to apply is very short, so we need to act swiftly and boldly.
Despite Colorado’s mediocre student performance scores, high dropout rates and low college attendance rates, many continue to resist fundamental changes to our education system. There are many, who, in defense of the status quo, balk at the feat of re-engineering our system because of the disruption it would cause to the current students.
Special-interest groups push back when we talk about changing the way we train, recruit, reward and evaluate teachers. They resist innovations in how we open and govern new schools, the expansion of quality charter schools and efforts to enhance how we track student growth. But these are the tools we know are needed to fix the problems that prevent us from delivering the quality education our kids deserve.
No one has the perfect blueprint for how to change our education system. But we now know a lot about what works. We have enough irrefutable data to know that the status quo isn’t working for half, if not more, of Colorado’s kids. If we don’t act boldly now, we will probably never have another opportunity like this one.
A successful Race to the Top application could mean significant new federal funds coming to Colorado for long-delayed, desperately needed changes to our public education system. The dollars would mean we could work to put a high quality teacher in every classroom, encourage and support new approaches to teaching and learning, and create a reliable data and accountability system so we can accurately measure progress. This is important so we can determine what’s working and what’s not in order to create more efficient systems that fund good programs and cut bad ones.
Colorado’s leadership and accomplishments in education reform over the last few years are noteworthy. The Innovation Schools Act offers more autonomy and school-based decision-making power to superintendents and principals brave enough to ask for it. The Colorado Growth Model gives us much better data on how students and schools are actually performing, a necessary increase in transparency and accountability. Denver’s experiment with ProComp moves education toward a level of efficiency that is inherent in most other fields, tying compensation to actual performance.
These are all big steps in the right direction on the long road to education reform. But federal leaders have made it clear that we must do much more. Now is the time.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently told a group of state governors: “Remember that the truest measure of a society’s worth is whether it offers all of our children the opportunity to go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and fulfill their dreams. This is the promise of education. This is my promise. This is your promise. This is the American promise.”
This must also be our sincere promise to all of Colorado’s children. If we are to fulfill that promise, we must demand that our leaders seize this opportunity for real change.