Legislative Year: 2014 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

In the long story short tradition, the majority party has more fun.  So far, 568 bills are, or have been, in the hopper.  The Governor has signed 129 bills.  The two chambers have PIed 133 bills. 

Of the 133 PIed bills, 84 had only GOP sponsors.  Of the 129 signed bills, 47 had only Dem sponsors.  The Governor has vetoed two bills, both with only Democratic sponsors (ouch!).

It's fair to say that the GOP has thrown up many of its most controversial bills, especially in an election year, so lots of its PIed bills are highly political. 

One can also say that Dems have been reasonably fair to Republicans in the signed bill category, as 82 of 129 bills have either mixed sponsorship or all Republican sponsors. 

That bit of the story may not make it to the highly contested races to confront the state this summer and fall. With 300 bills left to move through in 18 DAYS, it's bound to be lively, contentious, and grumpy.  More as bills progress...  

“Suck it up, soccer moms.”  This artful advice, based on comments from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was splashed last month across the home page of the education reform non profit, America Succeeds

America Succeeds was organized by Wall Street investment bankers.  It has two prominent Coloradans on its five member board:  State Senator Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Donnell Kay Foundation Executive Director Tony Lewis.

Sen. Johnston recently added to America Succeeds’ snicker, calling some citizens objecting to his policies of relentless standardized testing and student data collection, “Cherry Creek cheerleaders.”

Johnston and allies lead state education "reform" 

Johnston has allied himself with a gaggle of Big Ed Reformers:  Colorado Legacy Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Donnell Kay Foundation, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform, Teach for America, New Leaders for New Schools, Pearson Company, Microsoft, Google, Michael Bloomberg, and wealthy New York hedge fund managers. 

Ruppert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul of British phone hacking fame, has joined his fellow education reform supporters, cashing in with his Amplify product, aligned perfectly to common core reform instruction. Every child's key strokes are collected and stored for posterity and data mining. 

These rich “reformers,” billionaires and foundations supported by billionaires, reflect the essence of the grassroots cheerleaders’ fears. Big Government, Big Foundations, and Big Corporations are using the Big Data Technology revolution to repeat the old VietNam war stratagem: We will blow up your schools in order to save your schools.

Grassroots “cheerleaders,” short on Monied Underwriters, nevertheless showed up at the Capitol to lobby two Johnston bills, including  SB14-165, giving districts a one-year break on using growth data in teacher evaluations (amend), and the ironically named Student Success Act, HB14-1292 (amend), a $100 million diversion of school funds for various Johnston programs defeated in the Amendment 66 debacle.

The cheerleaders even had the temerity to try to protect student data from the shark jaws of Big Business, HB14-1294 (see Murdoch, MIcrosoft, Google above).  They worked to allow parents to opt their kids out of the tests, HB14-1202, a bill now narrowed to assess assessments, their costs and impacts on kids, teachers, schools, and districts.

Tony Lewis at Donnell Kay will remake public education 

Unlike the cheerleaders, Tony Lewis, the America Succeeds board member and FOJ, has the Senator's support to "reschool" education for all of Colorado using digital advances and online distance learning as the solution to closing various achievement gaps.  Colleen Broderick will lead this reform.  She says, "Technology doesn't have to completely replace all components of today's current learning system; in fact, the element of engaging with people and community face to face is equally essential."  Good to know.

Pearson profits from PARRC, the coming 2015 trainwreck    

Pearson Company, the PARRC exam experimenter, received $185 million of Race to the Top money to build the tests. It's also partnering with Microsoft so kids can take advantage of Windows 8 touch screen technology to use curriculum, produced by Pearson, that's perfectly aligned with Common Core.  

In a recent Education Committee hearing, Johnston rejected any prospect of reassessing the state's future testing program. Rather than take a pause based on the Pearson test results in New York identifying 66% of that state's children as not proficient in anything, Johnston insists that the state must move forward.  President Dwight Eisenhower would recognize this scenario:  the standardized testing industrial complex.

Pearson will gain more profits through its cleverly named partner enterprise, Knewton.  Knewton feeds kids Common Core-branded digital worksheets based specifically on a student's learning style. The goal is to help students do well on the PARRC exams, which may ultimately be used to replace ACT and SAT for college admission. 

But many colleges are moving away from the test requirement. Over 800 colleges now offer no-test admissions, according to an NPR story, and have found that a student's grades are the best predictor of student success in college.

Legacy Foundation goes back to '70s for classroom model 

The Colorado Legacy Foundation, an amply funded non profit enabling Johnston's vision through its 41 employees, has received $22 million from the Gates Foundation, at last count. Legacy is running its own experiments in Big Data, promoting a non profit called New Classrooms

School of One, a New Classrooms' "innovation" that looks a lot like the old open classrooms of the '70s, helps teachers provide "personalized education" from "multiple modalities of instruction." According to the New Classrooms design, over 100 kids will sit quietly and dutifully working either in teams, in a long line at computer terminals, or receiving lectures from two teachers with support from two other cheaper-to-employ adults.

Like every other Big Ed reform entity, New Classrooms has Very Big Technology and Investment Capital Money behind it, including the Bezos Family Foundation, New Profit Inc., Salmon River Capital, the Broad Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation.

Parents worried about the overwhelming import of data driven, digitally based instruction are told by Legacy to calm down and get rid of their “heebie jeebies.” Teachers should also stop “wigging out” over these initiatives, according to an elected official close to both the Legacy Foundation and the Colorado Department of Education.

Johnston: Don Quixote or Ahab?  

Johnston, along with his benefactors and staff of four when every other legislator has one part-timer, has taken Colorado students, parents, and educators on a very long ride of teacher performance evaluation, school assessment, and student testing. Time, money, and human resources, all at the expense of other education priorities, have been sunk into the reform vision.

But it hasn't worked out the way Johnston and his fellow visionaries want. Colorado's achievement results, after 13 years of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, haven't budged in any significant way, according to standardized tests.

Johnston's initiatives have failed to produce replicable education programs helpful to all kids in neighborhood schools, comprehensive middle and high schools, charter schools, and especially the online distance schools.  He is known for his  Teach for America speech on "hard truths."  These particular hard truths are apparently hard for him to swallow.

Little attention to parents' schools of choice: neighborhood schools 

In fact, Johnston's and the Foundations' vision doesn't include much for neighborhood and community schools, the most frequent choice schools for parents and the backbone of Colorado's education structure. His policies have pressured rural schools, leaving them underfunded.  His  SB13-213 financially punished suburban schools to such a degree, and pushed such a massive state overreach into the affairs of local districts, that it was rejected 2:1 by Colorado voters.

His latest foray into Big Money partnerships is the recently introduced SB14-185, the Pay for Success School and Community Performance Contract bill. The idea of the bill is to give contractors the opportunity to save government entities future money through early childhood education programs. 

The Office of State Planning and Budgeting has to figure out the amount of money contractors have saved governments, one presumes, based on analysis of preschool student outcomes. If a contractor produces kids who don't go to prison, one way the program is used in Britain, the contractor could make some real Big Money. If the bill passes, the state will dump $25 million into a pay for success fund. Who can't get behind this idea?

Parents want fewer tests, more instruction 

Despite Sen. Johnston's diss of Colorado citizens, parents resisting the reformer's vision are not afraid of assessment and accountability.  A reasonable testing system based on reliable, not experimental, tests is what they want.  They are not afraid of data. They are concerned about unsecured, misused, and inappropriate data collection.

In Johnston's world, asking local districts and parents what will work for their schools is not what he's about (see bills above).  Just look at who's for and against  HB14-1292, the Student Success Act, to see how school districts are now reacting to reform initiatives (go to the lobbyists link)

Education reform that delegates teaching to technology will fail. Education reform that isolates students in a digital cocoon will fail.  Education initiatives that connect students and teachers and schools and communities and puts the human back into learning and the person back into personalized will ultimately make the most difference.  PEN,CCW

Can’t we all just get along?  That question is run up Colorado’s flagpole at the beginning of every General Assembly.  So far, with two-thirds of the session over and about three-quarters of the bills still in the sausage maker, legislators are showing much more collegiality this year, except, of course, for two bickering members of House Appropriations.

One month to go, 75% of bills still churning through

Caveats first:  both chambers have a lot more bills, many contentious, not even half way through the grinder.  The Governor signed 441 bills into law in the 2013 session.  As of April 4, 2014, he’s signed 113 bills.  He’s vetoed two in this election year, demonstrating his independence, according to pundits.  He vetoed one other bill in 2012, another election year in which he showed his independence.

Some numbers:  legislators have introduced 546 bills.  190 bills have both Democratic and Republican sponsors. Of the 113 the Governor has signed, twenty are supplemental appropriations sponsored by the majority party.  Of the 93 remaining signed bills, 52 have bipartisan sponsorship.  The Governor has signed 7 bills sponsored only by Republicans.

2013 GOP House and Senate broke bad on Dem bills

Some House Republicans last year opposed all but the most innocuous Democratic bills. Rep. Justin Everett (S.Jeffco) voted YES 164/NO 241 times, Rep. Steve Humphrey (Severence) voted YES 177/NO 229 times, and Rep. Lori Saine (Firestone) voted YES 196/NO 238 times.

2013 Republican State Senators weren’t quite as vehement, but many voted NO from 30% to just over 40% of the time.  Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman voted NO 38%, Sen. Mark Scheffel voted NO 40%, and Sens. Vicki Marble and Scott Renfroe voted NO 41% of the time.

2014 Dems vote together, will run together

In 2014 so far, Democrats have held steady to their 2013 unanimous voting habits.  Out of 113 signed bills, Senate Democrats voted YES 1992 times, NO 6 times.  House Dems voted YES 4091 times, NO 16 times.

Two of the Dem NO votes in the House came, curiously, from Rep. Crisanta Duran (Denver) and Jenise May (Aurora) on the same bill, HB14-1024, the Claret Cup Cactus as State Cactus bill.  The claret cup cactus is a lovely, deep red flowering plant that coincides with the essence of our state’s name, Colorado. Who'da thunk it?

A similar bill to name the Palisade Peach as the state fruit should receive a unanimous vote from all legislators of both parties, according to Colorado pundits, all of whom love all things western slope.

House GOP moves center; Everett stays rightest on bills sponsored

House Republicans in 2014 have a whole new voting style.  Everett is now 56 YES/32 NO (he’s missed quite a few final votes); Humphrey is 72 YES/39 NO; and Saine is 72 YES/32 NO. 

Nine House Republicans have voted YES 90+ times on the 113 signed bills.  An additional nine Republican House members have voted YES 80+ times.

Rep. Saine went 0-11 in bills sponsored in 2013.  Just one bill had a Democratic co-sponsor. This year, Saine has 9 of 14 bills with Democratic co-sponsors; SB14-063, the Mandatory Review of State Agency Rules bill, has been signed by the Governor; her remaining 6 bills look good for final passage. 

Rep. Humphrey ran 6 bills in 2013, and all were postponed indefinitely.  This year, he has 4 of 7 bills with Democratic co-sponsors; a flood related bill has been signed by the Governor; two more bills, including one of the most popular in the session – removing cameras from providing evidence for speeding tickets – will pass, all pundits hope.

Only Rep. Everett has done a double-down on sure-to-fail bills, going 0-6 in 2014 after passing 2 of 6 in 2013.

GOP Senators edge to center too

On the Senate side, two of the most conservative legislators in 2013, Sen. Vicki Marble (Fort Collins) and Sen. Scott Renfroe (Greeley) have sought out and received some Dem co-sponsors. 

Sen. Marble had no Dem co-sponsors in 2013 and passed two bills.  This year, she’s run five bills; her bill with a Democrat co-sponsor is signed.  Another bill to protect children has a very good chance of passing.  SB14-136, postponing state standardized testing for one year, had Democratic grassroots support but failed in the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Renfroe ran 10 bills in 2013, one with a Democrat co-sponsor.  Two were signed by the Governor.  He is running 11 bills this year, five with Democratic co-sponsors.

Is goodwill good or bad?

With this relative comity, at least compared to 2013, some might wonder as to the source of the good will.  CCW posits four scenarios, two focusing on sincerity and two focusing on cynicism.

  • Democrats, chastened by the recalls in summer of 2013, have tempered their politics, moved to the center, and sought Republican common ground.  Luckily, they’ve found some.
  • Republicans, seeing Colorado as a purple state, have cooperated with Democrats to achieve some practical goals.
  • Democrats, understanding that the 2013 summer could predict the 2014 fall, cut back on ideology and moved to the center to save the Senate, hold the House, and support the Governor.
  • Republicans, understanding that 2014 is an election year, and licking their chops over the real possibility of winning back the Senate and maybe the Governor’s seat, and with a whole lot of luck, the State House, decided to trim their sails and get some work done.

In any of these scenarios, it can be argued that Coloradans have benefited.  Already the claret cactus is the state xeriscape prodigy, the Palisade Peach is likely to be the state fruit, and happiest of all, cameras may be taken off heavily trafficked intersections so Coloradans will once again get their tickets at Belleview and University and Santa Fe and Mineral the old fashioned way.  PEN, CCW

It’s time to peel the onion.  Since 2007 when legislators set high school graduation guidelines, the legislature has layered a series of unfunded mandates on school districts. 2014 is a culmination year.  It’s the exact last moment that legislators will decide the direction of public education for at least the next decade.

It looks like members will take the final turn to implement the notorious Common Core PARCC standardized testsHB14-1202, which would have permitted testing waivers, has been narrowed to fund a politically appointed task force to assess assessments.  That bill is on a back burner somewhere in the Capitol’s basement kitchen.

Teachers catch miniscule break on performance evaluations     Up on Wednesday is SB14-165, a bill to modify teacher performance evaluation requirements in state statute.  Sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston (D-Denver), the bill allows school districts to decide the percentage of teacher evaluation that will include student academic growth based on tests in the 2014-2015 school year.  The bill gives no relief to kids who have to take the tests.

Unreliable TCAP used to place kids in classes     Numerous elected officials say on the down low that TCAP, the current test, is no good.  Colorado’s students just finished the 2014 exams.  Teachers will decide where to place kids in math, reading, and writing based on their scores.  Schools will make improvement plans (UIPs) based on the tests.

Unreliable PARCC will replace TCAP    Colorado is supposed to use Pearson’s PARCC tests in 2014-2015.  But early reviews from New York State suggest that no one should take that show to Broadway.  Apparently, over two-thirds of New York State kids aren’t proficient in anything

Test results in NY’s rural Tompkins County, where Ivy-league Cornell University and top-rated Ithaca College are located, show 65% of 3rd graders not proficient in language arts.  In 8th grade, 45% are not proficient.  Math goes in the other direction, with about 60% of third graders not proficient, and 68% not proficient in 8th grade.

Renowned Westchester County, home to Scarsdale, Hartsdale, and White Plains, shows 59% of 3rd graders not proficient in language arts and 56% not proficient in math.  In 8th grade, 56% are not proficient in language arts and 57% are not proficient in math.   Kids in large cities like Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, and New York did much worse, with over 80% not proficient in anything.

Most NY State teachers would be unsatisfactory in Colorado    To believe the tests, most teachers in some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country are unsatisfactory.  And every other zip code in NY State.

Based on these sorry returns, it’s easy to see why Sen. Michael Johnston, the leader of Democrats for Education Reform (DFERs), is pulling back an itsy bit from the teacher evaluation implementation schedule. 

The perplexity is why Democrats aren’t doing more.

Education reform politics will heat up 2014 campaigns     That’s where the politics get interesting.  GOP legislators, all-in with the Denver business community and Denver’s DFERs in 2010, voted unanimously for SB10-191, the teacher performance assessment bill. They pilloried the few Democrats who resisted the program as soft on accountability.

Now Republicans, facing the wrath of constituents irate at the “federal” Common Core and PARCC, have renounced these two pillars of education “reform” that structure SB-191.

Democrats are stuck in place with impending education chaos all around them.  DFERs insist that PARCC tests move forward, no matter how unready everything is, because that train is out of the station.  But many parents of every political stripe don’t like how standards and tests are playing out in their schools.

Schools can't buy CC textbooks because they don't exist    Middle school kids are trying to learn Common Core math without textbooks.  High school kids, because Common Core is deep not broad, will get just a speck of trigonometry.  That’s the math that pinpointed the missing Malaysian jet. 

The massive TCAP test regime will double under PARCC, with pretests in the fall and post-tests in spring.  No extension of the school year is envisioned, despite lost instructional time due to testing.

Big money is on both sides of this fight, with Bill Gates, funder of the Amendment 66 campaign, on one side, and the Koch Brothers, funders of the anti-66 campaign on the other.

State Board reacts to surprising parent pushback     The State Board of Education, facing uncommon pushback from parents, has Common Core and PARCC tests up on its April agenda.  State Board President Paul Lundeen, a Republican candidate for the State House, will ask the Board to ask the legislature to run a bill to get Colorado out of Common Core and PARCC.  That will squeeze Democrats who will have to decide whether to break with DFER Johnston.

Johnston wants to control the purse      Meanwhile, DFER Johnston, chapped because Amendment 66 didn’t pass, has written more legislation telling school districts how to do their business. His HB14-1292 requires districts to target chunks of money at English language proficiency and early literacy.  School superintendents all over the state signed a letter telling the legislator to knock it off.  They need replacement money lost during the recession, unfettered.

With about 30 days left in the session, the legislature has many education decisions to make and so little time.  Any effort to delay testing and assessment implementation even a year has been thwarted.  State leaders apparently are unwilling to do what California did – just say NO to tests until it knows what it’s doing.  California Governor Jerry Brown squared off with Education Secretary Arne Duncan over testing and Duncan blinked.

Grassroots boiling hot over ed reform chaos at high levels     Colorado Democrats want to hold control of the State Senate.  Their current stands on education “reform,” which have had no discernable positive effect on student test achievement so far, may combine with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), also considered a government overreach, to make 2014 an especially tough election year. 

When kids AND parents just say NO to incessant, time consuming, expensive, high stakes testing, everyone should listen.  PEN, CCW





March madness means the sweet 16, right? Not in Colorado! It's the
two-week slot for public school kids to take their annual assessments.
No jump shots, no hook shots, no fadeaways, but lots of scoring.

Colorado's parents can't legally pull their kids out of the tests. The
state legislature, which has passed a series of assessment statutes
since 1993, has cinched kids tight in their classroom seats no matter
what their parents think, want, or say.

Legislature compels kids to take tests
Parent control of what their kids do is gone over two weeks in March.
The state legislature, at various times led by Democrats and
Republicans, has stripped parents of their right of refusal, which the
Colorado Department of Education (CDE) outlines in its letter to
superintendents every year.

Colorado law 22-7-409(1.2)(d)(l)(A) lays out the rules. According to CDE
correspondence, "every student enrolled in a public school is required
to take the state assessments." Some parents have constructed an "opt
out" argument, but, CDE explains in applying the legislature's rules,
prior written consent from parents only applies to "certain types of
sensitive, personal student information." State assessments are not
(CDE's emphasis) among them.

More and more tests, year after year
As Topsy says in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "I s'pect I just growed." The
state's testing system has just grown since 1997, test by test, grade by
grade. No trimming back has ever occurred; the legislature has only
added more. One reason is SB10-191, teacher evaluation legislation that
depends on student testing. According to a past majority of state
legislators, the best assessments of teachers are student assessments
through standardized tests.

Given that premise, the only direction for standardized tests is more,
to include every subject teachers teach. Music, art, PE, and other
electives offer many additional opportunities for state legislators to
grow the program.

The math word problem embedded in the premise is a bit difficult though,
because each test takes time away from instruction. With at least 20
days already consumed by test taking and test prep (the Colorado
Education Association says it's 40 days, CDE says it's 1.5 days), if
every subject has a test, the school year will have to be extended
substantially to accommodate any instruction at all.

No respite for the test weary
So far this legislative addition to testing and subtraction from
instruction hasn't daunted House representatives, as they recently
passed out of the House Education committee HB14-1202 to perform a study
of standardized tests in Colorado. The bill that passed won't "allow"
parents to opt their kids out of tests or institute a testing pause to
figure where the state is headed with the annual assessment ritual.

Apparently Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the renowned lover of
basketball March Madness, remains all-in on testing, no matter how much
rebellion occurs among parents and students in the homeland. Federal
funding may be pulled if testing doesn't charge on.

PARCC takes testing to a more esoteric level

The legislature is about to lurch on to the Common Core PARCC standardized tests in 2014-2015, expensive, unproven, and biased against kids unfamiliar with keyboarding or computer/tablet use.

The CDE has commissioned a study from WestEd, a Gates Foundation funded
group, to perform a hurry-up analysis of the challenges in delivering
the new testing system. It has not yet performed a cost analysis
required in 2012 for January 2014. Nor has CDE ever fully, deeply
analyzed the 16 years of data currently available through the CSAP/TCAP
system, the very tests that kids will take over the next couple of

Schools will invest millions in new tests, to what end?
Meanwhile, schools and districts are already pouring millions of dollars
into the very profitable testing economy that includes digital tablets,
laptops, broadband infrastructure, curriculum, textbooks, workbooks,
etc. But seventh graders at Laredo Middle School in Cherry Creek School
District don't have math textbooks and are expected to "take notes" on
their math lessons. That may be one of the reasons kids' TCAP math
scores plummet in middle school.

Sixteen years of test results show an essentially static system, yet
many of today's legislators insist that standardized tests are the most
important tool to affect student achievement and how teachers and
schools perform. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing
over and over and expecting a different result. That's our March
madness!  PEN,CCW

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