Update: Education News Colorado teachers feature represents site's ambitions
The Education News Colorado website aspires to provide a depth of coverage long associated with newspapers -- which is why the folks there hired education reporter Nancy Mitchell in March following the closure of the Rocky Mountain News. This week, Mitchell returns the favor via "Numbers Show Teacher Evaluation System Broken," an extensive feature of the sort that most online-only operations can't muster. Mitchell's data-driven piece establishes that only a tiny percentage of instructors in the school's largest school districts receive unsatisfactory evaluations -- and implies that the small number may be dictated by the laborious and complicated procedure of dumping tenured employees, no matter how incompetent. Equally startling: Cherry Creek School District declined to provide information on the topic under the Colorado Open Records Act -- hardly a transparent way for a public institution to operate -- while Aurora School District officials say they need two more weeks to gather the data. Think of it as summer school.
A shortage of resources at most online news operations -- particularly those that are locally based, as opposed to being national in scope -- means that articles like Mitchell's are still relatively rare. Education News Colorado deserves credit for not using this fact as an excuse to settle for less.
Update, 2 p.m.: Just got off the phone with Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District, who objected to the way Mitchell characterized her dealings with the district in her article, as reflected above. She says Mitchell had asked for information on all teachers rated "unsatisfactory," but Cherry Creek doesn't use that particular term; instead, the district employs a complex process that emphasizes improvement plans for teachers who are found wanting. As a result, she was unable to provide the data she wanted -- but she says she'd be happy to do so if the paperwork was readjusted to correspond to Cherry Creek's format. According to Amole, she suggested this approach to Mitchell following the article's publication, and Mitchell subsequently resubmitted a request with which Amole expects to comply before the week is out.