"Educator effectiveness" grants: Nonprofits to invest $1 million

Colorado sure is serious about "educator effectiveness," which is school-reform-speak for firing teachers whose students aren't learning -- a strategy endorsed by President Obama and central to his federal Race to the Top grant competition.

To that end, the Colorado Department of Education has announced that two nonprofits plan to invest $1 million in the state's efforts to improve educator effectiveness.

But teachers unions and their members, including Mary Pishney, the subject of this week's Westword feature "Is DPS Holding More Teachers Accountable? You Do the Math!," resent the assumption that it's a teacher's fault if a student fails to learn.

The state's largest union, the Colorado Education Association, fought the passage this year of the so-called teacher tenure bill, officially known as Senate Bill 191. The bill, which has since been signed into law, requires that tenured teachers be evaluated every year and stipulates that those teachers can lose tenure if they fail to pass muster two years in a row.

State education officials hope the $1 million in grants will help with the implementation of the bill, which was supported by Education Commissioner Dwight Jones. The biggest chunk of money, $800,000, is being contributed by the local Rose Community Foundation. The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit that's been working with Colorado since 2007, is kicking in the remaining $200,000.

The money will be used to support several tasks, including:

  • Coming up with statewide goals for educator effectiveness
  • Drafting a set of recommended state and local policies to meet the goals
  • Designing data systems to complement those goals
  • Spreading proven effective-educator practices and policies to all districts

Much of the work will be coordinated by the Colorado Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit established in 2007 to support the goals of the state department of education.

"Most critical is the shift in attention from the concept of educator quality -- as measured by what educators know -- to the concept of educator effectiveness, as measured by the effect educators have on their students' academic growth," Jones says in a press release. "This is a powerful shift that has drawn bipartisan backing."

It's also a strategy that, if implemented well, could position Colorado to win the $175 million in Race to the Top money it applied for on June 1. The application was the state's second; Colorado lost its bid for $377 million in round one of the contest earlier this year.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar