NEA President Urges Collaboration in Colorado

You can’t transform schools without collaboration among all stakeholders, and history shows that top-down mandates are likely to fail.

That was the message delivered April 22 by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who testified before the Colorado Senate Education Committee to voice concerns about the controversial Senate Bill 191, which would dramatically change how teachers and principals are evaluated.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel testifies before the Colorado Senate Education Committee.

SB 191 would require cash-strapped school districts to spend millions on overhauling teacher and principal evaluation systems, and supporters claim that the law is necessary to help Colorado compete in round two in the federal Race to the Top grants competition. However, of the 100 points Colorado lost on its first RTTT application, only 10 dealt with teacher evaluations.

Rather than hurriedly creating an expensive and flawed evaluation system, the Colorado Education Association, an NEA affiliate, has been urging legislators to allow teachers, administrators, elected officials and other stakeholders to collaborate on a system that would be functional, useful and affordable.

Van Roekel echoed that recommendation.

“If you don’t have management, the school board and employees involved in the decision making process, transformation just doesn’t happen,” Van Roekel told the committee as dozens of CEA members looked on.

Van Roekel agreed on the need to transform public education and reaffirmed NEA’s belief that the status quo is not acceptable for many students. He spoke about his experiences teaching in Arizona and about strong, collaborative efforts that are improving schools in other parts of the country.

Rather than quickly construct an expensive new testing system, Van Roekel stressed the importance of developing more thorough students assessments.

“You cannot measure a students growth and learning with only a pen and paper test,” Van Roekel said. Van Roekel told the senators a moving story about watching gifted student musicians play beautiful solos and wondering to himself how their talent and knowledge could ever be measured using standardized testing.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Henry Roman and Jefferson County Education Association President Kerrie Dallman also testified against SB 191.

Dallman, like Van Roekel, stressed the importance of collaboration, saying “teacher evaluation systems should not be legislated, but built collaboratively,” while Roman expressed concern over funding for the bill’s requirements. SB 191 shifts the financial burden for creating assessments directly to districts.

“We need a sustainable source of funding for implementation. We can’t rely on grants and donations,” Roman said.

Roman talked about the irony of asking school districts to spend millions developing evaluation systems for teacher effectiveness, when those same districts may not be investing in mentoring and professional development programs designed to make teachers more effective.