Volume 3 Issue 1

Who is In Charge of Colorado Education Policy?

by Dr. Paula Noonan

It’s no secret that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), aka Colorado Legacy Foundation. The Gates Foundation has given over $22 million to CEI to make sure its mission to implement Common Core standards, teacher accountability, and annual standardized testing is fulfilled.

It’s also no secret that CEI has a two-way entrée into the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). CDE passes projects to CEI to fund with “gifts, grants, and donations” and CEI passes “gifts, grants, and donations” to CDE.

What was a secret, until a Joint Budget Committee meeting in December 2014, is that the Colorado Education Initiative has one of its paid employees managing CDE’s most important—and controversial—initiative: the implementation of Common Core standards and instruction. Brian Sevier, a CEI paid staffer, was “loaned” to CDE in 2012 as Standards and Instruction Project Director. Since then he’s supervised CDE’s employees responsible for implementing Common Core across the state. He even writes their performance appraisals.

CDE Commissioner Robert Hammond said he thought taxpayers would appreciate saving their money and that he was being “creative.” Legislators on both sides of the aisle aren’t buying it.

Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) said at the JBC hearing, “I’m concerned about the precedent here. It’s the idea of treating loaned labor as a donation…There are other non profits out there who would like to influence outcomes with donated labor.”

Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) expressed his exasperation: “When people are funded completely off budget by a non-government entity, where’s the transparency to the public and the general assembly?”

Newly elected state Senator Chris Holbert (R-Highlands Ranch) asked State Board of Education directors Marcia Neal and Jane Goff if they knew what was going on. “It’s something we haven’t talked about,” said Neal. “We need to bring things out into the open and talk about it,” said Goff.

Commissioner Hammond said, “There was no intent to hide anything.”

State Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City) observed, “It’s odd and concerning when those acting as our employees really aren’t our employees. Who’s paying the bills and where do loyalties lie?”

CEI paid the bills… and for four other CEI employees at CDE as well.

Especially galling to legislators is that the CEI “loaner” has oversight of policy that’s come under increasing criticism from the public, despite efforts by Bill Gates and the Colorado Education Initiative to laud Common Core’s virtues.

Parents, students, and teachers now object to the whole Common Core/SB-191 teacher performance evaluation and accountability package attached to state testing.

State Senator Michael Johnston, a Democrat for Education Reform (DFER), crammed SB-191 through the 2010 legislature in cahoots with CDE and CEI. He concocted the strategies described in Scott Laband’s essay, “Creating a Winning Legislative Campaign: The Colorado Story” written up as a case study for future DFERs. Scott Laband, Johnston’s former staffer and now president of Colorado Succeeds, described their take-no-prisoners legislative blitzkrieg rolling over dissenting Democrats, teachers, and the Colorado Education Association. His analysis is a real eye-opener, a must-read for legislators who want to be their own person.

The 2014 General Assembly set up the HB14-1202 Task Force on Standards and Assessments, Brian Sevier’s area of supervision at CDE, and that committee has also been compromised. A Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) executive is a voting member of that 15-person committee. Susan Van Gundy, paid by PARCC, may be the tie-breaking vote on any HB-1202 recommendations to the 2015 legislature.

Meanwhile, parents along with their children are experiencing the mess of our current education system based on poor standards implementation and unrelenting student testing. Middle schoolers will be at a particular disadvantage in spring 2015 when the new PARCC tests unfold twice, once in March and again in April/May. They are trying to learn math, tested the PARCC way, without textbooks because Common Core-compliant texts aren’t ready yet.

Republican legislators, who unanimously voted for SB10-191, have done an about face to address the clamor against Common Core. Democratic legislators against the industrial strength testing and teacher accountability agenda enforced by CDE with Gates and CEI handholding are finally getting some traction against the DFER cahooters.

The testing stand-off that occurred in the fall, with thousands of high school seniors refusing to sit for CMAS exams, will certainly get bigger if everything stays the same. When the people’s voices roar really loud, legislators’ ears perk up. It looks like education reform reformers—parents, students, and teachers—are about to be heard, finally.

Reprinted with permission from blogger: Noparccingzone.org  - Paula Noonan