Governor Owens' education reform up for debate

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As part of Gov. Bill Owens' education reform vision, the Colorado Legislature is reviewing Senate Bill 186, labeled the "omnibus" bill because of its size and complexity.

Containing many major components of reform, the centerpiece of SB 186, sponsored by Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, and Rep. Debbie Allen, R-Aurora, would require a report card be given to each public school in the state and to those non-public schools choosing to participate. The report card will give each school a grade for both academic performance and school safety, including disciplinary actions.

"The idea is to have the public become more aware of the accountability of schools," Moffat County School District Superintendent Duane Wrightson said.

Wrightson is not opposed to the report card policy for schools and said because of the different subjects being reported, including drop-out rates, test scores (including ACT and SAT) and suspensions. This gives schools more than one thing to be judged upon.

"Kids should not be judged on one source alone," Wrightson said.

The Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) said current report card days cause anxiety in students. The same thing might happen now for the school itself, as the school report card will be sent home with the students' final grades. According to the CASB, schools will be expected to conform their data collection practices with the system the state adopts so that all necessary information can be compiled to finalize the report card.

Receiving top grades will result in better financial rewards for a school. Top grade receivers will also have the opportunity to convert to neighborhood charter schools.

Those at the bottom of the grade ladder face serious consequences, including intervention from the state in the form of a recommendation for new management and conversion to an "independent" charter school, the CASB said. At the same time, parents whose children attend schools with low grades will be candidates for transportation tokens so they may enroll their children elsewhere.

The CASB believes the reality of the bill is "A" schools will probably already be at enrollment capacity. Of course, there are also "B" and "C" schools that still might be available and operating as traditional public schools. There's not much in the program for those schools. However, the way the curve is set, only a limited number of schools can receive an "A."

Having parents able to see the grades of their child's school will allow parents to take matters into their own hands to get these schools to improve their grades, according to Owens.

Whether the cost of this for local districts has been taken into consideration remains to be seen.

Other factors in this 116-page bill include school award programs with grades determining success; assessments - changing the dates and content of state scheduled assessments; teacher employment having all teachers hired after July 1, 2000, to become contract teachers after the probationary period contracts may range from one to five years; and home schools allowing non-public home-based educational programs schools to provide required notices and test results to any school district in the state, in place of the district of residence.

Wrightson believes this bill will be in a legislative process for some time before a ruling has been made.

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