In a local control state like Colorado, local school boards usually make their own decisions about the allocation of funds and how best to serve students. We saw an example recently in Jefferson County where the board, being strapped financially, considered closing five schools.
But in rare cases the State Board of Education (SBE) can override local control. The legislature passed statute in order to ensure that Colorado’s education system holds schools and districts accountable for meeting state expectations for student performance. Those schools meeting expectations have increased autonomy whereas those not meeting expectations in achievement, growth and postsecondary workforce readiness, are assigned Priority Improvement or Turnaround status.
If a district or school remains in these two categories for five consecutive years, significant action must be taken by the SBE. The timeline for this is called the Accountability Clock and it began in 2009 under a state law known as the Education Accountability Act.
For the first time since the Education Accountability Act was created, the SBE may force districts and schools that have failed to improve for five consecutive years to take significant action to boost student learning.
The State Board has a list of directives it may issue to local school boards in these circumstances. Some are more drastic than others. Among the possibilities: close schools, turn them over to new management, apply for waivers from local and state policies, merge with a nearby high-performing district, or turn over all or some operations to a third party. Currently in the state there are twelve schools and five districts that fit into this category. Four schools and one school district are from the 3rd Congressional District that I represent.
Beginning in March, at our next board meeting, the first school district has an opportunity to come before the board with plans for improvement. We will also hear from the State Review Panel, an advisory group that has been monitoring the progress of the school, and the Commissioner of Education. From these three reports the State Board will make a final decision on the direction the school or district will take. The evaluation process and SBE pathway for improvement for all districts and schools on the Accountability Clock must be completed by June 30th of this year.
While the law was written in 2009, the intent of the law, was to allow lower performing schools an opportunity to dramatically change, providing students a new opportunity toward higher academic performance. The challenge to change is difficult, however, continuing to leave these students behind is not an option.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the 3rd Congressional District. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org