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A Big Education Task Is Finished

By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
Colorado’s two statewide education boards Tuesday formally adopted a description of postsecondary and workforce readiness, a key requirement of 2008’s Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids education reform program.
The three-page document details “the knowledge, skills and behaviors essential for high school graduates to be prepared to enter college and the workforce and to compete in the global economy.” It’s a key philosophical assumption of CAP4K that high school graduates need the same skills regardless of whether they’re headed to college, technical training or work.
“This is an important moment,” said Jim Polsfut, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.
The meeting was historic in that it was a formal joint session of the State Board of Education and the CCHE – the first ever – and because it marked completion of one key task in the multi-year CAP4K process.
Several speakers, including Gov. Bill Ritter and Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, noted the significance of the event.
“CAP4K is coming to life,” Ritter told the boards during a morning meeting at the Capitol. Education reform is “one of the easiest thing to talk about [and] one of the most difficult things to work on,” the governor said.
“The challenges are glaring,” Ritter said, referring to Colorado’s dropout, college attendance and college completion statistics. “We in Colorado have said that’s intolerable.”
O’Brien, who has taken a leading role on education issues in the administration, noted that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states need such descriptions to compete from federal Race to the Top stimulus funds.
Several speakers noted that much CAP4K work remains to be done, and that the hardest efforts are in the future. “This is the beginning of the real work ahead,” said education Commissioner Dwight Jones. “The hard work is just starting now,” said Randy DeHoff, vice chair of the SBE.
The description and a previously adopted description of school readiness for young children (see below) are intended to provide the foundation, or guidelines, for more detailed retooling of the state’s education system, including:
* SBE adoption of new content standards in 13 subject areas. Standards have been drafted in four subjects, with the rest due out shortly. The board is to adopt them by Dec. 15.
* Adoption of new statewide tests and other assessments for both P-12 grades and to measure postsecondary and workforce readiness. That’s to be done by the end of 2010.
* Alignment of local district standards and curricula aligned with the new state benchmarks, to be done by local school boards by the end of 2011.
* Adoption of new college admissions standards to align with the state standards and assessments, to be implemented by the end of 2014.
A detailed study of what the CAP4K program might cost is scheduled to start later this year.
The PWR description was drafted by staff of the Colorado departments of education and higher education after a lengthy series of about 20 public, business, educator and faculty meetings around the state. The CDE is conducting a similar public and educator comment process for the new content standards.
The CAP4K law called for the description to be adopted by the end of this year. But, the timetable was accelerated so that there would be time to align the new standards to the description before the deadline for adopting the standards.
“This was like a sprint going up a Fourteener,” said CCHE member Happy Haynes.
Tuesday’s meeting had something of a ceremonial air to it. The outcome was not in doubt, and representatives of several education interest groups spoke in support of the PWR description.
“Have you ever seen an education meeting … where everybody agreed?” quipped Elaine Gantz Berman, a SBE member. “This may be a one of a kind for this room,” (The meeting was held in the hearing room normally used by House Education Committee.)
But, a few cautionary notes were sounded.
Wayne Artis of Pikes Peak Community College noted, “Higher education and P-12 faculty live in different worlds. … This won’t work unless a common culture is created.”
And a couple of speakers touched on the challenge of paying for CAP4K. “If we don’t provide the funding … we will indeed be left with less than meets the eye,” noted Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters

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