"Leaders and Laggards," released last week, gives letter grades to states on indicators related to student achievement, teacher quality, and school management. A "return on investment" grade rates states on students' performance for dollars spent to educate them, controlled for poverty.What these new "standards" mean for teachers, students and schools has begun to play out in place like Denver, Colorado as the new reality of a business driven education agenda leaves more children behind. What can we expect from an education policy that is based on a "business model" -- if Achieve Inc. and the Chamber of Commerces all across the country are given a free ticket by this Congress and the American people, the consequences of this misguided and shortsighted education policy will continue to erode the very foundation of our democracy.
For the chamber, the grades and policy platform further a concerted new effort to shape education policy. Last year, the Washington-based federation of more than 3 million businesses launcehd and Institute for a Competitive Workforce in part to study the issue. In September, it joined other national business groups in advocating renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
As the legislature considers requiring more math and science before Colorado students can graduate from high school, local school districts fear that the new rules could be expensive and leave many students behind.The question is, how long will it take before the damage being done becomes obvious and where are the leaders and politicians with the courage to stop this madness?
Educators and politicians across the country are considering ramping up math and science standards, said Sandra Boyd, vice president of Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C., organization created by the nation's governors in 1996 to raise academic standards in high schools.
Colorado is not among the 12 states identified by Achieve as having a college-ready curriculum in high school. All of those states require at least three years of science.
Colorado is one of a handful of "local control" states, meaning the constitution says local school boards control instruction. But the legislature has the power to act on matters of statewide education concern.
Under the math-science proposal, school districts still would have a say in what kind of courses they offer.
Grandview High School in the Cherry Creek School District, for example, offers a course in "discrete math." It's geared toward students not seeking math or science careers who need "real-world applications of math," said Joanie Funderburk, who taught the course for six years. Students tackle such problems as figuring out the winner of the presidential election or the most efficient route for a traveling salesman.
Golden High School has a "science process class," where students do experiments and get math or science credit, assistant principal Steve Anderson said.
Denver Public Schools in June enacted what board members called the toughest standards in the state, requiring four years each of math and English and three years each of science and social studies.
In the Boulder Valley School District, where students must take two years each of science and math, Samantha Messier, the district's K-8 science coordinator, is concerned that additional years would mean more textbooks, labs and safety showers.
If Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, has his way, the math-science bill - Senate Bill 131 - will die in his House Education Committee.
The former music teacher said it's wrong to "force every single child into the same curriculum as if there were no difference in desire, in interest, in capability."
"Just imagine what it's going to do to the dropout rate," he said.
Graduation requirements are a popular topic at the legislature.
Another proposal, Senate Bill 73 from Romer, would require students to prove competency in English to get diplomas.
A third bill is more flexible - it requires the state Board of Education to establish different graduation guidelines for college- bound students, those headed to trade school and kids going straight to work, said Rep. Nancy Todd, the Aurora Democrat who is sponsoring House Bill 1118.
House Speaker Andrew Romanoff favors a proficiency requirement instead of dictating the number of years a student must study a subject.
"Everybody agrees that a high school diploma ought to mean something," he said. "I don't know that there is a split on the goal, but a split on the means."
Sen. Bob Bacon, a Fort Collins Democrat and former teacher, said support from several fellow Democrats for the math-science legislation is troubling.
Instead of requiring standards that some kids won't meet, lawmakers should find ways to "help them with their lives outside of school" so they succeed in the classroom, he said.