Association News

The Politics of Education

Feb 26, 2016
There has seemingly always been this prevailing notion that education is and should be “apolitical”, that politics should not be in education and education should not be in politics.  However, as we in JeffCo know all too well this is, sadly, not the case.

We have learned, somewhat painfully, that elections, politics, do matter in education…A LOT.  We have also learned over the past 15 years or so that, by and large, the threat to public education comes not from the Republican nor the Democratic Party, but from ideologues on both sides. As many of you know, I am a registered Republican who is fiscally conservative and somewhat moderate socially.  I remember working together with past Republicans like Sen. Al Meiklejohn of Arvada to help enhance public education. Despite some different ideas, we were able to find places to compromise and move forward.  Lately, I confess, I feel like the national Republican Party is to public education what a pride of hungry lions are to a herd of passing gazelles.  However, the Democratic Party is not always a friend to our goals. I need to look no further than SB 191 written and championed by Democrat Michael Johnston and a group of “Democrats for Education Reform.” What I know with absolute clarity though is this: Elections and politics do matter in education. When we step aside, don’t get involved, or don’t pay attention then we run the risk our districts, schools, classrooms, and students come under direct attack from those who want to cause them harm and the unintended consequences of those who might mean well but don’t understand what they have done.

Let’s take SB 191 as an example. It completely altered the way Colorado teachers were evaluated. Every teacher is now evaluated every single year. A large portion of the teacher’s evaluation is now tied to student performance on standardized tests. These provisions are neither practical nor fair. School administrators certainly have so many other things on their plates that they must oversee (especially with the recent addition of SBB- but that’s a different discussion), they cannot reasonably be expected to evaluate each and every teacher in their building and do it with fidelity and accuracy. The problem with using student test scores when doing a teacher’s evaluation has been well documented.  

By being engaged in politics however, we create our own opportunities for change. Take the recently killed SB 16-105. It was the brainchild of two very unlikely political partners; Colorado Springs liberal Democrat (an oxymoron if there ever was one) Mike Merrifield and Fort Collins conservative Republican Vicki Marble. SB 16-105 would have allowed districts to eliminate yearly evaluations for teachers who have been rated as Effective” (E) or Highly Effective (HE) and instead, require those teachers to be evaluated every three years. A sensible allowance since those teachers are unlikely to suddenly become Partially Effective (PE) or Ineffective (I) the next year and those who are rated as “PE” or “I” certainly need extra guidance or help to best serve our students. This bill was introduced as a direct result of the stories told by educators about the damage that SB 191 has caused. This is where the “elections and politics matter” mantra reenters the conversation. While this bill may indeed be what is best for public education, it was highly unlikely to be passed out of the Senate. If by some miracle, it had made it through the Senate to the House it would almost certainly have died on Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk because he is a “D-FER” (Democrat for Education Reform).

Elections and politics matter. If we had a different majority in the Senate and a different Democratic Governor, we may very well have a very different landscape in Colorado education and a very different funding reality. Elections matter. Politics Matter. When voting, it is not enough to vote for or against a person simply because they have an R or a D after their last name. What is most important is that we elect Democrats AND Republicans who truly understand the realities and challenges of public education and who will help support what is best for education and our students. Choose wisely and vote for students and public education. Education is political.